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Over time, toys have become complicated

By T.J. Ray

On Christmas Day I enjoyed watching a six-year old learn to play with his toy from Santa. It was a small robotic tractor that can be controlled and trained to initiate movements on its own. The adults watching this display were as fascinated as the little boy. It’s probably been that way for a long, long time.

In that long time, toys have become more sophisiticated and, in the bargain, far more expensive. Perhaps you recall trying to wheedle out of your mom what Santa was bringing you for the big day.

My worst Christmas was the time I accidentally (no, that is the truth!) found my big gift before Christmas and let it slip that I knew what it was going to be. To say that Mom was unhappy with me and might have considered a bag of switches instead would be understating the case.

Anyway, come the 25th I opened that heavy Lionel box and joyfully went in the back room and put the model train on the tracks of my layout. I was glued there for the day.

Just recently I’ve been searching through old newspapers for items that might help with a book I have in mind.

As I’ve gone along, I’ve been fascinated by the ads. Speaking for me, I’d very much enjoy having a book of old ads to enjoy.

As I was super-mildly aware that Christmas was coming, I somehow zeroed in on toy ads in December newspapers, beginning in 1901. Would I be far wrong in thinking that a Buck Rogers Rocket Pistol in a boy’s little hands or an Easy Bake Oven in the kitchen with a girl and her mother were just as exciting as that new robot I saw on Monday?

Perhaps we’ve reached a milestone where simple simply won’t do the trick at Christmas. Do you think a yo-yo or Slinky would stir some excitement in your house? Of course, they do have the wonderful advantage over the robot device: they don’t need batteries!

I didn’t venture into the 21st century, but I did check out each decade of the last hundred years. Here they are.

If you copy the URL beside a toy and paste it in a web browser, you’ll see an ad.

• 1900s/10s: Teddy Bear https://tinyurl.com/toy-teddy

• 1920s: Yo-yo https://tinyurl.com/toy-yoyo

• 1930s: Buck Rogers Rocket Pistol https://tinyurl.com/toy-buckrogers

• 1940s: Slinky https://tinyurl.com/toy-slinky

• 1950s: Mr. Potato Head https://tinyurl.com/toy-potatohead

• 1950s: Barbie https://tinyurl.com/toy-barbie

• 1960s: G.I. Joe https://tinyurl.com/toy-gijoe

• 1960s: Easy Bake Oven https://tinyurl.com/toy-easybake

• 1970s: Stretch Armstrong https://tinyurl.com/toy-stretch

• 1970s/80s: Rubik’s Cube https://tinyurl.com/toy-rubikscube

• 1980s: Cabbage Patch Kids https://tinyurl.com/toy-cabbagepatch

• 1990s: Tickle Me Elmo https://tinyurl.com/toy-ticklemeelmo

At least two aspects of future toys are predictable: They will cost more as they get more technical and complex. And parents will no longer be able to show young ones how to play with them.

Somehow that is sad to look forward to.

T.J. Ray is a retired professor of English at Ole Miss.