One toy takes its riders to new heights, and the other two let the imagination soar. The simple, ancient swing; game-changing Dungeons & Dragons; and the colorful, creative Fisher-Price Little People today became the latest inductees to The Strong’s National Toy Hall of Fame. The honorees were selected from a field of 12 finalists that also included: bubble wrap, Care Bears, Clue, coloring book, Nerf, pinball, Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, Transformers, and Uno.
About swing: Ancient cave drawings in Europe, carved figures from Crete, and ceramic vases from early Greece document instances of humans on swings. In the 1700s, artists of French nobility depicted swinging as an amusement of high-born adults. By the 19th century, industrial processes made ropes and metal chains cheaply and in abundance. And almost anyone with a tree could fashion a swing for children playing in the yards of growing towns and cities. The playground movement of the early 1900s put swings in public spaces for children of nearby apartment buildings and tenements. The parks and playgrounds gave youngsters healthy places to grow and socialize in cities that were becoming increasingly hostile to play. In the mid-20th century, many Americans put freestanding, family-sized swing sets on their own sunny suburban lots. After the 1970s, public concern for children’s safety urged parents to replace the tubular metal sets for smaller swings of woods and resins suited to children of different ages and development.
“Though the equipment has evolved with the centuries, the pleasure children and adults find in swinging has hardly changed at all,” says Curator Patricia Hogan. “Swinging requires physical exertion, muscle coordination, and a rudimentary instinct for, if not understanding of, kinetic energy, inertia, and gravity. It’s the perfect vehicle for outdoor play.”
About Dungeons & Dragons: In the 1970s, serious war game players Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson added the concept of role-playing to the strategy games that they enjoyed and helped launch the modern role-playing genre. With Dungeons & Dragons (published first in 1974), they created an entirely new way to play. Taking inspiration, other firms published similar games built upon related mechanics but often employing different fantasy settings, from historic battlefields to outer space.
In Dungeons & Dragons, players assume the roles of characters that inhabit a world moderated and narrated by a Dungeon Master, a player who explains the action to others and solicits their reactions to the unfolding story. The Dungeon Master’s storytelling skills and the players’ abilities to imagine add enjoyment to the game. Some aspects of the play are familiar, such as dice, but the special dice for Dungeons & Dragons hold up to 20 sides. Rolling them determines each character’s individual strengths, plots their complex interactions, and decides the outcome of their encounters.
“More than any other game, Dungeons & Dragons paved the way for older children and adults to experience imaginative play,” says Curator Nic Ricketts. “It was groundbreaking. And it opened the door for other kinds of table games that borrow many of its unique mechanics. But most importantly, Dungeons & Dragons’ mechanics lent themselves to computer applications, and it had a direct impact on hugely successful electronic games like World of Warcraft.”
About Fisher-Price Little People: Fisher-Price first offered its Little People in a 1959 Safety School Bus pull toy. These stylized figures populated a variety of play sets that encouraged youngsters to explore the world beyond their homes and to imagine themselves at school or the airport, at the service station or the amusement park, and at the zoo or a faraway farm. Fisher-Price made the first Little People of wood and lithographed paper; solid, single-colored wooden bodies followed. Later figures were made of hard plastic. In the 1980s, concerns about the small figures becoming a choking hazard led to the 1991 introduction of a new design for larger diameter Little People known as “Chunky People” or “Chunkies.” By the mid-1990s, the Little People became more people-like with arms, legs, and dimensional faces.
Says Chris Bensch, The Strong’s vice president for collections, “Little People have been a fixture—albeit a small one—in many American playrooms for more than 50 years. More than two billion Little People have been sold since 1959, and they have helped generations of small children imagine big adventures in play sets representing farms, schools, airports, and other fascinating places in their worlds.”
About the National Toy Hall of Fame
The National Toy Hall of Fame®, established in 1998, recognizes toys that have inspired creative play and enjoyed popularity over a sustained period. Each year, the prestigious hall inducts new honorees and showcases both new and historic versions of classic toys beloved by generations. Anyone can nominate a toy to the National Toy Hall of Fame. Final selections are made on the advice of historians, educators, and other individuals who exemplify learning, creativity, and discovery through their lives and careers. Toys are celebrated year-round in a state-of-the-art exhibit at The Strong museum in Rochester, New York. For more information about the hall and to see the list of previous inductees, visit toyhalloffame.org