From the moment I spied the new “Boys and Their toys” display at the Fort Ostell Museum, my childhood memories came flashing back, and I could have stayed and played and admired the toys all afternoon.
I promise that it will really make you feel like a kid again when you browse through such age old toy treasures as: a Meccano set, Matchbox cars, Revell models, a Lionel electric train, Lego, and all those other ‘tough built toys’ that kept us busy for countless hours of our youth.
While the girls were playing with their dolls and puzzles, the boys were likely on the floor trying to build a metal skyscraper, carefully gluing tiny model parts together, snapping together a Lego kingdom, or guiding our electric train through all sorts of household obstacles, including little brothers and sisters, and pets.
It was great playtime for rainy or sick days when we couldn’t go outside, but when we were done the rule was to neatly put them away in the big old toy chest in the corner. The history of toys likely dates all the way back to the Roman days, with soldiers and figures carved out of wood or rock, a bow and arrow, trusty slingshot or simple games. From great demand the toy industry took off in the late 1800s and later featured such magical items as the hula hoop, monkey on a string, rocking horse, pull wagons, two or three wheel bikes, dolls that cried and wet, marbles, silly putty, Plasticine, yoyos and balls and bats.
It was in 1901 that Frank Hornby, a clerk from Liverpool, England invented and patented a neat new toy called ‘Mechanics Made Easy’ that was based on the principles of mechanical engineering and construction. In May of 1908 he would form Meccano Ltd., and by this time the hundreds of parts were made out of thick steel, were nickel plated, and came with all sorts of wheels and gears fashioned out of brass. For their 25th anniversary in 1926, the already multi-millionaire Hornby introduced ‘Meccano in colours,’ featuring the familiar red and green colored pieces, then later a little motor that would make your creation actually work.
I will never forget as a little duffer getting my first Meccano beginner set, then trying to be really good so that we could get all the bigger sets every birthday or Christmas.
In 1932 a Dane, Ole Kirk Christiansen jumped into the lucrative toy construction world, founding the Lego Group. Named after the Danish word ‘Leg godt,’ which means play well, the company’s flagship product consisted of colourful interlocking plastic bricks, and a vast array of gears, mini figures, and parts, from which all sorts of magnificent structures could be created. The company is still one of the largest in the world, and even has its own life size ‘Lego World’ in California.
Since 1943, most of us boys and dads have, and still do tinker with those wonderful plastic diecast Revell models of boats, planes, cars, military vehicles, creatures, and other unique creations of real life or imaginations. I’m sure that you have all spent hours building and painting your models, putting on the decals, then hung them from your ceiling, or filled every spot in your little bedroom? The Revell Company would later merge with their archrivals Monogram, and together have become the world leader in the production of those real neat plastic models.
Likely the most fantastic invention for all boys and their toys was the model railway, and the Lionel Company started that with their earliest ‘carpet railway’ way back in the 1840s. It was not until the turn of the 20th century that the electric trains would appear, but the earliest models were only crude likenesses to the real thing. Over the years the authenticity of model railways really took off, featuring realistic scale models of the great old steam engines and into the new diesel era, as well as real-life passenger and freight cars, signals, flashing lights, tunnels, and authentic landscaping that included real towns and factories, mountains, valleys, lakes and more.
An industrial die-casting company known as Lesney Products first produced the famous Matchbox cars in England in 1952. In 1962, Mattel created Hot Wheels to compete with Lesney and then bought them out to control the market in 1982. These nifty little models were so great because you could pack them into one case for a trip, then dump them out anywhere and play for hours, as well as trade with your buddies.
Of course we all know very well that the toy industry has modernized a great deal over the years, especially with the introduction of computer games and controls, and a whole lot of gizmos that are run by batteries. Whatever the case, it should always be a great fun time to play and create together as a family, whether it be those grand old games and toys of yesterday, or the new challenges of today.
Everyone is invited to view the many delightful historical displays at our Fort Ostell Museum in the Ponoka Lions Centennial Park, now also saluting the 75th Ponoka Stampede, the 75th anniversary of the Ponoka Community Golf Club, and the gala 100-year celebration of the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury in July.