We received a press release yesterday (dated 5 November 2009, but never mind that) announcing the 2009 inductees into the Strong National Museum of Play’s Toy Hall of Fame. The winners this year were: the Big Wheel® (Louis Marx & Co.), the Game Boy® (Nintendo Co.), and the ball (everyone and anyone).
According to the Marx company Toy Museum, “the BIG WHEEL was designed in Erie, Pa. by Ray Lohr. Mr Lohr was the number one man in the design department and was Louis Marx’s right hand when it came to development of new items. In Mr. Lohr’s basement one evening he took parts from a tricycle and turned them around and VIOLA!!!! the BIG WHEEL was born. Look at a picture of the toy and you will see a tricycle UPSIDE-DOWN!!!”
I think the writer meant ‘Voila!”, but you get the idea. In any event, the design of the Big Wheel was a stroke of genius. The low centre of gravity gave it tremendous stability — a wonderful attribute in a ride-on meant for little kids — and its large front wheel gave it superior handling, allowing riders to feel in control. A most amazing design.
A few decades later, Nintendo’s original Game Boy came along and revolutionized electronic gaming by making it portable. One could argue that every one of today’s multi-tasking electronic gizmos (yes, I’m looking at you, iPhone) owes its success to the sea-change brought about by Game Boy, which allowed users to play untethered from the computer or television. Its design and portability, its amazing games like Super Mario, plus the ability of later versions to allow multi-player gaming mean that Game Boy has become synonymous with electronic gaming. I am proud to say that we still have an original, functioning Game Boy at our house.
Last, ladies, and gentlemen, please consider the ball, a toy whose history stretches back thousands of years. Like the wheel, another invention whose importance cannot be overstated, the sphere-as-toy has planted itself so firmly inside the human experience that it is difficult to imagine life without it: think of golf, basketball, baseball, soccer, billiards, cricket, pinball, tennis!
It’s worth a visit to the Hall of Fame’s website. I’m willing to bet that many childhood memories will be kindled by the sight of these old favourites — most of which are still just as popular today as they ever were.