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Wooden Toy Logging Truck

Recently, the Edmonds Historical Museum received a wooden toy logging truck. This wooden toy led to an exploration of the history of wooden toys.

Toys are items that are used in play. They can be anything from a rock imagined to be an apple to a piece paper folded into the shape of an airplane to doll purchased from the store. Toys have been around as long as children have had the imagination to turn anything and everything into a toy.

Early Toys

Some of the earliest known toys, as discovered by archaeologists, were made from things found in nature. These toys would be made of materials such as rocks, sticks, and clay. Small carts, whistles shaped like birds, and even toy monkeys which could slide down a string were excavated from the Indus valley civilization from 3010-1500 BCE.

The earliest wooden toys date back to the Stone Age (3.4 million years ago to approximately 2000 BCE). Stemming from Africa, these toys were simple models of useful implements such as clubs, axes, and bows as well as dolls. These toys were intended to teach children survival and family skills as well as entertain them. In Greek and Roman civilizations, archaeologists discovered wooden toys of dolls, horses, and chariots. This marked the creation of less practical and more entertaining toys. These wooden toys ranged from basic playthings fashioned by craftspeople to extraordinary artisanal models commissioned by the wealthy.

Wooden Toys Become More Common

Small scale commercial manufacture of wooden toys began during the Middle Ages in small shops. By the 1700’s industrial manufacture started especially in Germany where toy makers began to craft a variety of toys from wood to sell to the general public. Salesmen traveled around Europe to market the popular wooden toys and took advance orders for special occasions and custom made items. Almost life-like dolls and animals were becoming favorite playthings for children all over Europe.

By the Victorian era, wooden toys were common. Wealthier children had many options such as train sets, toy soldiers, rocking horses, dolls and doll’s houses, tea-sets and toy shops with toy fruit, vegetables, meat, hats and medicines. Less wealthy children often played with home-made toys such as clothes pin turned into a doll or lumps of wood fashioned into a toy boat. As a treat, these families sometimes bought cheap factory-made toys from a ‘penny stall’ in the market.

The Decline of Wooden Toys

By the end of World War II, a number of new materials had been introduced to the manufacturing industry. The production of wooden toys steadily declined as more and more toy makers opted for cheaper and more modern materials. Plastic toys were much easier to mass produce and were more affordable for families with children.

Plastic is now more common in the manufacture of toys. However, there are still wooden toy makers out there. In their simplicity, wooden toys offer great educational value by encouraging children to use their imaginations.

If you interested in acquiring wooden or vintage toys, look no further than the Museum’s Gift Shop! We recently added a selection of wooden and vintage toys to our gift shop offerings. Stop by and take a look!

Do you have any items relating to Edmonds and South Snohomish County history that you wish to donate to the Museum? We would love to hear from you! Please fill out the Artifact Donation form, http://www.historicedmonds.org/artifact-donation/. For further information, please contact us at artifacts@historicedmonds.org.

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