A new book is delving into a century of all-American toy ads

Written by Steven Heller, the book traces the fascinating story of the 20th century toy boom, as well as addressing the industry’s chequered past when it comes to issues such as perpetuating gender stereotypes

While objects designed with the intention of entertaining children have been around since ancient history, it was only with the rise of industrial mass production in the 20th century that toys as we know them today began to emerge.

European manufacturers dominated the toy market in the early 1900s, with Germany in particular supplying the US market with the bulk of its toy products. The First World War ended Germany’s dominance, and by the 1920s America’s ever-growing consumer culture resulted in homegrown toy brands becoming increasingly ubiquitous.

Top: Lionel, 1928; Above: Cream of Wheat, 1936. All images: Jim Heimann Collection/Courtesy Taschen

As with any booming industry, the multimillion dollar toy explosion in the US was also bolstered by the work of the ad industry, which was in the midst of its own ‘golden age’.

A new book from publisher Taschen is examining this fascinating period of toy history through the lens of the adverts that transformed toys such as hula hoops and frisbees into cult collectible items.

Ungar, 1960

Authored by Steven Heller and edited by Jim Heimann, the book examines how children were inundated with toy adverts, initially via magazines and comic books and later television.

Looking through the book offers a fascinating snapshot of an exciting period of entertainment history, but equally revealing is the way in which the ads of the time helped to perpetuate the gender stereotypes that are only beginning to be unpicked now – from train sets aimed squarely at boys to toy housekeeping sets designed for girls.

The earlier ads also lack foresight of the impending technical revolution that went on to define the industry’s next chapter, which has seen the global video game industry valued at over $138 billion today.

Toys: 100 Years of All-American Toy Ads is published by Taschen, and is available from here


Milton Keynes