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Copyright 2013 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor; editor@rockymountainrider.com.

 

Pioneer-Era Toys

 
By John Brand, Buckaroo Leather, Diamond Springs, CA

 

December 2013 issue  

 

 

      In the 1800’s, life out West in the pioneer days was rough. Farmers and cowboys worked from morning until night. The land was vast and had many dangers. Neighbors were scarce; there were no other houses, buildings, streets, or even fences indicating another homestead.

      If you were a child, how would you entertain yourself?

      A child’s playtime was limited as pioneer children had many daily chores such as carrying water to milking cows to weeding the garden. When they had free time, they would entertain themselves with “play pretties” or toys. Girls had rag dolls, china dolls, doll furniture, and small tea sets, and boys had bean shooters, stones, marbles and buttons. An every day pocketknife, used for whittling, was a treasure for a young boy.  

 

      These pioneer children had only a few “store-bought” toys as trips into town were taken for items a family needed that could not be made on the farm or ranch. So, children would play with homemade toys and they would use every day household items for fantasy play.

      A broom, a chair and a quilt would be used for a tent for imaginary playtime. A pail of water and a cake of soap made for a great substitute for a store-bought bubble pipe. A child would soap their hands and then push them together. When they pulled apart their hands just a little bit they made terrific bubbles. Children would also use peanuts, corn kernels, and marbles to play “ranching.” The corn would be sheep, the peanuts cattle, and the marbles horses.

      Hoops and tops were for both boys and girls. Dolls like the Penny Doll and the Miss Poppet doll were for girls, and cap guns were for the boys. Boys and girls would also play outdoor games like tag or hide-and-seek.  

 

A solemn young girl holds a hoop and stick toy in this 19th century tintype.  

 

      Another popular game was Battledore and Shuttlecock, which we know as Badminton. Small rackets, called battledores, were made of parchment or rows of gut stretched across wooden frames. The shuttlecocks were made of a lightweight, cork base with trimmed feathers on the top. The players would bat the shuttlecock back and forth without allowing it to fall.

      With the Industrial Revolution, came the transition from homemade traditional toys to machine-made toys. The toys were made of metal and tin. “Penny banks” were very popular during this time. Children loved them because they were so gimmicky and had moving parts and parents loved them for their ability to encourage thrift.  

 

      The Industrial Revolution also first produced steam-powered toys followed by electric-powered toys. Electric trains, model trains and steamboats were all very popular during this time.

      Catalogs, which only had a few toys in the early 1800’s, now listed pages and pages of toys. Toy steam engines were featured in the Montgomery Ward catalogue in 1885 — ”The Hero” for 40 cents and the “ Ajax ” for 90 cents.

      In 1898, the Baltimore Bargain house had 30 pages of toys including dolls, musical toys, soldier and fireman outfits, jumping jacks, cap guns, popguns, swords, pewter soldiers, toy watches, shaking head animals, steam toys, mechanical toys, trains, ships, tin trains, kitchens and stoves, blackboards, and doll carriages.  

 

      This period also saw the creation of the dearly beloved Teddy Bear. The bear was named after President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt.

      After 1900, toys became more mechanical and had more moving parts and features.

      Today we see the toys of all kinds…but how many of you would like your child to experience the simple joy of a homemade toy??  

 

 

      Buckaroo Leather has been serving the Western horseman for over 30 years, by manufacturing the highest-quality, American-made horse tack, and providing unmatched customer service.Visit their website at www.buckarooleather.com, or give Buckaroo John a call at 800-873-0781.

 

            

Copyright 2013 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor; editor@rockymountainrider.com.

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