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These Childhood Delights Just Made It Into the National Toy Hall of Fame

Dungeons & Dragons, Little People and the humble swing are this year’s toy honorees

Little People meant big fun for generations of imaginative kids. (Laurie Hulsey - Flickr/Creative Commons)
smithsonian.com

Adulthood getting you down? It could be time to tap back into the thing that made being a kid so carefree: play. That’s the theory behind The National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, an entire museum devoted to the history of what kids have always done best. As Bill Chappell reports for NPR, the museum just dispatched some much-needed fun into the world with the announcement of its new additions to the National Toy Hall of Fame.

Since 1998, the National Toy Hall of Fame at the Strong has been assembling a collection of history’s most iconic playthings. Anyone can nominate a toy, but to make the cut it must be vetted and selected by a team of historians, educators and experts. That has resulted in a tip-top toy collection of 62 inductees so far, including everything from the Frisbee to marbles, dominoes to dollhouses and Twister to Tonka trucks.

This year, reports Chappell, three new additions made the grade. The first, Dungeons & Dragons, will be familiar to anyone who’s ever sat down at a table with a dungeon master and a many-sided die. The 1974 role-playing game, which was designed by gamers eager to immerse themselves in fantasy, earned a spot not just for its unique features, like its iconic 20-sided die, but for changing the way people approached gaming and play. These days, the game’s influence can be felt in everything from video games to modern science fiction writers.

Then there’s the swing—the humble hanging seat that’s been making kids smile for thousands of years. Swings can be found in ancient Greek art and were part of America’s first formal children’s playground in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. As the Strong writes, the low-tech device “rewards physical coordination, sensory perception, and risk taking.” Perhaps that’s why it’s so beloved: Despite being one of the pieces of playground equipment most associated with injuries, swings are also synonymous with outdoor fun.

The final inductee has a familiarly simple face. Fisher Price Little People, iconic wooden and plastic figures sold with sturdy play sets, became immediately popular when they debuted as part of a school bus set in 1959. As Rob Lammle reports for mental_floss, pretend passengers had often come with vehicles before, but the Little People were the first who could actually be detached from the vehicles and included in imaginative play. The cylindrical toys got a bad rap in the 1980s when they were featured on the cover of a book about hazardous toys, and a redesign took place to make them chunkier and less of a choking hazard. Today, they hold high nostalgia cachet for collectors and command lots of money on the resale market despite the fact that the line still exists in a modern incarnation.

That’s all well and good, but for every inductee, there’s a loser on the sidelines who won’t get a spot in the hall of fame. This year, writes the museum, other iconic toys like pinball, Care Bears, and Transformers lost their bids for best toys. (Toys are evaluated for iconic status, longevity, discovery and innovation.) But as the toybox filled with honorees grows, there’s no telling which nostalgic delights will be enshrined in the annals of great toy history next. Want to make a nomination? Click here for more information about the process—and enjoy the trip down memory lane.

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