BLASTS FROM THE PAST

Eight classic toys that still make great gifts

Wonder whatever happened to many cherished playthings of yesteryear? These often-forgotten favorites are still around.

Last updated: December 16, 2014 08:00 AM

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We dusted off Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine to track the status of some classic toys that resonated with generations of children and, we suspect, still have plenty to offer the current crop who are more accustomed to digital devices. So here’s the answer to the question, "Whatever happened to . . . ?" The good news: Most are widely available online and at stores including Target, Toys 'R" Us, and Walmart. (If you're into higher-tech toys, read about the the best tech toys for 2014 and check our guide to video game consoles, tech toys, and kid tablets.)

Lionel trains

The 114-year-old company, whose ownership over the years included rocker Neil Young, is going strong and currently headquartered in Concord, N.C. Lionel continues to manufacture electric trains as well as diecast metal cars as an official partner of NASCAR. If you’re a hobbyist or beginner, check out the company's website, where you can shop online, browse product catalogs, and watch helpful instructional videos on how to begin or expand your collection. 

Flexible Flyer sleds

The trademark to the classic wooden sled with steel runners is owned by Paricon, which began more than 150 years ago as a Maine-based, family-owned sled-making business. After a management shift, the company is back in the hands of great-grandson of the founder. Paricon also sells under the Flexible Flyer name those slick steel saucers for swooshing down snowy hills. The saucers are made in the USA. We contacted the company for manufacturing information about the sleds. The answer was a bit fuzzy: “Most of our sleds are made in the USA. If you're referring to our steel runner sleds, they are made in China. We made them in the USA one year recently and the majority of customers were not willing to pay the higher price.” The sleds are also available on Amazon. We spotted the saucer at L.L.Bean.

For great toys for big kids, check our Holiday Gift Ideas page.

Lincoln Logs

Part of the K'NEX family, the classic wooden construction toys were invented in 1916 by John Lloyd Wright, son of the renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The toys have remained popular because they help children develop fine-motor skills and sharpen their problem-solving skills. They’re available at K'NEX, as well as stores including Walmart, Kmart, Toys R Us, and Target.

Mouse Trap

Unveiled in 1963 by the Ideal Toy Co., the board game’s look has changed, but not its objective: To build a Rube Goldberg-style contraption to capture a “mouse,” then try to outrace other players to the finish, so it's someone else's mouse that gets nabbed. The game, priced at around $20, is made by Hasbro under its Milton Bradley logo. It’s available online and in stores.

Mr. Potato Head

At around $9 ( not much more than a sack of actual potatoes), Playskool’s iconic spud has received a makeover. He and Mrs. Potato Head now have legs, more accessory holes, facial features, and, as an homage to a healthier lifestyle, a slimmer physique. Unlike the 1949 original, which consisted of pieces that had pushpins on the various parts that could be stuck in a real potato, Mr. and Mrs. P are plastic (as they have been since the 1960s), and the various components are stored in their “Tater Tush”—the company’s words, not ours.

Slinky

Who imagined a spring could be so much fun? Invented in the 1940s when Richard James was conducting experiments using springs and one fell to the floor and began to walk, Slinky has changed with the times. Today there are more than 20 versions (manufactured in the U.S.), such as Light-Up Slinky, Slinky Dog, and Giant Slinky, in plastic and even gold-plated. But to purists, there’s no substitute for the original Slinky in plain metal, which still makes that unmistakable jangling steel clang as it walks down steps one at a time.

Spirograph

The great thing about Spirograph is that anyone, regardless of artistic talent, could draw intricate designs with colored pens and a series of wheels, rings, and other design tools placed inside a frame. The toy, which combines the principles of art and mathematics, was introduced in 1965; it was originally developed by a mechanical engineer as a drafting tool. Today, there are about a dozen variations starting at less than $10.

Easy Bake Oven

Many folks might have though the Easy Bake Oven was relegated to the scrap heap of memory if it weren’t for a humorous video on Mashable that surfaced recently of basketball great Shaquille O’Neal preparing some of his favorite holiday recipes in the latest version, which resembles a microwave more than a traditional stove. The original 1963 oven, made by Kenner, was powered by a couple of 100-watt bulbs; the current “Ultimate” model, from Hasbro, has a heating element. The oven sells for around $30 to $35.

—Tod Marks

• Lincoln Logs. Part of the K'NEX family, the classic wooden construction toys were invented in 1916 by John Lloyd Wright, son of the renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The toys have remained popular because they help children develop fine-motor skills and sharpen their problem-solving skills. They’re available at K'NEX, as well as stores including Walmart, Kmart, Toys R Us, and Target.

• Mouse Trap. Unveiled in 1963 by the Ideal Toy Co., the board game’s look has changed, but not its objective: To build a Rube Goldberg-style contraption to capture a “mouse,” then try to outrace other players to the finish, so it's someone else's mouse that gets nabbed. The game, priced at around $20, is made by Hasbro under its Milton Bradley logo. It’s available online and in stores.

• Mr. Potato Head. At around $9, not much more than a sack of actual potatoes, Playskool’s iconic spud has gotten a makeover. He and Mrs. Potato Head now have legs, more accessory holes, facial features, and, as an homage to a healthier lifestyle, a slimmer physique. Unlike the 1949 original, which consisted of pieces that had pushpins on the various parts that could be stuck in a real potato, Mr. and Mrs. P are plastic (as they have been since the 1960s) and the various components are stored in their “Tater Tush”— the company’s words, not ours.

• Slinky. Who imagined a spring could be so much fun? Invented in the 1940s when Richard James was conducting experiments using springs, and one fell to the floor and began to walk, Slinky has changed with the times. Today there are more than 20 versions (manufactured in the US) such as Light-Up Slinky, Slinky Dog, and Giant Slinky,  in plastic and even gold-plated. But to purists, there’s no substitute for the original Slinky in plain metal, which still makes that unmistakable jangling steel clang while walking down steps one at a time.

• Spirograph. The great thing about Spirograph is that anyone, regardless of artistic talent, could draw intricate designs— think crop circles —with colored pens and a series of wheels, rings, and other design tools placed inside a frame. The toy, which combines the principles of art and mathematics, was introduced in 1965, but was originally developed by a mechanical engineer as a drafting tool. Today, there are about a dozen variations starting at less than $10.

• Easy Bake Oven. Many folks might have though the Easy Bake Oven was relegated to the scrap heap of memory if it weren’t for a humorous video on Mashable that surfaced last week of basketball great Shaquille O’Neal preparing some of his favorite holiday recipes in the latest version, which resembles a microwave more than a traditional stove. The original 1963 oven, made by Kenner, was powered by a couple of 100-watt bulbs; the current “Ultimate” model, from Hasbro, has a heating element. The oven sells for around $30 to $35.

—Tod Marks

 

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