RALEIGH — Whether you’re a baby or a baby boomer, smiles and fun await you at the new “Toy Boom” exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of History.
The “Toy Boom” exhibit, which will run through January of 2021, features vintage toys that rose to prominence in the 50s and 60s. The toys, which are organized into various themes, are paired with fun facts, hands-on activities and, yes, games.
“The baby-boomer years were a time of more in America… including more toys,” says Katie Edwards, the curator of popular culture at the North Carolina Museum of History. “We created this exhibit to help North Carolinians reflect on their paths from childhood to adulthood, including the toys that paved the way.”
Everything old is new again in this exhibit, which blends nostalgia with interactive experiences for all ages. Themes throughout the exhibit include underlying or overt gender roles and race, with the examples of the first African American dolls produced in the 1960s.
Edwards said she was intrigued by how big an influence the Space Race was on toys and began digging to see what else had influence toys at that time.
“Television played a really big role, as you will see throughout the exhibit, as were marketing and commercials,” said Edwards. “We thought this would be a really fun way to talk about all of this.”
Toy variations and the number of toy companies in the 50s and 60s exploded as plastics allowed for greater mass production. Television and radio also expanded during this time period, allowing for toys to be directly marketed to children.
All of the toys are on loan from various collectors and are organized into topic areas like TV westerns, space age, zany toys, creative toys, the atomic age and, near the end of the exhibit, the rise of video games.
Edwards credited the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, for help with providing and finding artifacts to display.
Visitors can enjoy playing on an oversized Twister board, a giant Lite-Brite wall or even go head to head playing “Pong” on one of the exhibit’s walls. There is also an Etch A Sketch station, working Hot Wheels racing tracks and a “Name that Tune” game.
Some visitors may be reminded of the excitement of making their lists for Santa as they flip through the digital version of a Christmas catalog.
Just a sample of the toys that are on display include the first Easy Bake Oven, Rock ’Em, Sock ’Em Robots, Color-Forms, paper dolls, Slinky, Erector sets, quite a number of dolls and barbies and the original Mr. Potato Head.
Not to be missed is the “Atomic Energy Lab Educational Playset,” which originally came with a Geiger counter and up to four “radioactive ores” to test.
The exhibit also pulls in local North Carolina connections, such as the Fli-Back toy company that opened in 1931 and was based in High Point. The company sold balls, tops and yo-yo’s over the years until the owner died in 1963. Fli-back closed for good in 1983 after being sold to an Ohio company in the 1970s.
Another North Carolina tie-in marries the history of the Morehead Planetarium and astronaut training with popular toys from the 60s focused on space exploration.
The NC Museum of History, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Museum, is a part of the NC Dept. of Cultural Resources. Admission to the museum is free. For more information about the museum, call 919-814-7000 or visit their website at ncmuseumofhistory.org.