Recently, I came across a toy in a pile of older items that were found at my husband’s grandparents’ home. I quickly glanced by it, but then something triggered in my memory: a sweet voice saying, “Yellow…my bird is yellow.” The toy was a See ‘N Say themed to Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. If you do not remember See ‘N Says, they are set up like a wheel with pictures around the edge and an arrow that spins in the middle when a string or lever is pulled. When the arrow stops, the toy recites something about the picture to which it is pointing. In the case of this version, the wheel displays images of Mickey and his friends, each focusing on a different color. Daisy Duck was the one with the yellow bird. Even though the pull string on this See ‘N Say no longer worked, I could remember exactly what it sounded like, and I recalled memories of playing with the same toy at my own grandparents’ home.
Memories like this are the reason that Toy Story resonates with such a wide age range of individuals. Upon seeing playthings like Mr. Potato Head, Green Army Men, the Fisher Price Chatter Telephone, Barbie and so many more, we are transported back to our own childhoods. We remember our favorite toys, and even those long-forgotten are recalled fondly. And while some toys may not be recognizable to today’s children, parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents recognize them and are encouraged to share their recollections.
This same joyous nostalgia can be found in Toy Story Land in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Many have argued that this newest themed environment is simplistic or just a copy of lands abroad; however, if Guests are willing to stop and look around, a great amount of care has been given to creating a place that can be enjoyed by all ages. Parents and grandparents can help their children or grandchildren hunt for and identify favorite toys hidden throughout the land, and credit must be given to Disney Imagineering for the number of real life toys that have been incorporated in creative ways. (Whoever came up with the idea to have Cootie Bugs from The Cootie Game outside the restroom deserves an award.)
So, in an effort to stimulate readers’ memories, here are the brief histories of some of the real life toys that can be found in Toy Story Land. The hope is that this list will send families on a multi-generational hunt through this childlike land, and it will encourage “kids” from 2-99 to share their memories of playing with these toys.
The Cootie Game
Eric Mortensen of Geeky Hobbies shares the interesting history of The Cootie Game, based on a paper and pencil game played by soldiers in the trenches during World War I, the first version of “Cootie” used a picture of a bug’s body with wood pieces and was made by Transogram starting in 1939. However, the well-known version with three-dimensional bugs was created by H.W. Schaper in 1948 while he was working on fishing lure designs. He used these lures as the basis for his Cooties and began producing plastic pieces for the game. The Cootie Game was Schaper Manufacturing Company’s most successful game (others included Ants in the Pants, Don’t Spill the Beans, and many more). Eventually the game was purchased by Milton Bradley and then Hasbro. Look for larger than life Cootie Bugs outside of the restrooms in Toy Story Land.
The Strong National Museum of Play reports that after watching his children create shapes using sticks, pencils and wooden spools, Charles Pajeau invented the first Tinkertoy set in the early 1910s. In order to help market his toys, Pajeau would set up window displays in shops around Chicago where the sets could be purchased. The now iconic bright colors of the Tinkertoys did not come about until the 1950s. In the 1990s after the toy was acquired by Plakskool, plastic sets were released, but they have returned to the wooden pieces in recent years. Tinkertoys can be found throughout Toy Story Land holding up strings of Christmas lights and more.
Etch A Sketch
Kirstin Fawcett of Mental Floss details the story of Etch A Sketch inventor Andre Cassaagnes in her article “11 Well-Drawn Facts About the Etch A Sketch.” In the 1950s Cassagnes was working as an electrician at a factory in France. This factory used aluminum powder which happened to be present on a light switch plate he was replacing. After peeling the transparent film from the cover, Cassagnes noticed he could draw on the film, and it would pull away the pieces of powder that had been clinging on via static electricity. He applied this same idea when creating the “Telecran” which originally had a joystick instead of the two dials it has today. The toy was eventually purchased by Ohio Art Company following the 1959 Nuremberg Toy Fair and was renamed Etch A Sketch. A large Etch A Sketch can be found in the queue for Toy Story Mania where it draws up word games featuring Toy Story characters.
The Rubik’s website gives the story of the Rubik’s Cube inventor Erño Rubik. As a professor in Budapest Hungary, Rubik wanted to create a way for his students to understand three-dimensional problems. Originally called Buvos Kocka, or “Magic Cube,” Rubik realized after twisting and turning the cube that he was unsure how to solve it. It ended up taking him a month to return each side to a solid color, but over the course of the 1970s, the challenge proved popular with Hungarians. Because of communist rule in Hungary, Rubik was unable to export the toy, but he was able to travel to toy fairs. In 1979 at the Nuremberg Toy Fair, a man named Tom Kremer saw the potential of the Magic Cube. Kremer was able to pitch Professor Rubik’s toy to the Ideal Toy Company who agreed to distribute it internationally under one condition, the name be changed to Rubik’s Cube. Today, the seemingly simple block is the world’s best-selling toy. Look for a Rubik’s Cube in a tower of toys near the Slinky Dog Dash track.
While many assume that Jenga is a game that has existed for centuries, according to the history given on Jenga’s website, it was invented by Leslie Scott in the 1970s. Her family had made up the stacking game with a set of blocks they had received while living in Ghana. Though easy to learn, the game has posed an addictive challenge for players for decades. The record for the highest tower was set in 1985 and consisted of forty complete levels with two blocks on the forty-first level. A set of Jenga blocks stands in the midst of the Slinky Dog Dash rollercoaster with Rex balancing on top.
According to The Strong National Museum of Play, Yahtzee, originally known as The Yacht Game, was invented by a couple who enjoyed playing the game while out on their yacht. Eventually, they introduced the game to their friends and looked for a way to create sets to be given away as gifts. They approached an individual named Edwin S. Lowe about producing the game. Lowe knew games well and quickly saw that “The Yacht Game” could be a success. He made a deal to take over the rights to the game in exchange for 1,000 sets that the couple would give to their friends. Renamed Yahtzee, the game rights were later acquired by Milton Bradley Company and then Hasbro. Look for the Milton Bradley version of the game box in the queue for Slinky Dog Dash.
The official Scrabble website lists a detailed history of the classic word game. In 1933, Alfred Mosher Butts took notice that the lack of a scoring system was keeping word games from being as popular as card games. Butts decided to meld together the crossword format with a jumble style word game, add in a little chance, and the first version of Scrabble was born. Originally known as Lexiko, and later renamed Criss Cross Words, Butts analyzed letter usage on the front page of “The New York Times” in order to determine how many tiles of each letter should be available and what value should be given to each. Originally, manufacturers were not interested in the game, and after working with entrepreneur James Brunot, Butts decided to rename the game Scrabble which means “to grasp, collect, or hold on to something.” After a serendipitous round of Scrabble was played by the president of Macy’s in the early 1950s, the game took off and has been an American classic ever since. Scrabble tiles can be found scattered in a number of places, most notably spelling out “RESTROOMS” above the Toy Story Land restrooms.
Mr. Potato Head
Megan Wilde reported on “The Evolution of Mr. Potato Head” in an online article for Mental Floss. Invented by George Lerner in 1949, the toy was originally just a number of plastic face and body parts that were pushed into a real potato. At first, toy companies were reluctant to sell and manufacture the concept because they worried parents would shy away from the idea of sacrificing good food for playtime. However, in 1952, Hasbro optioned Lerner’s spud accessories and found parents were more than willing to make the purchase. Mr. Potato Head found his wife in 1953 and even had two children, Spud and Yam. By 1964, the eyes and body parts were being sold with a plastic potato head; and ten years later, the potato was enlarged and began representing the entire body instead of just the head. Today, Mr. Potato Head has taken on a number of unique roles such as Luke Frywalker and Tony Starch. Mr. Potato Head can be found in his interactive, audio-animatronic form in the queue of Toy Story Mania.
The history of View-Master is a wild, circuitous story involving the FBI, a reformed Nazi-sympathizer, and the United States military, all of which can be found in Jake Rossen’s “Chakka-Chhh: The Hidden History of View-Master” written for Mental Floss. Originally invented by German immigrant William Gruber, it was intended to be a way of taking detailed photographs for future reference, but the View-Master was later marketed as a way to view far-off locales via three dimensional postcard reels made by Sawyer’s postcard company. Looking for ways to expand sales, they also saw the potential for the dual-lens device to appeal to children and began producing reels with scenes from fairytales and the Bible. Then, in 1951, Sawyer’s purchased a competitor’s device, Tru-Vue, who, as luck would have it, was licensed to produce reels with the full library of Disney characters. View-Master’s popularity exploded as families across America could view their favorite film and cartoon characters. Today, a giant Peter Pan View-Master reel can be found in the queue for Toy Story Mania in Toy Story Land.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, dominoes originated in China and date back as early as the 10th century. They were originally created to represent every possible roll of two dice, so the Chinese set only included numbers 1-6, no blanks. There, dominoes were used as like playing cards, so their games differed greatly from the more position-based games that are played in Western countries. Dominoes first appeared in the west during the 18th century in Italy and France. It seems that there are endless possibilities and games to be played with the well-known dotted tiles. Some favorites include Mexican Train, Muggins, Matador, and Chickenfoot. Towers of stacked dominoes can be found in several places throughout Toy Story Land.
This brightly colored, joyful board game has a somewhat bittersweet history. The Strong Museum of Play shares the story of Eleanor Abbott, a woman with polio who spent her days in the hospital ward with a number of children suffering from the same condition. Abbott wanted to create a diversion that would be easy to learn and provide a calm, quite escape. Requiring only a knowledge of colors and the ability to count , the children caught on to Candy Land quickly. Abbott sent her idea to game manufacturer Milton Bradley who quickly decided to purchase the sugar-coated pastime. It is believed that fears surrounding the spread of polio also assisted in the rise of Candy Land’s popularity, as parents sought ways to keep their children inside at home. Originally, wooden pieces were used as markers, but those have since been replaced with plastic gingerbread men, one of which can be found standing as the height measurement sign at Slinky Dog Dash.
Over at The History Channel, writer Christopher Klein shared the fascinating story of “The Birth of Lincoln Logs” and the famous family that invented them. In the early 1900s, architect Frank Lloyd Wright was tasked with designing Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel in such a way that the building could withstand the nation’s intense earthquakes. When the project began, Frank’s son, John Lloyd Wright was a part of the design team; however, over the course of the project, John fell out of favor with his father and found himself in need of an income. It was then that he co-opted the idea of interlocking pieces of wood which his father had used to tackle the earthquake issue in Tokyo. He began developing sets of toys which could be used to build all sorts of miniature buildings. The original sets of Lincoln Logs came with instructions for building Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood cabin. The 100th Anniversary Tin of Lincoln Logs, featuring those original instructions can still be found from many online retailers. Look for Lincoln Logs in the queue for Toy Story Mania where riders pick up their 3D glasses.
According to an interview with CNBC , fifty-year-old Joel Glickman found himself bored at a wedding reception and asked a waitress for some straws. He began pushing the straws together to build different shapes. While playing, he thought to himself that with the right connectors, he might have a successful toy. He returned to the classic Tinkertoys and began troubleshooting what downfalls existed with the spool and spoke design. Glickman knew that there needed to be more connection points and the spokes needed to be able to snap in at different angles. The first K’NEX sets were manufactured at The Rodon Group, a plastic injection company owned by Glickman’s father, himself and his brother. Today, the famous construction toy is available in a wide range of sets including licensed products, educational options and more. Larger than life K’NEX pieces are used as fencing throughout Toy Story Land.
There are many more toys to be found throughout Toy Story Land. What toys have you discovered? Which was your favorite as a child?
(Photos from the personal collections of Lou Mongello: Yahtzee, Etch A Sketch, View-Master; K.S. Wicks: Cooties, Dominoes, Rubik’s Cube, Jenga, K’NEX, Scrabble, Tinkertoys; and Vanessa Prince: Lincoln Logs and Candy Land)
To learn more about Kendall and read her recent posts for WDW Radio, visit her author page by clicking the link on her name at the top of this post.