In the post-war environment of the early 1950s, massive numbers of American families began establishing child-centred homes in the suburbs, industrial production boomed, leisure time became a reality for the majority, and a burgeoning "space age," along with the introduction of television -- and TV advertising -- created a climate in which children enthusiastically embraced both the traditional childhood pastimes of their pre-war parents and the exciting, newly created, available and well-advertised products of a booming toy industry.
In the early 1950s, children's play still largely centred on games, rather than toys. Children too young to play organised games played mainly with the same toys that their parents had enjoyed: blocks, jack-in-the-boxes, rocking horses, push/pull toys, stuffed animals and stacking toys among them. Colouring books and crayons, simple cars and rubber animals that squeaked when you squeezed them were de rigeur among early-1950s preschoolers.
In the 1950s, "sexism" was a term yet unknown, and dolls were for girls. Generic dolls and dollhouses were given to 1950s girls, but in that era, brand-name dolls were also marketed. Betsy Wetsy wet her diaper after being given a bottle; Tiny Tears' cried. The Ginny doll, created decades earlier, became the 8-inch-high fashion icon as little girls bought new outfits for her and her baby sister Ginette. The end of the decade saw the introduction of Patti Play Pal, a "life-size" toddler doll who was hugely popular at the time but lives on only in memory and sales of vintage items, and Barbie, the fashion doll that revolutionised the concept of "doll."
Paper dolls, a Depression innovation that allowed even poor girls to have dolls, were popular with preteen girls in the 1950s. Girls could cut out, or even design, outfits, which they could affix, via paper tabs, to cardboard figures of anyone from generic children to popular movie stars.
With advertising came brand-name toys for children. Mr. Potato Head made his appearance in 1952 -- the kit came only with plastic facial features that children stuck on an actual potato. Silly Putty was a soft goo that came in an egg that kids could squish and mould. In addition, the kit held comic images, so children enjoyed sticking it on "the comics" and seeing the comic reproduced on the flat putty. The Hula Hoop -- a simple plastic ring that could be kept aloft by the proper wriggling of the hips -- kept children competing to see who could keep it going the longest.
In the 1950s, there were no bicycle-helmet laws or soft landing places at the end of slides. In addition to lead-painted toy cars and teddy bears with potentially eye-stabbing parts, children routinely played with other toys now considered dangerous. Wood-burning kits, sewing machines that had actual needles, dart guns with metal projectiles, and "Swiss army knives" -- the kind with many different blades -- were standard issue in the 1950s.