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You've Got to be Kidding...

Last Minute Gifts


Jonathan van Bilsen

December 21, 2022

Last Minute Gifts

Well, it is nearly Christmas and, if you have not started shopping, perhaps now is a good time to give that some consideration. I thought I would help you find a few items, which may have escaped your searches. They are mostly from our past, but there is nothing better than old-fashioned toys.

Did you know, a political cartoonist created Raggedy Ann in 1920? Originally a book, the two signature handmade dolls - Raggedy Ann and her brother, Raggedy Andy - were made to promote the book. That certainly worked well.

In 1922, comprising various wheels, rods, and pulleys, the original Tinkertoys, came in a fun mailing tube, garnering even more distinction. After an initially slow rollout, the creative construction set would appear under nearly every Christmas tree in America by 1923, at a cost of 59 cents.

How many remember Erector sets? Conceived in 1911 during a train ride from Connecticut to New York City, Erector Set was the first toy ever to use a national ad campaign. It was also the only construction toy of its time to utilize a motor on special units, contributing to its allure.

Teddy Bears have become household words, but former President Teddy Roosevelt himself, inspired the original idea. It began when a political cartoonist depicted Roosevelt refusing to shoot a black bear that had been tied to a tree by his expedition team. Upon seeing the cartoon in the Washington Post, a candy shop owner, who made stuffed animals, got the idea to create a stuffed bear, and name it after the famous incident. With Roosevelt's permission, two ‘Teddy's Bears’ (as they were originally called) were made, and the rest is history.

Another popular gift is the yo-yo, which dates back to 500 BCE. They became famous in North America after a Filipino immigrant began to mass-produce them, to the tune of 300,000 units a day. Fueled by publicity from the likes of William Randolph Hearst himself, kids engaged in yo-yo contests across the country, making the ‘wonder toy’ a sensation. They sold for 5 cents each.

The world's most famous board game almost failed to become a reality. Parker Brothers first passed on Monopoly, when it was pitched to them by creator Charles Darrow in 1933. They took on the line, but in 1936 decided to halt production. Fortunately, founder George S. Parker changed his mind soon after, and the $2 game was a success.

One of the most popular toys over the years has been the Slinky. A mechanical engineer was attempting to devise a spring in 1943, in order to steady boat equipment at sea. He accidentally knocked a prototype to the ground and noticed how it ‘walked’ forward instead of toppling. That was enough to give him the idea for a new novelty toy. Two years later, the first Slinkys were delivered to Gimbel’s Department Store in Philadelphia. With Christmas right around the corner, 400 Slinkys sold instantly - followed by 250 million more over the next seven decades.

I hope you find the gifts you are looking for, and wish you all a very happy Christmas.

Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Watch his show, ‘Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel’, on RogersTV, the Standard Website or YouTube.

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