Next to Christmas, birthdays, summer vacation, Halloween and Thanksgiving, another day that kids looked forward to was either the day the Sears’ or J.C. Penny’s Christmas or “wish” catalog came out or the day you got to meet Santa Claus to tell him what you wanted that year.
In my case it was both—as soon as my Mom had that catalog it was never out of my sight and as for meeting the heavy set man in red, I starting pestering mom to take me to see him from mid November.
Growing up in the 60s, the toys we wanted pale in comparison to the high-tech wizardry that goes into toys today but the toys back then required more imagination and creativity. I think kids were smarter back then—not as savvy as kids today, but smarter and perhaps more practical.
And when it came to our toys, we had some cool ones that’s for sure.
Tinker Toys/Lincoln Logs
Back in the 1950s and 1960s Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs were standard issue toys when it came time for Christmas. Almost everyone I knew had one or the other and if you were from Illinois, “The Land of Lincoln”—those Lincoln Logs were all the more appropriate for kids. Tinker Toys were just cool, I mean in a time before Lego, Tinker Toys ruled. Likewise, there was just something cool about toys made of wood, you know? I can still remember that sweet smell of wood when you opened cylindrical-shaped tub the Tinker Toys came in.
And it really seemed possible, at least back in the 1960s that if you believed in Santa Claus you could imagine his elves cutting wood and making Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs.
“G.I. Joe, G.I. Joe,
from head to toe
In the land
in the air
on the sea.”
If girls could have their Barbie’s and their Ken’s why couldn’t boys have their Joes—G.I. Joes that is? Nothing like perpetuating a bit of a Spartan mentality by having boys learn about war by playing with a doll (the term action figure had not entered our vernacular back then) but of course we would have never thought about calling them a doll. That would have been too sissified for us and would have portended doom for anyone who did on the school playground at high noon. They were just Joes. And back in the 1960s when I was a kid, G.I. Joe’s were G.I. Joes—not the scaled down, shrunken action figures that replaced the original ones in the 70s.
I got my first Joe right around the time things were starting to heat up in Southeast Asia. It came with a wooden footlocker (about the size of a shoebox) and a couple of uniforms for the WWII-era Joe. About all I could do was dress up my Joe and then pretend that he was taking on the whole German or Japanese army. There were German G.I. Joes and Japanese G.I. Joes but I never knew anyone wanting to have one of the “enemy” to play with; those were probably for the more serious Joe aficionados as were the cool accessories like jeeps, helicopters, tanks and frogman suits.
Sadly, my Joe died a violent death. I was running around with some tough kids who did not have G.I. Joe’s—or at least, were not willing to admit that they had one—and sensing peer pressure bearing down on me and wanting to be one of the “cool” kids my Joe had to go. He went all right—he met his demise in a fiery death: I tossed him into a burning barrel of trash and watched him first go up in flames and then melt. What a terrible way to go for a toy that had given me many hours of playing fun and helped me defeat the Germans and the Japanese time and time again.
And those cool kids? They were not so cool after all. Sorry, Joe.
My brother and I must have been the firsts kid on the block that got a Hot Wheels® set for Christmas in 1970. It was a present from my Grandfather and Grandmother Hahn—my mom’s parents. They must have known it was going to be a cool toy for kids to have because not long after we got ours, everyone was into Hot Wheels.
The first set was a bit lame by today’s standards, but it was still cool. There was these long, rubber orange-colored strips—the tracks for the cars—you assembled to create about a ten-foot drag strip that the two cars raced down. There was a starting block/gate you had to elevate so the cars could race down—my brother and I put ours on top of the couch—with the finish in front of the couch. Just place the cars in the starting gate and then let gravity do its job.
The cars were pretty cool—colors as well as the attention to detail, too. You were definitely styling with Hot Wheels that were a step up from the Matchbox® cars and trucks we had played with before.
Major Matt Mason
Growing up in the 60s I was really into model spaceships, NASA, Mercury, Gemini—pretty much anything that had to do with the space race to beat the Russkies to the moon. It was an exciting decade with our exploration of space and the Apollo program to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. And on July 20, 1969 that is exactly what America did.
After the demise of the my G.I. Joe I must have felt a little guilty because two Christmases later in 1969, I got Major Matt Mason for a Christmas present. Although much smaller than the G.I. Joe I had before, Major Matt Mason had a lot of cool space stuff from a space crawler and space bubble to a space station. There were also plenty of aliens to fight so Matt was pretty busy.
I wonder if the some of the folks who brought us Star Wars eight years later had also played with Major Matt Mason? And if so, would they ever come clean and admit that they had gotten a Major Matt Mason for Christmas?
Daisy BB Gun
Technically a BB gun was not a toy (“you’ll shoot your eye out kid”) but it was what most every young boy asked Santa for and hoped that Santa would bring it. I got my first BB gun the same Christmas I got my erector set. My family was worried about me shooting out an eye (and maybe someone else’s eye) as well as the shooting up windows and anything else that moved or didn’t move—maybe that is why they waited until I was 12 before I got one.
I was careful and didn’t shoot up too many things. One time though, I did accidentally shoot my brother in the butt. Sorry about that Randy.
For all those budding architects and engineers who had mastered Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs, the next step up was an erector set. I was 12 when I got mine and like so many other toys it was a rite of passage. You started off with Tinker Toys and then you got an erector set.
Bobby Hull/Stan Makita Stanley Cup Hockey Game
I am not even sure if that was the exact name of the Stanley Cup Hockey set, if it was the Bobby Hull or Stan Makita version, but that it is what I asked Santa for in 1968, the same year I found out that there was not really a Santa—that it had been mom all along. That was okay. I had my hockey set. There were all kinds of models—some had flashing lights when a goal was scored—but what I remember most was just how much fun it was to move those metal players around the field with the levers and try to make those goals.
He shoots! He scores!
Although it was probably not “better living through chemistry” it was one of the better Christmas presents you could get if your parents trusted you with chemicals and stuff that could probably blow up the house. Well, not exactly blow up the house, but there were some flammable and hazardous chemicals that could cause some damage if one wasn’t too careful. Just like the BB gun and the erector sets, these were some potentially dangerous toys that required some, if not a lot of adult supervision. Ironic how the times have changed when almost everything that is sold now comes with a warning. I wonder if people were just smarter back then?
Lionel Train Set
This Christmas present goes without saying. My first and only set was basic, just a locomotive, coal car, boxcar, flatbed car, and caboose that went around and around and oval track. It was cool to have to assemble the tracks and then hook up the power supply to power the train. And even if that small train just went around and around it was a very special present to get.
Another one of those, “goes without saying” presents that a lot of kids looked forward to finding under the tree on Christmas morning. Sadly, I could never get beyond drawing squares and rectangles and by New Year’s Day I was already bored with it.
Maybe the kids today are hipper and savvy with all their high-tech toys, gizmos, and gadgets but all this pales in comparison to the days when kids got to use their imaginations and creativity more.