The National Toy Hall of Fame is an American museum that was created to celebrate the nation's classic toys and playthings. The hall was founded in 1998 by A. C. Gilbert's Discovery Village, a children's museum in Salem, Oregon.
The village was named in honor of A. C. Gilbert, the creator of the Erector Set, an engineering toy that allowed children to build elaborate items such as bridges and Ferris wheels. He also marketed educational playthings such as chemistry sets, telegraph sets, American Flyer® trains, and MystoMagic® sets. A. C. Gilbert wanted his toys to combine playing and learning, and realized that toys could encourage creative expression as well as satisfy a child’s natural curiosity about the world.
The mission of the National Toy Hall of Fame parallels Gilbert's goal, and it chooses to recognizes only the toys that have national significance in the world of play and imagination. By 2002, the museum had outgrown its original home and was moved to Rochester, New York, where it became a part of the Strong National Museum of Play, which houses over 70,000 toys, dolls, and games.
There is a specific process for selecting the toys that make it into the National Toy Hall of Fame. Any child or adult can nominate their favorite toy via the US mail, the Internet, or at the Strong Museum of Play. An internal museum advisory committee made up of educators, museum curators, and historians review the nominations and determine which toys meet the criteria for selection. A National Selection Committee then reviews the list of toys and each member votes for his or her top picks for induction. Then the votes are tallied and the toys that get the most votes are inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.
There are several criteria a toy has to meet. This criteria includes icon-status, which means the toy is widely recognized, remembered and respected. The toy or game must also boast longevity, which means it has enjoyed popularity for multiple generations and is not just a passing fad. The toy must also have contributed to discovery by fostering learning and creativity. Finally, the toy must be innovative, meaning the toy must have profoundly changed the way people play or the toy's design was new and revolutionary.
Thirty-nine toys have been enshrined in the National Toy Hall of Fame since 1999. The opening class of inductees was a long list of 18 toys. Original selections included the Erector Set, the Barbie® doll, Crayola® Crayons, the Frisbee, the Hula Hoop, and the Etch-A-Sketch®. Other inducted toys included Legos®, Lincoln Logs®, marbles, Play Doh®, the Radio Flyer® Wagon, roller skates, and the teddy bear. Tinkertoys®, View-Master®, the Duncan Yo-Yo®, and the board game Monopoly® were also selected for their longevity in the first year.
Since the Strong Museum of Play took over the National Toy Hall of Fame, only a few toys are inducted each year. The year 2000 saw the bicycle, jacks, the jump rope, Slinky®, and Mr. Potato Head® added to the hall. The following year, the only two inductions were Silly Putty® and Tonka® Trucks.
In 2002, there were more than 90 nominations, but Raggedy Ann and jigsaw puzzles were the only inductees. The class of 2003 saw alphabet blocks and checkers added to the growing list, while 2004 was the year of G. I. Joe®, the rocking horse, and the Scrabble® board game.
The inductees for 2005 included Candy Land®, the jack-in-the-box and the plain, simple cardboard box. In 2006, only the Easy Bake Oven® and Lionel Trains made the cut.
In 2007, the kite, Raggedy Andy, and the sophisticated but obsolete Atari 2600 system were chosen to join the National Hall of Fame’s all-star lineup of classic playthings. It is interesting to note that the Atari video game system was the most recently invented toy in the hall. The kite, on the other hand, is believed to be the oldest having been invented in China almost 3,000 years ago.
Created not only to recognize the importance of those classic toys, the Hall of Fame also celebrates the imagination of the toy makers. Toys and their creators are an important part of American history. They hold the memories, symbolize the ideas, and reflect the values of the generation who created them.