The Sentimental Work of Play: Manhood and the American Toy Industry, 1900–1930



In 1919, a writer in the trade journal Playthings recalled the lengths to which the “American toy man” once had to go to “disguise or hide the fact” that he made or sold toys for a living: the toy manufacturer would call his operation a “wood-working plant” to make it sound more dignified when he applied for a loan; wholesalers would mention the toys they kept in stock only if they were asked about them; and during the brief Christmas season when toys were featured, retailers would stick them in the basement. In all aspects, the writer suggested, toymaking and toyselling in the United States had once been questionable occupations, “Unworthy the Respect of Sound Business Men,” as the subtitle to the article put it. But today, he concluded, “there is a change— a wonderful change— all along the line. There is a pride everywhere.” Or, as another toy man boasted in 1913, “The domestic toy manufacturers comprise today a sturdy industrial body. Barely a decade ago this could not be said.”2


United States Supreme Consumer Capitalism Magic Trick Store Window Allies Compete 
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  1. 1.
    Portions of this article originally appeared as chapter six in Woody Register, The Kid of Coney Island: Fred Thompson and the Rise of American Amusements (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    On female dollmakers, see Miriam Formanek-Brunell, Made to Play House: Dolls and the Commercialization of American Girlhood, 1830–1930 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993).Google Scholar
  3. Ruth Handler with Jacqueline Shannon, Dream Doll: The Ruth Handler Story (Stamford, Conn.: Longmeadow, 1994).Google Scholar
  4. John F. Kasson, Houdini, Tarzan, and the Perfect Man: The White Male Body and the Challenge of Modernity in America (New York: Hill & Wang, 2001)Google Scholar
  5. Kristin L. Hoganson, Lighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998)Google Scholar
  6. Peter G. Filene, Him/Her/Self: Sex Roles in Modern America (1974; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), 69–93Google Scholar
  7. 31.
    L. Shoneman, “The Fourteenth Street Store (N.Y.) Toy Department,” Playthings 7 (December 1909): 35Google Scholar
  8. 32.
    Leonard S. Marcus, The American Store Window (New York: Whitney Library of Design, 1978), 12–13Google Scholar
  9. 33.
    Warfield Webb, “Christmas in Chicago,” Playthings 10 (December 1912): 45Google Scholar
  10. 45.
    Robert H. McCready, “Children’s Day a New Era in Toy Selling,” Playthings 25 (July 1927): 146.Google Scholar
  11. 65.
    John Higham, “The Reorientation of American Culture in the 1890s,” in Writing American History, ed. Higham (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1970), 79.Google Scholar

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© Elspeth H. Brown, Catherine Gudis, and Marina Moskowitz 2006

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