Kids have played with things since the caveman days. Anything a child can find, including sticks and stones, can become a toy. And kids have had dolls and balls and toy soldiers through the centuries. But the "toy industry" is a new phenomenon. It's only in the last century that hundreds of thousands of adults began devoting their career to entertaining our children, who receive oh-so-many toys in the span of even a year. It's part of my job to look at new toys and pick out the best, and let me tell you, it is no small undertaking!
When I heard that the The Toy Industry Association, the non-profit that represents all the companies involved in making entertainment products for kids, turns 100 this week, I was struck both by how long 100 years is, and also how short. Does this mean that only 150 years ago, kids didn't get a pile of toys at every birthday and holiday? I think it does! Then again, it was way back in 1911 that the Erector Set was first sold, and that was before my grandma was even born. The fact that you can still buy Erector sets—now under the Meccano Maker System umbrella—and the fact that they still seem futuristic and cool and cutting-edge, is a testament to how good that toy is, 105 years later.
The TIA is a cheerleading group for the Erector Set and all the other toys that are invented, produced, and sold. Are kids better off now that there are such things as a Duncan Yo-Yo (released in 1928) and Silly Putty (out since 1943)? I think they are. Toys challenge them and delight them, and although you know it's ridiculous when kids get toys from the dentist or just for being a guest at a birthday party, I think it's great that we live in a time when making kids happy is an entire trade.
Reading down the list of famous toys of the last century (Star Wars figures in the 70s, Tickle Me Elmo in the 90s, Rainbow Loom in our own time) I paused at Nerf, which released its iconic ball in 1969. My son is going to not one but two Nerf-related birthday celebrations this weekend. Nerf has been around for a few generations, and yet if you asked my son, I'm sure he'd think it was pretty much made for him and his friends.
So cheers to the TIA and to toy companies for 100 years of delighting children. In this age of technology, that's no small feat.
Jessica Hartshorn, Entertainment Editor of Parents magazine, is preparing for a month of toy-testing the new toys of 2016.