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Archives Experience Newsletter - February 6, 2024

  • Toy Story

Toys are an integral part of one’s childhood; no matter the era, toys have been a means for imagination and joy. Just take a look at these two youngsters playing with their teddy bear and doll in an image from the Eisenhower Presidential Library.
Toys are also media for nostalgia; for example, it seems like Barbie is everywhere these days. But did you know that her official birthday is March 9, 1959? On this date, she was introduced to the world at the New York Toy Fair by her creator, Ruth Handler. A few months later on July 24, Mattel Toy Company submitted her official patent by toy designer John W. Ryan to the U.S. Patent Office.

This original patent is housed in the National Archives under the title “Doll Construction.” While Barbie has gone through many iterations, jobs, and hair colors (in fact, the original 1959 Barbie was sold in both blonde and brunette), in this original patent, you can see her unique proportions and permanently pointed toes that we still play with.
In fact, many iconic toy patents are stored in the National Archives.

Toy Cabin Construction – John Lloyd Wright
National Archives Identifier: 2524975

Surely you and your children remember playing with Lincoln Logs, the little notched blocks invented by John Lloyd Wright? If that name sounds familiar, it is because John was partially inspired to create this toy by his father, renowned American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. After a falling out with his famous father over the designs for the Tokyo Imperial Hotel, John Lloyd Wright turned his attention to toy inventions.
Influenced by his father’s hotel design for an earthquake-proof foundation, John repurposed notched beams into a children’s toy that could create structurally sound right angles. And the name? Not only was John Lloyd Wright born and raised in Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, but the original toy set came with instructions to build perhaps the most famous log structure in American history, Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood cabin.

Yoda Patent

Or perhaps you spent your childhood journeying to a galaxy far far away? The National Archives also holds the patent for the original Yoda figurine, filed in 1980 by Lucasfilm Ltd. Now a collector’s item, this action figure was created by the Kenner Company to market the Star Wars movie The Empire Strikes Back.
Whatever your interests and generation, from Tinkertoys to teddy bears, Rock’em Sock’em Robots to yo-yos and everything in between, the 4.5-plus million patents stored in the National Archives are guaranteed to have something that will be special to your childhood.

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