What Kinds of Toys did Children Play With in the Past?

Toys have always been a part of childhood, whether they were tiny finger puppets or large dollhouses. But over the centuries, the types of wooden toys have changed. A doll from ancient Rome will be completely different from a modern-day doll, but the reason why children play with dolls today is the same.

The 1900s: Teddy Bears

Toys have been on children's wish lists for over 100 years, with each decade seeing a new wave of incredibly popular items. Here are some of the most popular toys of the past century - and what they look like today! Crayola crayons, made by Binney & Smith, were one of the first modern toys - with their unique red, yellow, green, blue, and brown sticks. At a nickel each, the crayons were the first mass-produced toys. Other popular toys of the century included teddy bears, marbles, and train sets.

German wind-up toys were another craze, often featuring wacky adult characters in ridiculous situations. In the mid to late 1900s, a new trend in child-centered play included plush toys. These toys featured raised nap exteriors, making them the perfect choice for young children seeking warmth and security. In 1880, Margarete Steiff began making stuffed elephants, claiming to have invented the first soft teddy bear. The company moved to a modern factory in 1905, and its products were popular throughout Europe and the United States.

In 1997, the game was adapted for mobile phones by Finnish artist Taneli Armanto (not to be confused with Taneli Koskela)

vintage teddy bear

The 1830s: Phenakistoscope

The phenakistoscope was invented in the 1830s, possibly by two individuals, both in the same month. It is a rotating disc with radial slots and pictures representing different phases of motion. The user focuses his or her gaze through the slits to see an image. The device is most commonly used as a toy, though it also had practical uses in scientific demonstrations.

The invention of the phenakistoscope, also known as a stroboscopic disc, came about by accident. Its inventor, Simon von Stampfer, had read about an optical illusion created by fast-rotating gears. Stampfer performed similar experiments and developed the Stampfer Disc, also known as an optical magic disc or a Stroboscope. The phenakistoscope was the first commercially available toy to display a continuous loop.

Later on, a zoetrope, which was a vertical version of the phenakistoscope, became popular. Throughout the nineteenth century, optical toys were in widespread use. Whether for education or entertainment purposes, these toys had a wide audience. They are still popular today.

The 1840s: Marbles

What did children play with in the 1840's? The craze for kaleidoscopes started to fade during the reign of Queen Victoria. One of the most popular toys was marbles. They required several to play. Other toys popular in the era included quoits, a form of ring toss, and skittles. While they are no longer common, they were still incredibly popular in the era.

Marbles, of course, were a favorite Victorian toy. In addition to the game of marbles, the children played hoop and stick. They tossed a small hoop from one stick to the other. They also played a game called graces. They also played games like tag and marbles on the ground. The King family had an enormous garden that was full of marbles, and the children played in the garden looking for marbles. Until the late 1800s, children didn't have a lot of toys. Children of craftspeople and peasants were unlikely to have access to many toys. They would likely receive a few gifts from adults, often at festivals.

In fact, most toys were made by children themselves, from wood scraps, gourds, and animal parts. And children were allowed to play freely in groups without adults' supervision.

The 1850s: The Snake Game

The original Snake Game, designed by George Washington in the 1850s, was hand-painted with a stevige background. Its players controlled a dot, square, or object, which gradually expanded as they advanced in the game. In the game, the player loses if the snake runs into an obstacle or border.
The idea behind today's snake game is simple: the player has to move an increasingly twisted line to avoid getting stuck in the middle of the game screen. Its genesis can be traced back to Gremlin Industries' 1976 arcade game Blockade, which had a snake and worm in the title. It later made its way onto home computers and eventually to consoles. In 1997, the game was adapted for mobile phones by Finnish artist Taneli Armanto. Today, the game is pre-loaded on over 400 million mobile phones and has nine distinct versions. But if you want to play like the 1850s, this classic game may still be worth a try!

The 1860s: Toys of War

Toys for children in the 1860s reflect societal gender divisions. Toy storefronts featured girls' and boys' dolls, while French and British toy manufacturers sold tin dollhouses. The toys were often gender-specific, including military miniatures made of tin plates. These toys kept boys informed of the European arms race and familiar with the armies of potential enemies. Today's toy soldiers are often highly detailed, but their true purpose is not to teach a child about war and conflict.

Many children became fascinated with the toys of war during the Civil War. Tin soldiers and wooden dolls became popular.. Another toy that was popular with children in the 1860s was a toy weapons set. Similarly, children played with miniature wooden weapons during mock battles between the Union and the Confederacy. In addition to these items, children were also captivated by the Phenakistoscope, which made children awestruck 40 years ago.

The 1870s: Zoetrope

During the 1870s, a Frenchman invented a device that exhibited a continuous loop of images. This device was housed inside a small zoetrope drum. This invention was marketed as "L'Animateur" in Paris. This device allowed children to see images in a continuous loop, while at the same time being compact and tactile. It is believed that the invention of the zoetrope was a significant step in the development of modern cinema.

The earliest known photographs of children playing with a zoetrope date from the 1870s. The earliest known surviving photos of toys from that time date from the Hardijzer Photographic Research Collection. As the industrial revolution became increasingly widespread, toy production increased and toys became mass-produced. In addition, plasticine became commercially available during the early 1900s. The zoetrope and the Phenakistoscope had a huge impact on children's play and entertainment.

The earliest known zoetrope toys were the ones that move pictures. They were first developed in the 1830s by British mathematician George Horner and became extremely popular in the 1870s. A modern replica of a zoetrope has been made with many improvements. The zoetrope is a mechanical replica of the traditional device that allows children to see moving images.

old rocking horse toy

The 1880s: Rocking Horses

As a child's toy, rocking horses have changed quite a bit over the years. In the 1880s, an American inventor came up with an alternative mechanism to the bow rocker. The glider type required less space and remained in place during use.

By the end of the century, eleven different manufacturers were producing rocking horses. This evolution led to the popularity of rocking horses as a toy for children.

A rocking horse was initially made of wood. Its wooden body was usually painted or carved. They began to become more elaborate as time went on. During the Victorian Age, they reached the height of their popularity, and their appearance became more elaborate with flowing manes, leather saddles, and bridles. They were also painted dapple gray. Today, rocking horses can be purchased online at Amazon.

Rocking horses are simple to make, although they're still slightly more complex than stick horses that are used by older children for pantomime. At first, rocking horses were cradles, designed to entertain toddlers. Grandparents and fathers with carpentry skills fashioned rocking horses out of two upright solid boards. A horizontal seat was topped with a horse head.

The 1890s: Dolls

In the 1890s, a wide variety of children's toys were available, from wooden dolls to porcelain ones. The hoop and stick was a popular toy and later developed into the hula hoop. Children also played with zoetropes, early forms of animation. These small machines, spinning on a spool, showed short films for children to watch. Peg dolls were popular with children and were cheap to make. However, children of wealth had porcelain dolls that were made to look like the ladies of the time. They were painted to look like the real thing and had detailed costumes.

Later on, a new variety of toys came on the market - train sets and model trains. These toys have since become highly collectible. As unemployment rose and the Depression started to ravage the nation, toy production continued. New technologies in synthetic fibers and brightly colored fabrics made it cheaper to create these toys.


In the past, children played with a variety of different kinds of toys. Some of the most popular toys were dolls, toy cars, and action figures. Many children also enjoyed playing with simple toys such as balls and sticks. Today, children still enjoy playing with many of the same kinds of toys that their parents and grandparents did.


What did kids play with in the 1950's?

metal car

How have toy train sets changed in the last 100 years?

A century ago, toy trains were mostly made of metal, with intricate designs that required hours of assembly. Today, toy trains are mostly made of plastic, and they come in a wide variety of colors and styles. Some of the most popular toy trains are based on real-life trains, such as the Thomas the train from the Tank Engine series.

What are the earliest known toys and games?

The earliest known toys and games date back to the beginning of civilization. The first toys were made of wood and bone, and were used to teach children about their culture and heritage. The first games were played with balls and sticks, and were used to teach children about cooperation and competition.

Why were toys made out of metal in the old days?

In the old days, toys were made out of metal because it was a durable material that could withstand a lot of wear and tear. Metal toys were also less likely to break than toys made out of other materials, which was important since kids often played rough with their toys.

What toys did kids play with in the Middle Ages?

Kids in the Middle Ages played with a variety of toys, including dolls, balls, and wooden swords. Some toys were simple, like a piece of cloth or a rock, while others were more complex, like a spinning top or a wooden horse on wheels. Whatever the toy, children in the Middle Ages had plenty of fun playing with them.

Author - Nurlana Alasgarli
Nurlana Alasgarli           

Content Specialist

Nurlana Alasgarli is a professional copywriter with more than 6 years of creative writing experience. Having lived and experienced all over the world, there are many writing genres that Nurlana follows, including nature, arts and crafts and the outdoors. Nurlana brings life to content creation, captivating her readers.


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