Whether you’re a parent, a child, or simply young at heart, you might have toys on the brain during this time of year. Back in 1964, 94,000 pedal-powered toy Mustangs were purchased for children during the Christmas season. And while more than 50 years may have gone by, we’re still paying tribute to the toys that shaped our childhoods thanks to Rochester’s own Strong Museum of Play and its National Toy Hall of Fame.
Earlier this month, the renowned museum announced three new inductees into its National Toy Hall of Fame. Recognized for their popularity, creativity, and cultural impact, the 2020 honorees included sidewalk chalk, Jenga, and Baby Nancy — the first babydoll to have an afro hairstyle and other Black features.
Baby Nancy was a highlight for many, as she was the first doll created by California-based company Shindana Toys, which was launched by a not-for-profit organization called Operation Bootstrap, Inc. The organization as created as a means of self-help for the Black community following the Watts riots in Los Angeles. The doll soon became the best-selling Black doll in the city and quickly thereafter became a hit nationwide. Baby Nancy’s popularity showcased the demand for ethnically accurate Black dolls — and while Shindana Toys succumbed to financial issues in the 1980s, Strong Museum curator Michelle Parnett-Dwyer noted that Baby Nancy “still stands as a landmark doll that made commercial and cultural breakthroughs.”
Museum chief curator Christopher Bensch also acknowledged that recent events, both across the country and at home in Rochester, Baby Nancy’s new inductee status holds an even more significant meaning. “In the wake of protests, demonstrations and a larger understanding of racial inequities, it was time to recognize the breakthrough that was Baby Nancy,” he said.
Even if you didn’t own a Baby Nancy doll, however, you probably played with sidewalk chalk. While 90% of people believe the arts should be taught in grades K-12 and 2,721,786 students enroll in charter schools nationally every year, sidewalk chalk makes it easy for children (and adults, for that matter) to use their imagination and be creative with a unique artistic medium even outside of school.
Bensch explained, “There are few limits to what kids can do with chalk. Every sidewalk square, patio, and driveway holds the potential for a work of art, a winning game of strategy and cleverness, or a demonstration of physical agility, poise, and balance.”
And then there’s Jenga, a wildly popular yet simple wooden block game that derives its name for the Swahili word for “to build.” Created by UK resident Leslie Scott, Jenga can easily be played by anyone with no limit to the number of players. And while laws note that child support should be payable by a parent until a child turns 21, there’s no age limit on who can have fun with Jenga.
The 2020 National Hall of Fame inductees were chosen by a panel from 12 finalists that included games and toys like bingo, Lite-Brite, My Little Pony, Sorry!, Risk, Tamagotchi, Yahtzee, and others. The three newest inductees will be on permanent display at the National Toy Hall of Fame along with previous winners that have been displayed since 1998, when the Strong Museum launched the initiative. Nominations for new inductees are received year-round from anyone who wishes to recognize a particularly special toy or game.
After remaining closed for months during the start of the pandemic, The Strong Museum of Play has reopened to welcome guests back. Masks must be worn at all times and admission is limited to ensure safety. Whether you want to see the new inductees in person or appreciate all of the other exciting exhibits on display, it’s clear the Strong will continue to play an important role as a Rochester treasure — even in the midst of our current crisis.