Sure, Christmas and Hanukkah are about more than getting presents. But, when you’re a kid, well, the holidays are pretty much all about getting presents. And candy. So, let’s take a look back at some of the classic 1940s toys and games that kids were excited to receive during this mid-century decade.
Some Popular 1940s Toys and Games
- Army Men, also known as plastic toy soldiers, were invented in the late 1930s, but they really started to catch on in the post-WWII years. Made primarily in the green of US Army uniforms from the WWII era (as well as other colors like beige and gray to create opposing forces), the peaking military pride following the war drove sales, as did the boom in low-cost plastic manufacturing that coincided. Army men were sold in bulk in plastic bags, as well as in collectible themed boxed sets. These were a classic source of hours of entertainment for young boys in the mid-century years.
- Cap guns date back to the Civil War era, but they enjoyed a “golden age” that kicked off right after WWII and lasted about 20 years. Along with the war, the late ’40s saw growing interest in Western films and cowboy heroes in pop culture. These toy guns contain caps that produce a loud bang and small amount of smoke when fired. A highly coveted holiday gift, boys loved to play with these items and do battle with other kids in the neighborhood. Davy Crockett-inspired coonskin caps were an essential accessory during the decade.
- Homemaking toys were keeping young girls busy in the 1940s while the boys were playing with more violent stuff. At the time, pretending to be a happy homemaker with toy cooking and cleaning items was considered a constructive use of girls’ leisure time. Basically, anything that mom used around the house, there was a toy version for their daughters.
- Chutes and Ladders is a classic kids’ board game introduced in the US by Milton Bradley in 1943. It was a slightly reimagined version of an ancient Indian game called Snakes and Ladders. The playground theme was more appealing to American kids than snakes, which a lot of them tend to be afraid of. This version was an instant hit, and lots of children in got the game as a holiday gift in the ’40s.
- Slinky toys were one of the cool inventions of the 1940s, created by naval engineer Richard T. James. And it quickly made a precompressed metal spring one of the most popular, classic toys of the 1940s. Its ability to walk down steps with its own momentum was a huge part of the appeal. It was first sold at Gimbel’s Department Stores around Christmas in 1945, and more than 100 million Slinkies were sold in its first two years on the market.
- Candy Land is a classic board game that’s great for playing with young children, and it remains popular to this day. Candy Land made its debut in 1948. It was designed by a woman named Eleanor Abbott while she was in a California hospital convalescing from polio. She created it to play with the children in the hospital, and they loved it. Someone there suggested she pitch it to Milton Bradley. The company bought it and rolled it out in 1949.
- Legos snuck in right at the end of the decade. Early versions—wooden at first—were around in Denmark from the early 1930s, but in 1949, the interlocking plastic building blocks we know now were introduced to Americans. Children took to the infinite possibilities right away, begging Santa to leave sets under the Christmas tree. Parents were all for it, too, appreciating the quiet, constructive fun that Legos inspire, and their ability to stimulate the mind and imagination. And so it was at the end of the 1940s that American parents also learned of the pain of stepping on Legos.