Every American child knows the toys they find under the tree on Christmas morning comes from the North Pole. Parents know they come from China.
There’s one U.S. toy maker, however, who is working hard to change the pattern. K’Nex, a family-owned company in Hatfield, Pa., is out to certify that toys can still be made in America. The company has brought most of the production of its plastic building toys back to its factory in Hatfield from subcontractors in China.
K’Nex is considered a small player in toy manufacturing when compared with its American rivals Hasbro Inc. and Mattel Inc. Nevertheless, K’Nex, along with its affiliate Rodon Group, have combined sales of more than $100 million.
However, forecasts looked merrier for U.S. toymakers when they looked at forecasts back in October. Hasbro reported international sales grew 11 percent, thanks to brand-hungry consumers in Latin America, Russia and Turkey. Mattel reported international sales jumped 9 percent compared with a rise of 3 percent in North America.
Retailers who stock their shelves and parents who open their wallets at the checkout counter, know that children’s games and sporting goods, mostly from China, totaled $33.5 billion which is about three times U.S. exports of such items.
Seniors can only shake their heads in disbelief when they look at the toy market today compared to their findings under the tree at Christmas. Not only in the price of items, but in the quality and the number of choices.
They break out in a smile, though when they see some of the toys when they were kids are still traveling from the North Pole to the houses of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The newer models are vastly improved, of course, but the basic purpose remains in place.
One thing more noticeable to oldtimers is the new building toys for girls. In the old days, construction toys for girls were not a big chunk of the market. The old chestnut that girls don’t build has vanished.
At the top of the wish list for our 3-year-old great-granddaughter, Lucy, was Lego Friends. I’m told the line launched last year and little girls go to work and build dollhouses, complete with a duplex and integrated circuits to power a light or fan.
Another model gives them the chance to snap together electronic modules that can be transformed into talking puppets, buzzing piggy banks, sound-triggered lamps and more.
I don’t know if our Lucy and her “friends” Emma and Olivia will use the Lego bricks to create their own groovy camper or cafe, but I’m betting the promising architect will come up with something neat.
Some toys have been around for generations. The teddy bear originated in 1903. Lincoln Logs have been on the market since 1924. Shirley Temple and her famous doll collections came out in 1934. The ever-popular Monopoly game was introduced in 1935.
Slinky made its debut in 1945, Mr. Potato Head in 1952 and Hula hoop in 1958. Women who now are grandmothers will never forget the excitements when Barbie was born in 1959. Men in their 40s and 50s will remember when they were inspired by G.I. Joe after his appearance in 1964.
The pleasant memories and the fun and excitement that comes with the old favorites never fades.
Folks who grew up during the Great Depression of the 1930s retain memories of homemade toys at Christmas. They were happy if they found only one toy under the tree.
There is no intent here to throw a bucket of cold water on the advancement of technology and its grip on the modern-day culture, but toys made by parents, relatives and friends years ago seemed more appreciated by the children who received them. They considered it a bragging right when they could tell their neighborhood friends or school playmates that a particular item was made by “my Dad” or “my Mom.”
What made some toys more appealing was because they were made “just for you.” It was amazing what the moms and dads manufactured from old spare parts, from torn clothing to discarded baby-buggy wheels, and brought smiles to their offspring during the 10-year hardships of the 1930s.
Hoops made from barrels were the Hula hoops of earlier times. Scooters were made from a two-by-four with the wheels coming from an old pair of roller skates. Staves which formed the side of a cask or tub were used to make skis. Sand the staves, add some melted wax to make them slippery, take some rags to tie your feet to the staves, and head for the nearest hill.
Casks were plentiful in the area. Manufacturers and wholesalers used them to ship everything from fish and fruit to bolts and nails.
The Great Depression bread entrepreneurs. They took junked fenders off of cars and converted them to sleds for speeding down the hillsides of the Interstate Bridge or one of the many sand hills in the area. If you couldn’t find a fender, you went to the corner grocer for a large cardboard box.
Mothers were good at making Raggedy Ann dolls from old clothes for their daughters, or turning empty cereal boxes into sorts of handy items so their daughters could play nurse or operate a general store.
Every child has memories of the past when it comes to Christmas. No matter the size, the glow or the number of homemade playthings, they were special.
The toys of yesteryear were simple and they were all wrapped in love.
Over the years, Christmas changes for each of us. One thing that never changes, however, is the magic and joy of remembering family traditions.