Toy story: The oldest doll dates back to the 4000 BC

Verica Sitnik
Animals toys made of wood. Author: storebukkebruse. CC BY 2.0

According to psychology, the game as an action is an essential part of every child’s life in the world. Through playing games, children learn how to fit into society, and one of the main items that help in these activities is the toy. It cannot be said with certainty when the term “toy” was used for the first time, but according to some historians, it comes from the 14th century.

These objects help every child to understand the world of adults, and one day to become part of it. They are made in many different shapes and from various materials such as plastic, paper, wood, string, textile materials, and more.

In the old times, toys were handmade, and the oldest of them all is the doll which dates back to the 4000 BC. At the same period, the Egyptians played with toys (dolls, marbles) made of wood, stone, and pottery.

Ceramic toys from 1700. Author: Jordiferrer.CC BY-SA 3.0

In Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, one of the favorite toys was the yo-yo, and the dolls were made of wax. There was an incantation ritual where young girls from Greece had to sacrifice their dolls to the gods to enter the world of the adults.

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This ceremony was performed on the eve of their weddings. Through history, toys were produced in many different forms and become more sophisticated. In the 16th century, girls were playing with wooden dolls, and the first fancy dollhouses were made in Europe.

English antique dollhouse in the Westbury House. Author: Gail Frederick. CC BY 2.0

Miniature homes were created nearly five thousand years ago and mostly were used for religious purposes instead of play. Also, in the 16th century, the dollhouses were made very carefully and served as a home ornament that was not used for playing. After World War II, they were produced in factories all over the world with less detailed craftsmanship, and the items inside were made of plastic.

Handmade puzzle. Author: Justin Snow. CC BY-ND 2.0

In 1739, the Soap Bubble was invented by Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, and in 1767 the jigsaw puzzle appeared for the first time created by the London cartographer John Spilsbury, and it was an amazing way for children to learn geography.

Animals toys made of wood. Author: storebukkebruse. CC BY 2.0

Another famous toy is the Kaleidoscope which was invented in 1817 by Sir David Brewster. One of the most frequently played with toys was the Noah’s Ark inspired by The Bible, which was filled with little plastic animals. The Ark set was important for children because through a game they could learn about the different kinds of animals.

Rag dolls. Author: Ruthieliz. CC BY-SA 4.0

British mathematician William George Horner designed the Zoetrope in 1833, and in 1882 Adeline Whitney was granted a patent for inventing alphabet blocks. In this century, while the middle-class girls were playing with porcelain dolls and miniature dollhouses and boys were playing with marbles, the adults were playing other games such as Dominos, cards, and dice games.

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Alphabetical dominoes leaflet has an advertisement for letters and short words. 

Besides toys, many social games were played, like the mechanical puzzle, and the oldest dates from the 3rd century BC. Roman children played board games which were very similar to the games we play today. Some of the oldest games are the Egyptian Senet, which dates back to around 3100 BC, Hounds and Jackals from the 13th Egyptian Dynasty, and the world famous Chess game which originated in India around the 7th century.

Old toy car. Author:born1945. CC BY 2.0

In 1897 William Harbutt invented plasticine, and three years later it was made for commercial use. The industrial revolution in the 20th century brings the golden age of toy development. There were more and more toys on the market, and the primary purpose of the makers was to create them from cheaper materials,  so even working-class families could afford to buy them for their children.

Old teddy bear. Author: Lara604. CC BY 2.0

Meccano, Hornby Model Railways and Dinky Toys were the most popular lines of toys based on engineering principles manufactured and developed by the toy visioner Frank Hornby. Animal-shaped toys were a big inspiration for the markets, so soft toys become common. The German maker Steiff designed and produced the popular Teddy Bears, named after President Theodore Roosevelt. These soft animal toys were created everywhere and became one of the most famous in the world.

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Vintage teddy bear toy is dating from 1903-1905. Author: HARRY NGUYEN. CC BY 2.0

At the time of World War II, many toy factories were used to produce weapons, but after the war society became even more affluent and new technologies in toy making were developed. The most used material for making toys was plastic, and toys become cheap and ubiquitous in households. In the 1950s, one of the best-known products was the Danish company Lego’s line, the plastic brick construction sets in different colors and shapes.

Lego toys. Author: Pietro Zuco. CC BY-SA 2.0

In 1958, the skateboard was put on the market for sale, only one year before the most famous girl toy was about to be invented – the Barbie doll (1959). American businesswoman Ruth Handler watched her daughter Barbara play with paper dolls, and she got the idea to make a doll with an adult body, inspired by a German doll called Bild Lilli. She told the idea to her husband Elliot, who was a co-founder of the Mattel toy company. The company accepted the adult-figured doll, and it became the most popular toy of the 20th century. It is named “Barbie” after Handler’s daughter Barbara.

Vintage Barbie doll. Author: Paille. CC BY-SA 2.0

Action man was favorite among the boys just as the Barbie Doll was among the girls, and it was produced in 1966 in Britain. Nowadays, with the advent of computers, children are in love with video games, and these are one of the most popular activities among them. However, it is always a joy when a toy is bought or made, and it remains the most important item in the children’s “Wonderland”.