Block by Block
by Jessica Kosinski
Childhood is a time when fun and games are at the top of the priority list. As adults, we may not have as much time to play as we would like, but it is still fun to reminisce about, or even collect, some of our favorite toys. One of those types of toys almost every kid has enjoyed playing with at one time or another is building blocks. Every generation seems to be associated with a different type of building block. Today Legos are the go-to building blocks. When I was a child in the 1980s I had Mattel Tuff Stuff building blocks, also known as Wonder Blocks. I kept them and have since bought more. That way I can share my love of them with kids I know. Let’s take a peek at some other favorite building blocks you might want to collect today to enjoy with the children in your family.
Holgate Building Blocks
When considering the history of wooden building blocks in America, it doesn’t get much more interesting than Holgate. The Holgate woodworking shop (later Holgate Toys) was established by Cornelius Holgate outside Philadelphia in the town of Roxborough, Pennsylvania. It first opened its doors in 1789 and is still in business today; although its factory has since moved to Kane, Pennsylvania.
Holgate has produced many block toys over the years, but many of its most popular wood building blocks were produced in the early to mid-1900s. For example, they produced a wooden pull wagon toy full of wooden blocks in the 1950s. That same decade its popular railroad car building blocks were produced. Early Holgate blocks are routinely available online at affordable prices. You can also sometimes find them at flea markets and antiques shops.
Bliss Building Blocks
Bliss Manufacturing Co. was founded by Rufus Bliss in 1832. Located in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, the company produced many products, including building blocks. Bliss blocks were often sold in boxed sets, such as “Baby’s Baggage Blocks.” Both the boxes and the blocks themselves were known for their bright colors. Bliss also produced versions of the popular educational alphabet blocks we all know and love, and was one of the top dollhouse manufacturers of the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Anchor stones were stone blocks designed to maintain their shapes and colors. They were sturdier than some of the wooden blocks of the time. First produced in the 1870s in Germany, they were not popularized until a businessman named Freidrich Adolf Richter bought the rights to them and began marketing them in the 1880s.
Anchor stone blocks lost popularity when World War I began. Richter’s death in 1910 also sent the production of the toys into a downward spiral. However, production did not stop entirely until 1963. Then, in 1995, the blocks made a comeback when production began again. Many Richter anchor blocks sets were numbered. Recently, set 14 sold for $175 online. Another set, called set six, sold for approximately $120 – Richter blocks still have entertainment value, as well as monetary value today.
Today, Tinkertoys are well known for being among the most popular building toys in the world. They have been available in some form since 1914. Today’s Tinkertoys are sold by Playskool and made of plastic, but Tinkertoys began in 1914 as wooden toys. An Evanston, Illinois stonemason named Charles Pajeau invented them in his garage. After watching children playing with sticks, pencils and other objects, he knew he could do better. He eventually developed the early version of Tinkertoys and, after some unsuccessful marketing attempts, turned Tinkertoys into a sensation by 1915.
Many early Tinkertoy sets were sold in tube-like containers that kept them well contained and safe when not in use. For that reason, many have survived to the present day. You can still find them at affordable prices in shops and online. Buying a Tinkertoy set for your child is a great way to inspire creativity, or even relive part of your own childhood.
Lincoln logs have been staples of childhood toy boxes for decades. They are the building blocks my mother grew up with, and she still has some to this day. They also have a very interesting history. You have probably heard of the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. His son, John Lloyd Wright invented Lincoln Logs. In 1916, John Lloyd Wright invented Lincoln logs based on an interlocking beam design his father had used to design Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel.
John Lloyd wright soon realized his creation was reminiscent of logs used to construct cabins, and that association made him think of Abraham Lincoln, who was known for living in a cabin when he was young. Hence, the name “Lincoln Logs” was born. Soon, Wright developed sets allowing kids to construct models of Lincoln’s actual cabin. He also released an Uncle Tom’s Cabin set based on the popular book of the same name. Many more sets followed, including a 1940s Cowboys and Indians set that recently sold on eBay for $300.
Lincoln Logs today are produced by Playskool, which bought the rights from Wright in 1943. They have survived well to this day partially due to their timelessness and versatility.
No matter what era they came from, Lincoln Logs can be used to construct almost any model a child can imagine. However, they also survived and remained popular due to their wood construction. While many pre-World War II toys suffered during the war due to materials shortages, wood was still readily available, and Lincoln Logs continued to thrive.