So you want to buy American as you check off that Christmas toy list? You can, though it may seem as if everything on the shelves was manufactured somewhere else. There are many American toy companies alive and thriving in the USA, including the Holgate Toy Company of St. Paul, Minnesota, which has been making children’s toys since the days of George Washington (actually, since 1789).
It never ceases to amaze me how the simplest toys last the longest, not just in terms of the immediate attention span but in the kind of activities enjoyed by generation up generation of children. As a child, wooden toys and “old-fashioned” button and block toys were favorites, some bought, some handmade. You can find them in independent toy stores, country stores, and specialty children stores; “Made in America” toys are hardest to find when you are shopping in the mass market box-style chain stores.
The Holgate company is one of the premiere American-based toy manufacturers; their craftsmen created the My First Block Wagon, a simple pull toy filled with building blocks — it’s a toy that several incarnations later comes in other sizes with ever more blocks. They created the Hickory Dickory Dock Clock, a variety of wooden stepping stools that is the wooden precursor to the plastic See and Say toy. Holgate makes myriad durable, colorful (and non-toxic) wooden toys. They also carry items such as cloth finger and walking puppets, and many infant and toddler toys as well as playthings for older children.
Maple Landmark toys, which is based in and makes all its toys in Vermont, holds strictly to “American standards of product safety, employee safety, and environmental protection. The shortcuts of doing it any other way are not what Maple Landmark is about. We design our toys to provide the best in hands-on learning and exploration.” Maple Landmark makes wooden board games such as Chinese Checkers, assorted blocks and “name trains” (large letter shaped block on wheels that can be linked together to make a “train”), and even wooden baby rattles (left), a unique gift for a new baby. Maple Landmark also promises to “repair or replace any standard item returned to us for any reason at no charge.” Not a bad deal when it comes to a child’s favorite toy.
Little Colorado builds a Birch plywood music table (left) with an inset leather drum, cymbal, one octave xylophone, one octave xylopipe and four multicolored maracas plus four mallets (age 3 and up). They create toy chests, toys, and children’s furniture.
Parker Brothers board games for all ages, including perennial favorites like Monopoly, Battleship, Scrabble, and Candyland are among the easiest to find “Made in the USA” products.
Other American toy manufacturers continue to create these familiar toys: Whiffle Ball, the 100-year-old game of Rook, Crayola Crayons, and the original silver metal Slinky, Dripstik, dress up costumes from A Wish Comes True, Potholder Deluxe, Flying Turtle, ziplines called FunRides, Dado Cube building blocks, Fractiles (magnetic tiles that create designs), and Spinning Gyroscope are all American made.
Keva Planks (right) are building toys: each plank is identical – about 1/4 inch thick, 3/4 inch wide and 4 1/2 inches long, and can be used to build ten plank items to 5000 plank structures – all assembled using gravity and only gravity: no glue, no tacks, no grooves or notches, just skill and balance. The only limit on building is the range of your imagination. From toddlers to adults, special needs to gifted children, abstract art to real objects, you can create ten plank structures to 5000 plank towers — discover the possibilities.
Wooden toys endure, but can be hard to find in mainstream “chain” toy stores; look to specialty toy shops run by independent shopkeepers for the most diverse and original selection of toys for creative and stimulating play. Check the websites for individual manufacturers; most toy manufacturer websites will link to a list of stores carrying their products. Wooden toys are far less likely to have a “built-in obsolescence” factor. In other words, they are usually built to last.
Fat Brain Toys creates a host of puzzles, games, and colorful stackable Dado Cubes (left). They offer an array of kites, planes, rockets, magnetic toys, educational and teaching toys, music and more. Dado cubes are described as a combination of art and science that “explores architectural principals including proportion, balance, color and structure.” They represent a “new twist on classic building blocks.”
Other Made in America toys include:
- Whittle Wooden Toys
- Uncle Goose blocks
- Beka Toys (another St. Paul toy manufacturer that makes, among other things, easels and art-related products for youngsters)
- Fat Brain toys and games
- Fairy Finery Dress Up
- Roy Toys
- Rolli Rider
- Laurie Toys
- Elves and Angels
Parenting Magazine offered recommendations for the “Best of” children’s toys, games, books and DVDs, along with a list of American made toys broken down by age categories from infant and toddler to preteen.