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Play Stuff Blog

The Strong’s historians, curators, librarians, and other staff offer insights into and anecdotes about the critical role of play in human development and the ways in which toys, dolls, games, and video games reflect cultural history. Learn even more about the museum’s archival materials, books, catalogs, and other ephemera through its Tumblr page.

The A-Team: On the Jazz in the ‘80s

In 1972, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire... the A-Team.

The A-Team, comic book

America first heard these words, spoken in a gravelly voice over grainy footage of soldiers disembarking from a helicopter in the jungles of Southeast Asia, after Super Bowl XVII on January 3, 1983. For the next four yea  ​rs, what has been described as a combination of The Dirty Dozen, Mad Max, Hill Street Blues, Rocky III, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, M.A.S.H., and Dallas held the status of must-see-TV for millions of viewers worldwide.

The brainchild of NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff, The A-Team television series came to life through the work of writers Stephen J. Cannell and Frank Lupo. They created comically mismatched outlaws—Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith, Captain H. M. “Howling Mad” Murdock, Lieutenant Templeton “Faceman” Peck, and Sergeant B. A. “Bad Attitude” Baracus—who sought justice for the oppressed, righted wrongs, and turned everyday objects into armored tanks with a little welding and some elbow grease (with a funky welding montage soundtrack to boot). The result was absurd, amazing, and the ultimate 1980s pop culture phenomenon.

The 1984 L.J.N. Ltd catalog

The show was also a licensing dream. Action figures, vans, helicopters—even comic books, board games, and crossword puzzle books—hit the shelves to quench consumers’ thirst for the loveable con-men with hearts of gold.

The A-Team proved a boon to the toy weapon industry as well. In 2012, The American Rifleman gave The A-Team the top spot on their “Guns on TV: Top 12 Shows” list. Nearly 30 years after the series ended, it still out-guns classics such as The Rifleman and The Lone Ranger, as well as more recent programs such as Miami Vice, NCIS, and 24, in the variety and volume of firearms on display. However, The A-Team’s signature brand of sanitized, cartoon-like violence—extras routinely walked away from car explosions, slightly dusty but very much alive—insured that only one person was killed on-screen throughout the show’s four-year run.

The Daisy Manufacturing Company, catalog

Mr. T, who played B. A., had previously made a name for himself as Clubber Lang opposite Sylvester Stalone in Rocky III with his intense portrayal of a boxer from the streets and his famous line, “I pity the fool.” He quickly became a fan favorite as the A-Team’s prickly driver and strong man. 

Mr. T Doll

He coined catchphrases such as, “I ain’t got time for your jibber jabber,” and “I ain't goin' on no airplane!” B.A. was certainly a beloved character in my house, as evidenced by the handmade Mr. T doll that my mother secretly crafted for my father and gave to him on a very memorable Christmas morning.

The A-Team’s popular run came to an end in 1987, but syndication and nostalgia keep the show and its memorable characters in the pop culture canon. If anyone disagrees, you can tell them B.A. says, “Shut up, fool.”

 

A Flick of the Wrist: Flying Discs and Frisbees

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Making Things and Making Things Last

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The Paper Airplane Soars into the National Toy Hall of Fame

Historians debate the origins of paper airplanes. Early attempts at constructing flying machines fascinated children and adults alike. The success of the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk in 1903 fostered renewed hope of powered flight and no doubt contributed to the purported invention, in 1909, of the paper airplane.

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Quite a Character

“Victoria? I have to tell you something… And you’re definitely going to roll your eyes.”

I stare at my stepson and brace myself for whatever words are about to follow. We are sitting around the table at my in-laws home eating spaghetti and he’s looking a bit worn out from the NHL hockey game he attended earlier that day in Montreal. I set my fork down in anticipation.

“Hit it,” I prompt.

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Wiffle Ball Joins the National Toy Hall of Fame Line-up

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Scooby Doo as Colonel Mustard in the Graveyard: Licensed Clue Games

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Happy Easy-Bake Oven Day!

Although I sometimes roll my eyes at the new commemorative “holidays” that get added to the calendar, I’m actually delighted to see that November 4, 2017 has been declared the first annual National Easy-Bake Oven Day. I can’t promise that I’ll be sending greeting cards to my friends and family to honor the occasion, but it’s good to know that one of the classic toys in the National Toy Hall of Fame is drawing renewed attention—naturally by way of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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What Makes a Game Classic? My Buddy Plays Mahjong

What makes a game classic? Part of the answer is longevity. Most people consider chess classic; we’ve played it for centuries. What about playing cards? Woodblock-printed cards appeared during China’s Tang dynasty (618–907), while written rules for card games were first seen in15th-century Europe. Another characteristic of classic games is continued popularity. Games such as Monopoly in the 1930s and Scrabble during the 1950s broke sales records at first. But they continued to sell in the years that followed and do so today.

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Playthings and Intellectual Property

I was a visiting Research Fellow at The Strong museum in July 2017. While at the museum, I researched the history of the toy industry, focusing on the ways in which the main trade journal, Playthings, represented the struggles of different companies to capitalize on the different opportunities the market offered to them. In doing so, I traced the links between intellectual property law and the making of the U.S. toy industry in the early 20th century.

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What Goes Around, Comes Around

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