Those of us familiar with the plastics industry have a certain appreciation for the material — for its durability, its versatility and dozens of other attributes. But even knowing its value, sometimes you find yourself looking down a toy store aisle thinking: Why are there so many cheap plastic trinkets?
Sure there are hundreds of quality plastic toys that stand the test of time. Just think of the satisfying click of Lego bricks. But for most consumers, the words "plastic" and "cheap" seem synonmous when it comes to toys.
Angela Cope, a graduate student at York University in Toronto, wondered why that is. And as a research fellow at the Strong Museum of Play — the same Rochester, N.Y., museum that is home to the Toy Hall of Fame — she has the perfect opportunity to look deeper into that question.
"I was struck by the fact that plastic seemed, over and over, to be devalued, where comparatively simple wood toys were considered 'heirloom' products," she wrote in a March 31 blog for the museum. "I found myself asking why this was the case, and was unsatisfied with the typical answer: 'plastic toys are cheaper.' I reckoned that there had to be more to the story than that — and I was right."
Her answer? World War II and the shortage of metal for toys during and immediately after the war.
"In addition to a restriction on materials, much of the manufacturing capability of the U.S. had pivoted to wartime production. One notable exception was the toy telephone," she wrote.
"Although formally introduced in 1945, the Ideal Toy Co. began to manufacture toy telephones in 1944 out of the scrap left over from the manufacture of millions of gas masks. Being one of the only toys on the market in the difficult postwar transition period, when companies struggled to pivot back to toy production, Ideal's telephone garnered a huge market share."
Check out the link above to read more, and find something new to consider the next time you're at the toy store.