Mr. Potato Head I love you!

by Shannon McKinney, Sales Associate in the Indiana Store

Would I be cheating to include Mr. Potato Head as a toy of the 1960s? I don’t think so. While the classic toy was originally released to consumers in 1952 (and we chose to place Mr. Potato Head in the 1950s section of the Indiana Store), it wasn’t until the 1960s that a version similar to the one we know today reached the market.

The original concept for Mr. Potato Head permitted children to engage in an activity typically scorned by parents — playing with their food! More than 60 years ago, George Lerner came up with the idea for a toy that would include a set of accessories for children to attach to real fruits and vegetables, thus creating a “funny-face man.” At the time, though, post-WWII sentiments about conserving food lingered in many people’s minds, and the notion of putting perfectly good food to waste seemed controversial. Lerner ultimately found a cereal company that agreed to buy the rights to the toy for $5,000, planning to include Mr. Potato Head’s plastic accessories in cereal boxes as prizes.

The Hassenfeld Brothers, who founded the toy company that would later become known as Hasbro, realized that Mr. Potato Head had a greater potential than simply residing in cereal boxes and, in 1952, they purchased the rights to the toy. On April 30, 1952, Mr. Potato Head had the honor of becoming the first toy advertised on television. The version sold throughout the 1950s was actually a kit and only contained the components necessary to build Mr. Potato Head, including parts such as the eyes, nose, ears, mouth and a pipe. (More on that pipe later!)

Finally, in 1964, Hasbro’s new release of the toy included a plastic potato on which to place the accessories. Why? Well, much of the reason was that the toy industry had introduced new safety regulations. In order to accessorize an actual fruit or vegetable, the plastic components had to have sharp prongs on the back of them. With the introduction of a plastic potato, the components became more child-friendly.

Safety regulations and cultural shifts over the years have further altered Mr. Potato Head’s appearance — in the 1970s, he grew in size so that his plastic pieces would be less of a choking hazard and, in 1987, he voluntarily surrendered his pipe to the U.S. Surgeon General in support of anti-tobacco campaigns.

Of course, it would be difficult to write about Mr. Potato Head without giving at least a passing nod to his supporting role in Pixar’s three Toy Story films. And today, many variations of Mr. Potato Head (and his family of spuds) exist, including a Wonder Woman Mrs. Potato Head and a Darth Vader Mr. Potato Head. Each new variety entering the market continues to breathe life into the classic toy. It’s doubtful that he and his family will be going anywhere in the foreseeable future.

Is it a solid? A liquid? It’s Silly Putty!

by Shannon McKinney, Sales Associate in the Indiana Store

As a kid, one of those thrilling, childish moments came about upon my discovery of Silly Putty and its amazing properties. It’s not quite a solid, not quite a liquid, and its uses are nearly endless. For those of you who are old enough to remember when newspaper ink was petroleum-based, you probably remember experimenting with Silly Putty’s ability to lift the ink from the page, creating a perfect mirror image of the text or pictures when pressed against them. Unfortunately for this particular experiment, it is no longer likely to work, as newspaper printing has shifted to the use of non-transferable inks.

But what else can Silly Putty do?

Silly Putty Frosty! Ain't he cute!

Silly Putty Frosty! Ain’t he cute!

Let’s back up a minute and first discuss a bit about Silly Putty’s history. Did you know that it was developed during World War II? The war in the Pacific Theater, where the U.S. had been importing its rubber, created massive rubber shortages and a significant demand for an alternative thanks to rubber’s vital military uses. In the process of attempting to develop a synthetic rubber, scientists created what would come to be known as Silly Putty. At the time, no one could quite think of a practical use for the substance.

Everything changed in 1949 — four years after the war had ended — when toy store owner Ruth Fallgatter placed the bouncing putty in her toy catalog at the recommendation of an advertising executive named Peter Hodgson Sr. Hodgson soon came up with the name “Silly Putty” and, beginning in 1950, the toy became a national hit. Ever since, it has been a favorite among youth and adults alike.

Silly Putty Frosty has melted!

Silly Putty Frosty has melted!

Back to Silly Putty’s uses. The toy is both practical and fun. Astronauts on Apollo 8 took it to the moon to ensure that their tools would be secure in zero gravity. As a toy, it bounces, stretches, tears and shatters, depending on the whims of the user. And these days, you can even purchase “thinking putties” with interesting, unique properties that the original does not possess, such as magnetism and the ability to glow in the dark.

Regardless of whether you purchase the original, pale-pink putty that we carry in the Indiana Store or the newer, more expensive thinking putties, you are sure to enjoy playing with the substance and experimenting with its different uses.

Curious about the 1940s

by Shannon McKinney, Sales Associate in the Indiana Store

One of my earliest memories of my curiosity landing me into trouble was a time when I was around 3 or 4 years old. My mother and I had spent weeks practicing calling 911 in case of an emergency, but each time we practiced, she disconnected the telephone. One day, while she was watching TV in the living room, I came to the conclusion that I needed to practice for real this time. I wanted to know what the people on the other end would sound like and the kinds of questions they would ask, so with the phone happily connected and fully functioning, I dialed 911 and calmly informed the operator that my mommy was dying. Fortunately, no one came to the house to “save” her. I’m sure that after I dialed, my mother called them back to let them know that everything was all right, and her daughter was simply indulging her curiosity.

curious_georgeIn one way or another, I believe all children are able to relate to Curious George’s adventures. The experience I just detailed somewhat reflects when Curious George once accidentally dialed the fire department, but unlike the outcome of my story, Curious George ended up in prison for his actions. Thank goodness that wouldn’t happen in real life to a curious little child (or monkey)!

Out of all of the products that we currently carry in our 1940s decade section in the Indiana Store, the Curious George books and related merchandise have, perhaps, the most compelling history behind them. Nearly every adult alive today likely remembers reading Curious George at some point. However, many people might not be aware of the fact that the story of the mischievous little monkey has a connection to the Nazi-occupied Europe of the 1940s.

Both Margret Rey (born Margarete Elisabeth Waldstein) and Hans Augusto (H.A.) Rey, the authors of the popular children’s books, were born in Hamburg, Germany, around the turn of the 20th century. Their birthplace was especially significant considering they were also both Jewish; anti-Semitism in Europe reached its greatest and most terrible height when the Nazis rose to power in the years leading up to World War II. The Reys married in Brazil in 1935 before moving to Paris, France, soon after. It quickly became clear to them that Paris would not remain safe from Hitler’s forces, and mere hours before the Germans invaded the city in 1940, the Reys fled Paris on homemade bicycles. Among their few possessions? Five manuscripts — one of which was Curious George. Eventually, the Reys reached New York and were able to publish Curious George in 1941.

Since then, Curious George has appeared in a number of areas of the media, including a 2006 film starring Will Ferrell as The Man with the Yellow Hat and a subsequent PBS children’s show based on the books. The books themselves have sold over 30 million copies and have been translated into several different languages. If the Reys had been unable to escape Nazi-occupied Paris, it is very likely that the Curious George stories would have never become the beloved icon of childhood that they are today.

For further reading, see the following sites:
Houghton Mifflin Books: Curious About George?
PBS Parents: The Reys and Curious George

Admiring Indiana art

by Beth Eisinger, Art Buyer for the Indiana Store

I have felt very privileged to work in the Indiana Store for the past two years. I have learned so much about Indiana and have met so many interesting people. My position as the primary art buyer for our store, in particular, has led to interactions with numerous artists and craftsmen from around Indiana.

One of the most recent artists I have been working with is a delightful gentleman from Irvington, Indiana (just east of Indianapolis), named Wayne Kimmell. I was immediately attracted to his architectural paintings of local buildings, monuments and parks painted in his unique style reminiscent of art deco movie posters. Using  bold, black outlines, bright colors and deco fonts, he creates vintage-looking images that still have a modern and current appeal. Wayne has spent the majority of his career as an award-winning designer of commercial building exteriors and interiors, hence his architectural drawing style. Locally, he is perhaps most well known for his series of classic Irvington Halloween Festival posters that he has produced each year for the last six years. Prints of these, in addition to many of his other images are now for sale through our store.

We are most excited, though, about a special painting he has created for our store of the Indianapolis Monument Circle during Christmas time, which will be available in print-form as well as a lovely porcelain Christmas ornament in November. I will be giving a number of these ornaments as Christmas gifts this year and  I have a feeling that my walls will soon be covered in many of his other prints.

What is it?!?

by Sarah Boutwell, Museum Store Sales Associate

Check out this unbelievable creature! Does it remind you of something from the Kevin Bacon movie Tremors

Fossils of this unidentified species were found in a cave in Quilpie, Australia. Several experts have examined this “worm-like” creature and its young ones, but have yet to determine the species. Some of the fossils we sell at our store are from the same cave and are thought to be sponges that inhabited the same living space. What’s truly amazing about these fossils is that they are filled with opal! When held under light, you can see the beautiful colors of the opal shining through the rust colored rock exterior.

The Indiana Store at the Indiana State Museum now has an entire wall dedicated to fossils, rocks and minerals! Many of them are from Indiana and the surrounding states, but we also have some of the rarest fossils in the world. Come check out these fossils and more at the Indiana Store today!

And don’t forget to mark you calendar for GeoFest on Oct. 22, 23 and 24!

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I’ll take Wanda Hickey over Ralphie any day …

by Stephanie Smith, Lead Sales Associate, The Indiana Store at the Indiana State Museum

For years, people have teased me about my dislike — actually it’s more of an irrational fear — of the movie A Christmas Story. It’s probably been over 15 years since I last saw the movie, yet iconic moments from the film — like Santa kicking Ralphie down the slide — are still fresh in my memory. I was already afraid of department store Santas, so I’ll admit that I probably never really gave the movie a fair shake. Last Christmas season, when my boss mentioned carrying the A Christmas Story book in the museum shop, I was surprised that the author, Jean Shepherd, was a Hoosier. Granted, this did nothing to quell my dislike for the movie, and now with new knowledge, my dislike for the movie transferred to the book as well. I did however want to try and read other works by Jean Shepherd.

My choice was the collection of short stories called Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories and I loved it! As a longtime Prairie Home Companion fan, I found that Wanda Hickey’s served as a humorous, homespun tribute to Indiana. So when the idea of the Indiana Store Book Club came up, the book selection for the inaugural meeting was easy. I’m extremely happy to announce that the meeting is set for Sunday, Aug. 29 at 4 p.m. and all are welcome! And after the meeting, stay for a special extended hours shopping event at the Indiana Store. Book Club attendees will receive 20 percent off their purchases!

Oh … and if you’re wondering what I watch on Christmas instead of the 24-hour A Christmas Story marathon, I watch The Godfather. Yes, I do consider Don Corleone less frightening. And yes, I know how strange that sounds!

Contact me at ssmith@indianamuseum.org to R.S.V.P. for the book club meeting. Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories is available for purchase to book club members at a 20 percent discount at the Indiana Store.

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