Boys' and Girls' Gender Neutral Toys

Some toys were for both boys and girls and thus do not convey any useful information about a child's gender. The child playing with them could be either a boy or girl. Of course that is nothing to say that some individual boys did not play with girls' toys like dolls and girls did not play with boys' toys like fire engines. But here we are talking about the general pattern. These coeducational toys were not in many cases necessarily adverised as for boys both boys and girls, but available images and written accounts suggest that many boys and girls enjoyed these toys.


One of the all time favorites for boys and girls have to blocks or sometimes referred tom as building blocks. They were probably more popular for boys, but both boys and girls enjoyed playing with them. Commonly they had letters and numbers on them and helped younger children lear their alphabet. Blocks in a variety of shapes were made for older children to build more sophisticated structures. Blocks were made of wood although modern ones are bow made in plastic. I'm not sure just when they first appeared, probably the mid-19th century.

Board Games

Board games were not precisely toys. For organizational simplicity, however, we are including them in our list of toys. Board games existed for centuries. Perhaops the oldest in chess. The cless board was eventually ued for other games such as checkers. Beginning in the 19th century a wide variety of other games appeared. Both boys and girls enjoyed playing them. Of course individual games had varing appeal to boys and girls. These games were mostly played at home, often in a parlor. We noted some being played outside in the garden as well, perhpas during a hot summer day. We are not sure what games were played in the 19th century. Some popular 20th century games were Clue, Monnoloply, and Snakes and Ladders. There were also substantial differences among different countries.


Children have enjoyed playing with a variety of cards. There are many games that can be played with cards and some like "Old Maid", for example, are especially suitable for children. The popularity of cards, however, has varoed greatly among children. Some religions have taken a dim view of cards because of their association with gambling. Many churches for example strongly discouraged cards as a play item. This was especially the case in America here fundamentalist churches were especially strong. This moral prohibition becan to decline after World War I (1914-18). Some fundamentalist churches continue to ban them. Collectable cards appeared in the late 19th century, orginally enclosed as a promotion in a variety of commercial products. The most popuar cards, of course, were for sports figures, epecially baseball players. These sports cards were especially associated with boys and collecting became an important part of Americam boyhood. This appear to have been largely an American phemonenon. There ar also game cards. The best known her are Pokemon cards in the lare 1990s.

Color Forms

The original colourforms consisted of a set of gummed paper stickers of various geometric shapes in the ever popular primary colours. They could be licked and then stuck to heavy black paper, also supplied with the pack. The patterns shown in the illustrations were wondrous, but they usually didn't turn out that well. They either got stuck on crooked, or the most important shape ran out before you finished. The improved version is made from heavy plastic film cut in the shape of cartoon characters and such. The plastic sticks to a shiny cardboard sheet, thanks to static electricity. You can move the cutouts around on the sheet and be creative - or degenerative - as the mood strikes you. The improved version actually is improved. The original was pretty primitive by comparison. The plastic revolution was needed for this toy to mature into the great plaything it is today. It is a great, inexpensive, selection to be taken as a gift to children's birthday parties.

Figure 1.--This little American has a horse pull toy. The photograph wa probably tken around the turn of the 20th century.

Pull Toys

Pull toys were popular in the 19th and early 20th century. There were many different kinds. The most popular were animals and vehicles (boats, Carriahes, cars, and trains) trains, Both boys and girls enjoyed them. There were both animals and vehicles. We suspect that the type of pull toy varied in popularity. Both boys and girls loved animals, but the vehicles were probably most popular with the boys. Horses seem to hace been the most popular pull toys. We see them in quite a number of 19th century studio portraits with pull tous, usually horses. The children involved are almost always boys.

Figure 2.--Here English children are playing with roller skates. They had metal skates which clamped to to schools. This photograph is undated, but we would guess it was taken in the 1950s.

Roller Skates

Roller skates are a shoe or boot with wheeles are casters attached to the sole. Most have four wheels, but some are dine sith two. This provides the wearer to skate on snooth surfaces such as pacement. Children skate on sidewalks or other pavements. Entusiasts may go to rinks with especially prepared surfaces. Roller skare boots can be expensive. A less expensive expedient fir children were devices whith the wheels that could be clamped on to the shoes. These were relatively inexpensive and thus easily available for children. Early versions of roller skates first appeared in England during the late-18th century. Imprivenments were made during the 19th century, but it was not until they began to mass produced in America that the cost came down so they could become a children's toy. We see large numbers of children wnhoying roller skating during the 20th century. Many of the available photographs shows boys skating. This caries from country to country. For some reason in America, skating seems to have been particularly popular with girls. In the late-20th century new firms of skates such as in-line skates became popular, but they required a higher skill level that the traditional skates.

Teddies and Other Stuffed Animals

All little childre love stuffed animals. The classic stuffed animal is the teddy bear which originated in America, but is perhaps even more stronly associated with an English childhood. The teddy is a creature of the 20th century and this helpful in dating old photographs. The popularoty and timeline of these magical childhood companions has varied from country to country. They often took on personalities of their own such a Hobbs in the comic strip Calvin and Hobbs. Most boys were, however, until the 1970s expected to put their teddy bears or other stuffed friends away by about age 8. British boys going to boarding school at 8 years learned to leave their teddy bears at home so they would not be teased. This began to change in the 1970s and by the 1980s it was much more acceptable for even bos of 10-13 to have a stuffed animal at school. Significantly this was about the same time that many schools began to go coeducational. While both boys and girls had stuffed animals, the way they held them and played with them was quite different. Boys played with their teddies quite roughly. A boy's teddy bear, for example, was likely to be used as a weapon in a pillow fight or other friendly engagement.


A popular activity for children over centuries was the top. The child's toy top has evolved into a wide variety of styles with only one common thread, they fascinated children, especially for some reason the boys. Available images of children playing with tops provide some interesting information about boys' fashions. Girls also enjoyed tops, but for some reason they were more popular with boys as with most mechanical toys. Tops were very popular in the 19th century. We see them in many period portraits. They continued to be popular in the early-20th century, but seem to have declined after World War II. We are not entirely sure why, but suspect that many more toys appeared which provided children more interesting options.


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Created: 4:52 AM 6/6/2007
Last updated: 1:56 AM 2/10/2010