Toys and games have been around for centuries. In 1600 B.C., children used swings on the island of Crete. Dice have been found in 2,000-year-old Egyptian tombs. American Indian, Chinese, and African dice and other playing pieces have also been found in archaeological digs. Dice are the oldest known game pieces, and they were used with a variety of games designed by different cultures.
Both physical games, such as tag, capture the flag, and hopscotch, and intellectual games, such as chess, guessing games, and riddles, have been traced back through many generations in many civilizations. Games provide an opportunity to train children in specific skills and serve as entertainment and exercise. They typically use simple rules and activities and involve two or more people.
The earliest dolls and wooden soldiers were made by parents or craftworkers. Balls, hoops, pull toys, and toy animals, the oldest types of toys, were simple to make and provided entertainment to people of different age groups. Early toys were made from clay, wood, ivory, or stone. The earliest dolls found by archaeologists in Egypt were not for play; they were used to symbolize aspects of religious beliefs. Greek historians, however, have noted that toy dolls used as playthings were part of their culture.
Dolls became less prominent during the Middle Ages. Society's attitudes toward children shifted. Childlike behavior was less accepted and children were expected to act like small adults. Toys and games that taught a skill or modified behavior were popular; playthings used merely for entertainment were less common.
Manufactured games were developed in the 1600s for instruction in schooling. For example, a geographical game consisted of countries cut into separate pieces, and the student would fit the pieces back together by placing the countries in their proper configuration. This was the earliest version of a jigsaw puzzle.
By the 19th century, people once again acknowledged a child's need for playthings. Toy manufacturing became a fledgling industry. Germany had been the forerunner of the toy-making industry starting in the 1600s, and with the new international interest in toys, Germany found itself in the best position to make use of its experience in toy development. The country had hosted toy fairs as early as the Renaissance, with one of the largest annual fairs held in Nuremberg. As toy sales expanded, Germany continued to build its reputation for training master toy craftspeople.
The development of new materials and the relative cheapness of others allowed for production of new types of toys. Rubber was an excellent substance for making balls that bounced. Once paper became cheaper to manufacture, China began to export kites.
Germany developed several of the most popular types of dolls, starting with wooden dolls in the 1800s. German manufacturers crafted papier-mâché dolls at this time as well; these were easily molded when wet and became strong and hard when dry. Companies produced full dolls and also sold papier-mâché doll heads separately, so families could make cloth bodies at home. Later, manufacturers dipped papier-mâché in wax to achieve a finer quality for the skin of the doll.
France followed as a large manufacturer of toys, particularly dolls. Porcelain dolls, which originated in Germany, were further developed into luxury dolls in France. French companies dressed the dolls in elegant, formal outfits. Owners could change the outfits and purchase wardrobes for the dolls.
Baby dolls were not manufactured widely until Augusta Montanari and her son, Richard, produced wax baby dolls in England in 1850. Eventually, baby dolls became the most popular type of doll, with Kewpie, Bye-Lo, Raggedy Ann, and other popular mass-produced dolls selling by the hundreds of thousands.
As the industry grew, the mass production of games and toys became a more profitable enterprise. Board games, inexpensive to produce, increased in popularity with both adults and children. Shoots and Ladders first appeared in the 19th century and is still produced in various forms today. Monopoly was developed in 1933 and has expanded with many international versions to become the best-selling board game ever. Originally hand cut, puzzles grew less expensive with the growth of mass production.
Barbie and G.I. Joe became popular worldwide, combining the wardrobe variety of the early French luxury dolls and the durability of a play toy. G.I. Joe was the first internationally popular doll for boys.
Toys and games eventually became more mechanized. Dolls could move their heads, arms, and legs, and some could talk, walk, and move with the aid of a remote control. Companies created electronic versions of board games so that they no longer required a partner. One could play against a computer or other machine.
With the advent of the home computer, companies developed computer games such as Pong, which was based on the 1972 arcade game by the same name, and eventually moved into three-dimensional graphics. Computer and video games are now a fast-growing segment of the U.S. entertainment industry. Today's gamers are of all ages. According to the Entertainment Software Association, the average age of gamers is 33 years old, and 65 percent of American adults play video games. The ESA reported that 2019 sales of video game content, hardware, and accessories totaled more than $43 billion, which included sales of games for mobile devices, a growing market. Simple toys like hoops, balls, jacks, yo-yos, and cloth dolls are also subject to cycles of popularity. Partly because of the quick rise and fall of the more complex, expensive video and computer games, simpler toys are touted by some as the better investment for a child's entertainment and education. Both types of toys, however, typically maintain strong sales in the marketplace.