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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » When did modern toys become possible?

   
Author Topic: When did modern toys become possible?
King of Men
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I passed a skateboarder on my way to work today, and got to thinking. Suppose you were transported in time back to the nineteenth century, or early twentieth. Could you use your knowledge of modern toys to become rich? Or at any rate to make a living?

Obviously electronics are right out; they rely on a whole industry that just doesn't exist and can't be invented by one man. But simple things like the skateboard or roller skates seem, at first glance, to be more in the category of stirrups: Really obvious ideas that somehow weren't though of until long after the technology was available to make them.

But is this first glance accurate? Skateboard wheels presumably rely on ball bearings; I don't see how else you get enough torque on any reasonable axis from such a small wheel. Ball bearings require precision machining. Can you do the machining precisely enough at low enough cost, so that you get a reasonable mass-market skateboard? In 1850, 1880, 1910, 1930? Also, what would you make the wheels from? Obviously not the hard plastic used nowadays. Metal seems like it would be too heavy. Wood? What wood stands up to that sort of punishment? Rubber?

Likewise the hula hoop. Sure, it's a simple circle. But it's made of hollow plastic, because that's the material that combines cheapness with lightness and sufficient sturdiness for a toy. Can you do this in wood? There's also the question of whether the hula-hoop fad was a creation of its particular time; perhaps it wouldn't sell millions if invented in 1910. But I'm more looking at the purely technical aspect. Can you make a hula hoop with pre-1950 technology, at mass-market prices?

Rubik's cubes seem possible to make from wood.

When was the yo-yo brought to the West?

Any other cheap, simple toys that you could introduce and become rich off, or alternatively, that wouldn't be as simple to make as they seem at first glance?

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Aros
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Roller skates have been around since the 1700s, and improved versions appeared in the mid 1800s. So....

Skateboards would be a good way to go. The machining was there for roller skates and bicycles, so why not??? Snowboards would probably be the real kicker. Or in-line skates.

The Slinky? Lincoln Logs would be the easiest route, but a wooden or early polymer (late 1800s) Lego would probably bank.

A novice could probably crank out some pretty superior designs for hand-thrown gliders. Maybe a primitive parachute toy (like an army man parachute) or a full blown parachute.

Also, baking soda submarines would probably sell well.

Hmm....

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Stephan
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Infant toys would definitely work, just look at the wooden toys made by the very popular Melissa and Doug company.

The becoming rich part is easy though. Sell your cell phone at auction, if you can keep the charge long enough. The infrastructure might not be there for someone to copy it, but I would guess some wealthy people would still want it.

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Dan_Frank
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quote:
Originally posted by Stephan:
Infant toys would definitely work, just look at the wooden toys made by the very popular Melissa and Doug company.

The becoming rich part is easy though. Sell your cell phone at auction, if you can keep the charge long enough. The infrastructure might not be there for someone to copy it, but I would guess some wealthy people would still want it.

Then lament the problem with time travel when you die of cholera despite your vast riches.

I think we're moving outside the scope of KoM's game, though.

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Kwea
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Also, people had much less disposable income then, so even a great toy might not make you rich. Not unless you had rich clients.
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Boris
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Taking back modern toys and producing them probably wouldn't really be the best way to become rich from time traveling, to be honest. It wasn't really until about the 1920s or so that people began consuming the goods that other people produced on a massive scale. It was extremely common in those days for people to just make toys for their children (particularly in rural regions where there was a lot of distance between people). Most kids prior to the mid 1900s had very few toys at all.

Ownership of consumer goods was almost entirely the purview of the wealthy, who had significantly more time on their hands than the average person (children worked the fields almost as soon as they could walk in many places). People, children included, just didn't have the kind of leisure time that we have today, and there were not many people who were willing to spend money on toys or gadgets prior to the solidification of the 40 hour work week during the great depression. It was a different culture with different wants and desires, and as such, modern toys like skateboards and such probably wouldn't catch on nearly as fast.

Every toy you see in modern society is a result of cultural phenomena that resulted in a specific level of popularity at a specific time. Taking a skateboard back to the 1800s might have the same result as the suggestion of the steam engine had in ancient Rome. You'd likely get a response of "What is this for, and why do I need it?"

A much better plan would be the trade in materials. For instance, you could take a weight of aluminum back to the 1850s and sell it for its value in gold. Return the gold to modern times and you'll net a pretty nifty profit margin. Aluminum was extremely difficult to produce prior to 1887 and was significantly more valuable than gold and platinum. After 1887, it became easy to produce and significantly less valuable. It's currently one of the least expensive metals available. Even if you did a straight ounce for ounce trade of aluminum for gold in the 1850s, you'd net a 26,000 times the amount of money you invested.

ETA: Correcting my math

[ January 09, 2013, 03:49 PM: Message edited by: Boris ]

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Kwea
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Best idea would be to take a book filled with expired patents for that time period, and develop them.
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Boris
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quote:
Originally posted by Kwea:
Best idea would be to take a book filled with expired patents for that time period, and develop them.

Or pay a Russian genius to come up with all your ideas for you and then kick him to the curb when you're rich (I'm looking at you, Mr. Edison)
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King of Men
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quote:
Taking back modern toys and producing them probably wouldn't really be the best way to become rich from time traveling, to be honest.
Sure. But it's a way that's useful without any particular prep time or the ability to travel both ways; if you are struck by lightning while wearing street clothes, as happens to Martin Padway in "Lest Darkness Fall", you can still use it. Anyway, the time-travel aspect was not really the point; I was more curious about manufacturing techniques and when they were invented.
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Aros
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quote:
Originally posted by Boris:
quote:
Originally posted by Kwea:
Best idea would be to take a book filled with expired patents for that time period, and develop them.

Or pay a Russian genius to come up with all your ideas for you and then kick him to the curb when you're rich (I'm looking at you, Mr. Edison)
Are you referring to Tesla? He was an ethic Serb from the Austrian Empire....
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Orincoro
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quote:
Originally posted by King of Men:
I passed a skateboarder on my way to work today, and got to thinking. Suppose you were transported in time back to the nineteenth century, or early twentieth. Could you use your knowledge of modern toys to become rich? Or at any rate to make a living?

Obviously electronics are right out; they rely on a whole industry that just doesn't exist and can't be invented by one man. But simple things like the skateboard or roller skates seem, at first glance, to be more in the category of stirrups: Really obvious ideas that somehow weren't though of until long after the technology was available to make them.

But is this first glance accurate? Skateboard wheels presumably rely on ball bearings; I don't see how else you get enough torque on any reasonable axis from such a small wheel. Ball bearings require precision machining. Can you do the machining precisely enough at low enough cost, so that you get a reasonable mass-market skateboard? In 1850, 1880, 1910, 1930? Also, what would you make the wheels from? Obviously not the hard plastic used nowadays. Metal seems like it would be too heavy. Wood? What wood stands up to that sort of punishment? Rubber?

Likewise the hula hoop. Sure, it's a simple circle. But it's made of hollow plastic, because that's the material that combines cheapness with lightness and sufficient sturdiness for a toy. Can you do this in wood? There's also the question of whether the hula-hoop fad was a creation of its particular time; perhaps it wouldn't sell millions if invented in 1910. But I'm more looking at the purely technical aspect. Can you make a hula hoop with pre-1950 technology, at mass-market prices?

Rubik's cubes seem possible to make from wood.

When was the yo-yo brought to the West?

Any other cheap, simple toys that you could introduce and become rich off, or alternatively, that wouldn't be as simple to make as they seem at first glance?

First blush for me: I would say that modern toys come to us thanks to marketing, and not inventive genius. If you're in the 19th or 18th century, you'll probably end up getting more traction just by employing more modern marketing and manufacturing techniques than by introducing any current favorites. Products, I think, are not genius waiting to happen most of the time- they are all based on a common understanding of what is and isn't entertaining: a vision based chiefly on their marketing.
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Glenn Arnold
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Chemists were on track to discover Polyethylene in 1934, but it wasn't commercially viable until 1939. If you take all the basic molded polyethylene toys (hula hoops, frisbees, etc.) back to that time period, you could easily displace the Wham-O! company.

Or you could study how polyethylene is made and patent the process, say in 1933 (I'm pretty sure the necessary infrastructure would be available by then), and start a chemical company that also sells toys.

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Darth_Mauve
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One problem--smooth paved roads and sidewalks were not common until after the Automobile became a dominant tool. As such, no matter how good your roller-skate wheels were, there would be few places to skate board.

I read an interesting book that talked about the invention of dolls. Dolls that said "momma" were easy to make. The inventor became obsessed with finding a way to make the doll say "poppa". The explosive "p" sound was a nightmare. This was in 1910s.

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Geraine
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The easiest toy?

The pet rock.

Trust me, if they had pet rocks in the 1800's, they would have sold MILLIONS!!!

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aspectre
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"...smooth paved roads and sidewalks were not common until after the Automobile became a dominant tool."

The impetus for building smoothly paved roads was mostly due to the GoldenAge of Bicycles in the 1890s. It was largely through the preexistence of city roads that could withstand constant bicycle traffic that automobiles came to be adopted as rapidly as they were.

[ January 19, 2013, 02:09 AM: Message edited by: aspectre ]

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