Toys of the '50s, '60s, and '70s on Display Now at Minnesota History Center

I will be the first to admit I was maybe a little too attached to my Barbies. In sixth grade, long after my friends had sold, donated, or abandoned their dolls, I was still playing with mine (in secret).

My double life was going along just fine until I auditioned for a community theater play and was cast as the lead. I was one of the youngest ones in the production (oh how I idolized those teenage girls and wanted so badly to impress them), and my dad—a naturally friendly and outspoken guy—told the director in front of everyone, “I think Chrissy is a good actress because she plays with her Barbies so much.”

I was mortified.

In retrospect, it was just an innocent comment about an innocent 12-year-old, my dad wasn’t trying to embarrass or shame me, but I took that whole experience as a sign that maybe I was too old to be playing with dolls.

I’m grateful that my mom held onto my collection even after I packed away the Dreamhouse, the furniture, the clothes, and all the dolls, not only for sentimental reasons, but because that bin of Barbies came in handy first for my niece, then for my cousins and friends’ kids. When I take out the bin now, a wave of nostalgia washes over me. “This is the one who was left out in the sun for too long and lost part of her nose, this is the one who was in an ‘accident’ (my brother cut off her foot), this one was my favorite.”

When I think of toys of my youth, Barbie will always come in first.

If you grew up with Barbie or Chatty Cathy or Shrinky Dinks or Lincoln Logs (and without cell phones, iPads, or bike helmets) 30 or more years ago, there’s a new Minnesota History Center exhibit for you: “Toys of the 50s, 60s, and 70s” that will hopefully—like Barbie does for me—help spark fond memories of your youth. According to the Minnesota History Center website, “The names of popular toys from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s capture the craziness, the joy, the sheer fun of being a kid. But beneath those nutty names are rich veins of nostalgia, memory and history. The stories of the kids who played with these toys, the adults who bought them, the child-rearing experts who judged them and the people who invented them, reflect the rhythms of American life. Experience the toys and their stories through three imagined living rooms that bring the decades back to life.”

This display is the closest thing to a time machine you’ll find. It runs through January 4, 2015, in conjunction with the following events:

On Saturday, September 27, from noon to 4 p.m., you can visit the Minnesota History Center for no fee and learn not only about toys from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, but also Dakota and Ojibwe toys—play the snake game, create a toy birch bark canoe, and test your hand-eye coordination with the moccasin game and shuttlecock.

On Thursday, October 16, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., explore the exhibit and stop by the History Hijinx craft tables to create a toy to take home.

On Thursday, November 6, from 8-9:30 p.m., make reservations for “Toys and Tunes with Dan Chouinard and Friends,” where you’ll be transported back to Saturday morning cartoons, footie PJs, and daydreams about the marketed toys of the era (Easy Bake Oven, Slinky, Twister, etc.). Sing along to memorable jingles, participate in a cartoon character voice contest, and revel in the simple joys of childhood. $25 for non-MNHS members/$20 for members.

See a full schedule of events here.

The Minnesota History Center is located at 345 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55102, open Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is $11 for adults, $9 for seniors, college students, and active military, $6 for children ages 6-17, and free for kids 5 and under (as well as MNHS members). Take advantage of “Free Tuesdays” from 5-8 p.m. For more information, call 651-259-3000 or visit