I don’t usually recommend venturing out of Forest Park, but the “Toys in the ‘Hood” exhibit at the Elmhurst Historical Museum is well worth an out-of-town trip. The show celebrates Chicago’s place as an international center for toy invention. The list of famous toys and games that originated in this area is a long one: Radio Flyer, Lincoln Logs and Operation, to name a few.
Some of these toys came out of our ‘hood: several inventors are from Oak Park and Bruce Lund’s wondrous studio is on Lathrop Avenue.
Seeing these archetypes of carefree days was like being transported back in time by an old song. I also got a kick out of seeing the toys my kids grew up with.
What really grabbed me was seeing Bas-Ket and Foto Football, twin obsessions from my childhood. As kids, my father encouraged us to create our own toys or games, hoping we’d strike it rich, like the inventor of Monopoly. I used to make up games out of boredom and necessity. When I was older, I devised a medical malpractice board game, ripping off both Monopoly and Operation.
Speaking of Operation, “Toys in the ‘Hood” has a video of its inventor describing its origin. Sam Spinello was a college sophomore when he designed the electric game for a class project. He pitched it to Chicago’s guru of games, Marvin Glass, who offered him $500 and a job at his toy invention company, the largest in the world.
Glass later reneged on his job offer; while Operation went on to sell millions worldwide. Is Spinello bitter? “At toy fairs, families of three generations treat me like the Pope,” he said, “It was all worth it.”
Spinello will be joining fellow inventors Burt Meyer (Lite-Brite) and Don Rosenwinkel (Polly Pockets) at the exhibit’s Toy Fair Extravaganza on June 26. Meyer said that toy inventors are engineers with child-like imaginations, who aren’t afraid to be kids themselves. When Meyer was testing a game called Pretty Pretty Princess, he ended up on the floor with several males from Milton-Bradley competing for the princess’ crown.
Lund stays so true to his childhood, he has his metal trucks on display at his River Forest headquarters; their treads still caked with dirt from his parent’s backyard. The studio also features funhouse mirrors, a climbing wall and popular Lund creations. Doggie Doo, for example, involves feeding and cleaning up after a dachshund and has been nominated for “Toy of the Year” in Holland.
Tinker Toys, Thomas the Train and Beanie Babies all came from our ‘hood, along with Mouse Trap, Catch Phrase, and Uno. In addition to these displays, “Toys in the ‘Hood” has a spacious “product testing” that offers both kids and adults hands-on fun.
The Elmhurst Museum is located at 120 E. Park Ave., and the June 26 Extravaganza runs from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit elmhursthistory.org, or call 630 833 1457.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.