plastic into the mold. With different themed versions you could mold your own Hot Wheels Factory
car bodies or Western World cowboys and Indians.
Depicted on the packages and molded right into
the toys were the company mascots. These peppy
personalities delivered TV taglines and were even
pressed into service enlivening otherwise bland
instruction sheets. Matty Mattel gave tips on vacuum
forming, the Hasbro Kid shilled the latest Hassenfeld
Brothers offerings, and the Kenner Gooney Bird
screeched “It’s Kenner! It’s fun — Squawk!”
So where are the maker toys of today? Social trends have changed. Today’s overscheduled
kids don’t have as much free time to spend waiting
for long heating and cooling cycles to make a leisurely batch of Creepy Crawlers.
Kids now “grow older younger”: whereas toy manufacturers of yore could market toys to kids ages
6–12, today’s “tweens” are already using computers
and getting their first iPods. For them, the toy box
is forgotten; they aspire to create with real, adult
materials and tools, so they’re at the yarn shop, art
store, or Maker Faire, not the toy store. Toymakers
DESKTOP GARAGE: Figs. R and S: Kenner’s 1962
Motorized Home Workshop promised “planes that fly
and boats that float” but the flimsy foam made fuzzy
and feeble results. Fig. T: Mattel’s 1969 Injector had a
hand-powered injector piston for molding hot plastic.
Figs. U and V: The Hasbro Kid and Matty Mattel —
these sworn rivals vied to rule the maker toy market.
must now focus on younger ages that are inherently
less patient, capable, or interested.
And despite clever updates by manufacturers to
address modern toy safety standards, it’s hard to
compete with the high-tech appeal of video games
The economy has changed, too: just as manufacturing industries are being replaced by an
information-driven service economy, maker toys
with their “thing-making” play pattern are giving way
to the virtual experiences of electronic games and
websites aimed at kids.
Still, the spirit of DIY lives on, and these maker
toys engendered an interest and curiosity in many
kids who grew up to be the makers of today. What
was your favorite maker toy? And what are your
favorites today? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bob Knetzger is a designer/inventor/musician whose
award-winning toys have been featured on The Tonight Show,
Nightline, and Good Morning America. He wrote the project
“Kitchen Floor Vacuum Former” in MAKE, Volume 11.