Memories of Days Gone By
The Sears WishBook, JCPenney, and Montgomery Ward toy catalogs would usually arrive in the mail sometime in August. Since we lived in a rural area, this was a big deal to a kid, as the nearest toy store was hours away, and my Christmas wish list came exclusively from my knowledge of what was in the toy catalogs, commercials from tv, and playing at my friends' houses.
Initially, I would spend hours pouring through the catalogs and marking items I wanted. With my birthday being a few months after Christmas, I knew whatever I didn't get for Christmas would be fair game to ask again for my birthday. As the leaves began to fall, and Halloween came and went, I continued to look through the catalogs and became more serious about my list making. My favorite toys of all time were the Fisher Price Little People. My sister also really enjoyed these toys, and between the two of us, we had quite a collection. I've included some of my favorite toys below, but truth be told, I've never met a Fisher Price Little People toy I didn't like. I believe I'm in good company, as Little People have now become quite a collector's item. In the 1990s, Little People ( also known as Play Family ) were changed forever as criticism from watch dog groups regarding potential choking hazards required Fisher Price to respond by making what is now affectionately known as "chunkies". These former little people are much wider and are easier for little hands to manipulate and no longer pose a choking risk to young children.
The Fisher Price Castle ( #993)
My favorite toy of all time was the Fisher Price Castle. The Castle was only manufactured for three years. ( 1974-1977) In 1988, it was re-introduced with the same number (it's cleverly listed above the dungeon door) but had a few variations to the original. I believe the Fisher Price Castle was added into our budding toy collection in 1975 or 1976. The toy was very popular at the time, but it was very detailed, so was probably tougher to manufacture. There were several things that made the castle the best toy ever.
1. The trap door to the dungeon: . Stand your prisoner over the trapdoor and he instantly falls down into the dungeon at the bottom of the castle. The dungeon was pretty cool too. It had a door that could be opened so the prisoner could be released and neat lithographs of a pond outside the door.
2. Working drawbridge: The castle came with a King, Queen, Prince, Princess, Knight, coachman, 2 horses, a carriage, a harness for the carriage, armor for the knight so he could sit on his horse, and the ever popular pink dragon. When the drawbridge was down, the coach or any of the characters or visitors could enter the castle. There was a lithograph moat in front with crocodiles in it that added to the whole drawbridge affect. Close the drawbridge, and visitors would have to cross through the crocodile moat at their own risk!
3. Sliding staircase: The stairs inside the castle were mobile and when moved revealed a small hiding place. This was a perfect spot for enemies of the kingdom to hide, only to later get caught and brought before the king. Justice could only prevail, and the intruder would end up going down the trap door and into the dungeon.
4. The pink dragon: Although the brown and black horse were pretty cool, nothing could top the pink dragon. His legs and tail was jointed, so they could move easily. He was a friendly dragon, as he and the knight were hugging on the lithograph on the side of the castle. Right below the litho was the dragon Lair. It looked like a spot a dragon would enjoy. It also enabled him to surprise visitors who were avoiding the moat and trying to invade from a different angle!
The Play Family Camper ( #994)
A close second to the castle for me was the camper. I spent a lot of time having my little people family go camping in our back yard in the summer. They particularly enjoyed fishing and boating in our kiddie pool! The boat not only attached to the top of the camper, but it floated in water, and had spots for the little people to fit snuggly in. There was also a motorcycle that fit on the back, and little beds for the play family to sleep in. The camper was rugged, durable, and could handle being pulled over rough terrain.
The Airport ( ( #996)
The airport was made in response to the positive reaction from the fun jet that had entered the market a few years prior. The first airport came on the scene in 1972 and included its own airplane, which was a smaller version of the previously marketed fun jet. This toy was amazing with its swing out runway, revolving luggage rack, the spinning control tower on top, and my favorite, the helicopter pad. When the helicopter was correctly placed on the landing pad, there was a crank to turn. Doing so would make the blades of the helicopter spin. This toy also included little baggage cars that could be joined together to form a train. The luggage fit well on the cars and could be brought to or taken from the baggage claim area. A special plus was being able to gas up the baggage cars from the little fuel pump at the airport.
The Action Garage ( #930)
The Action Garage was a lot of fun. It had brightly colored parking spaces with brightly colored cars that matched their parking spaces if you were OCD like my sister, and didn't match if you were a little more carefree like I was. My favorite part of the toy was the elevator. After placing the car at the bottom, it was time to turn the crank. A stop sign would fall down to prevent the car from rolling backwards. The more you cranked, the higher the car would go in the garage. Once the bell rang, the car would hit the top and roll down the ramp. We spent a lot of time trying to race the cars and see which color would go the farthest.
The School House ( #923)
Playing school was always more fun than going to school! Little did we realize, but we were learning anyway. The chalk board on the base was a perfect opportunity for little hands to practice writing letters. Can't remember how to write the letter G? No problem. There's a magnetic alphabet that not only will stick on the school house, but on your fridge as well! My generation of kids didn't have computers, spell check, or any electronic learning. We often practiced spelling our names and simple words on the floor of the kitchen with our magnetic letter on the fridge while mom cooked. Because there was only one of every letter, I remember my mom telling me to improvise and turn the V upside down when I needed another letter A! Kids just don't play like they used to!
The Play Farm ( #915)
The Farm came on the market in 1968 and although it was revised 6 times, it continued to be a Fisher Price Little People staple until its last revision in 1985. Marketed as a carry all set because all the pieces could be easily stored and carried inside, it consisted of the barn, cardboard silo, tractor, hay cart, fences, feed trough, farm animals, and little people.
Because the farm was so mobile, it was easy to take on car trips and to different rooms. My favorite part was the mooing noise the barn doors made when they were opened. It also had a wide variety of animals, and the fact that the top came off the silo so items could be stored in there was an added plus!
Sesame Street ( #938)
Being a huge fan of Sesame Street on TV meant I really needed to have the play set! Sesame Street of the 1970s isn't the Sesame Street it is today. One of the saddest memories of Sesame street is when Mr. Hooper died and they were able to work it into the storyline. Elmo wasn't a Sesame Street character at this time, and Snuffy was still an imaginary mammoth that could only be seen by Big Bird. My favorite parts of the play set were the Oscar the Grouch figure that popped up and down from his garbage can, and Big Bird and his nest that Big Bird or anyone else for that matter would fit in.
The Play Family House ( #952)
Introduced in 1969, this Fisher Price classic was as much of a staple as the farm that was introduced a year earlier. It was updated with furniture or color scheme changes about every 2 years. This allowed for countless variations over almost 3 decades until the chunkies took over the product line. Originally, the house started out in yellow and blue, but as times and tastes changed, it was modernized to a white and brown color scheme.
A bonus to the play family house is that there were many accessory sets sold to compliment this piece. I had the baby nursery set which added another baby and more baby furniture to the growing family. The barbecue and swimming pool accessory pack also gave the play family more leisure time activities to enjoy in their growing suburb.
The family Village and Children's hospital
. The children's hospital ( #931) Even little people weren't immune from the occasional accident in a VW bus roll over, or a mishap while motorcycle riding. Luckily, the children's hospital could accommodate adult little people as well as children. This play set had an ambulance with a stretcher , an X Ray machine, scale, several medical people, and its own operating table. It was fully accessible with an elevator to take little people to the top floor. My hospital never lost a patient, and was always stationed right next to the Play Family Village as that included complimentary services of the fire station and police department. This was just what a growing little people community needed!
The family village ( #997) was the largest inclusive play set. It had a firehouse, police station, post office, theater,garage and barbershop. Little People now had their own town they could run their errands in. They also had a new fleet of helpers with their own fire trucks, mail trucks, and police car that would travel throughout the town.