As Toys ‘R’ Us folds, 10 classic toys made in Jersey
Say it ain't so. ToysRUs, the iconic toy store that we all remember going to as kids and later took our own kids to, is done. After a bitter struggle to stay alive it's been announced all 735 remaining stores and 33,000 jobs are going into the dustbin of history. They couldn't keep up with big box stores and online shopping. 25 of these doomed stores are right here in New Jersey. When I was a kid the only thing not to love about ToysRUs was their mascot. When you were named Jeff, who needed that stupid Geoffrey The Giraffe making your name a big joke?
It's sad to think 20 years from now kids will hear us talk about ToysRUs the way we hear old people talk about Two Guys or Korvette. A mere shadow of Jersey's past. There will be something missed about having so many toys of so many kinds under one roof. So many toys that a kid is joyously overwhelmed by the options. Internet is fine but children won't have that tactile experience of picking up a toy and trying it out.
Speaking of history, in honor of the demise of ToysRUs I offer you a look back at 10 classic toys with deep Jersey roots. Yes, these 10 toys were made right here in the dirty Jerz.
1) Lionel Electric Trains
The company was founded by Harry Grant and Joshua 'Lionel' Cowen and a factory was opened in Hillside, NJ way back in 1922.
Harry and Patricia Kislevitz of River Edge came up with the idea for Colorforms in the 1950s. You'd arrange flexible vinyl pieces with printed designs placed on a laminated background to form all kinds of scenes. They had everything from Star Trek to Peanuts to The Smurfs. They were made at factories in Ramsey and Englewood.
3) Lost in Space Robot
In the mid 60s was a tv show called Lost in Space and the most popular character was probably The Robot. The Lost in Space toy Robot was made in Newark by Remco.
4) The Joy Buzzer
Of all the prank toys and novelty gag items from fake puke to squirting flowers the Joy Buzzer has to be the most well known. But did you know it came from Soren Adam Sorenson who came from Denmark and settled in Perth Amboy? His company in Asbury Park offered a line of jokes and tricks and the Joy Buzzer became the most famous.
5) Raggedy Ann and Andy
These iconic dolls didn't start here, but were bought by Knickerbocker Toys of Middlesex in 1963 and carried on the tradition.
6) Cry Baby Dolls
Speaking of dolls, way back in the 1930s came about the Cry Baby doll that kicked realism up a notch. You'd lay the baby down and it would start crying, pick her up and she'd stop. And when we say cry we're talking real tears. Back in the day this was pretty advanced stuff. Where were they made? The Horsman Doll Factory in Trenton. At the time it was the biggest doll factory in the country.
7) Dick Tracy Wrist Radio
Way before my time Remco in Newark, the same company that later would make those Lost in Space Robots, was making a toy spy gadget in in the mid 1950s. The Dick Tracy Wrist Radio offered crude but actual voice communication plus Morse code.
8) The Suzy Homemaker Toy Oven
A fierce competitor of the Easy-Bake Oven was the Suzy Homemaker Toy Oven. It was a toy but it was functional. The company that cranked them out in the 1960s was based in Elizabeth.
9) Flying Saucers Gun
In the 1950s a very popular toy was a spinning disc that would go airborne when launched from what looked like a ray gun. It was called Flying Saucers Gun. It was one of the earlier products cross promoted with a movie, Earth vs. The Flying Saucers. It was made at the Park Plastics Company in Linden, NJ.
10) Little Green Army Men
My favorite toy of all growing up were these plastic Army Men. They were manufactured in Carlstadt by Bergen Toy and Novelty. I could get lost in imagination for hours with these guys, creating complex scenarios and missions. They were even inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2014.
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