Colonial Games and Toys

How They Made Toys
 Colonial children had to make their own toys
because there were no toy makers or factories.
They made their toys with things they found, such
as corn husks, rags, wood, strings and hoops from
 Colonial Children played more games and had
fewer toys then modern children.
 Children often made up new games on the spot.
Who did Early American
Children Play with…
 Since most families were large and had six
or seven children, the children would play
with their brothers and sisters, or their
 Blocks were educational as well as fun. Young
children practiced working with their hands when
they played with blocks. The sides of some blocks
were decorated with letters of the alphabet,
numbers, or pictures of animals. Sometimes
blocks had part of a picture on one side, forming a
simple puzzle. When the blocks were arranged
properly, they were transformed into a colorful
picture. Children also used block for constructing
Animated Toys
 Limberjack
 Flap jack
 Pecking Chickens
 Climbing Bear
 Jacobs Ladder
An authentic Appalachian
Mountain rhythm instrument made
and played in America since
colonial days. Sometimes called a
clogger man, jigger, or shuffling
Sam because of its dancing action.
To Operate - Sit on dancing board-let as much of the board as possible
hang out beyond the edge of the
stool or chair. Hold Jack by the
end of the stick so that his feet rest
on the dancing board near the far
end. With your free hand, bounce
the board in time with the music.
Flap Jack
 In the old days, family often
created fascinating toys for the
youngsters. The Flap Jack was
one of these wooden favorites.
This flippin' floppin' Flap Jack
is an absolutely amazing
performer! Indeed, if any
normal person were to try
Jack's brand of acrobatics he
would soon be tied up in knots.
Nobody could match his
energetic, wild, gymnastics!
Pecking Chickens
 Pecking Chickens are one of
the earliest mechanical toys.
Pendulum-operated toys have
been recorded as early as 3000
BC. This particular form, with
moveable birds, was present in
and around Greece and Persia
from 500 BC. until the middle
To Use: Hold paddle by the
handle. Cause the pendulum to
swing by moving the paddle in
a circular motion.
Climbing Bear
 This energetic little bear loves to scurry
up his ropes and then slide back down
again for anyone who is willing to put
him into action. One "udder" thing:
This toy was used to teach children the
art of milking cows.
To operate, attach the loop on the
crossbar to a hook on a door, wall,
ceiling, or clothes rod. Grasp the round
handles (one in each hand) and pull
down in a alternating pattern; first one
handle then the other. The bear will
pull himself up paw by paw until he
reaches the top. When you release the
tension on the ropes he'll slide back
down and be ready to climb again!
Jacobs Ladder
 The Jacob's Ladder toy dates
back to Pilgrim times in the New
World and was allowed as a
Sunday toy for Puritan children
because of its biblical reference
(Genesis 28:12). Jacob was on a
journey and had a dream about
angels moving up and down a
ladder between heaven and earth.
Other Sunday toys included the
Handkerchief Doll (church doll),
Noah's Ark, Whirlygig, Pillars of
Solomon, Wolf in Sheep's
Clothing, and the Buzz Saw. The
Jacob's Ladder toy is still enjoyed
today by both children and adults
(as a "nice quiet toy").
Indian Pump Drill
 Perhaps one of man's earliest
manufacturing methods was the
drilling of holes. Primitive
objects of bone (fish and
mammal), ivory, wood, stone,
and pottery have been
discovered in Native American
mounds (and other burial sites),
caves, and shell heaps. The
diameter of drilled holes range
from less than 1/32 of an inch to
more than half an inch. The
depth of drilled holes also varied
-- from less than a quarter of an
inch to more than six inches!
Drilled objects have been
recovered throughout the world
and date from all periods of
man's existence.
 Besides "finger drills," there were also "shaft drills." These
basic drills were simply straight shafts of wood or bone.
The thickness of the shaft could be as little as a quarter of
an inch to over 3/4 of an inch. Drill lengths ranged from
less than 10 inches to more than two feet!
 Shaft drills were rotated back and forth between the
driller's hands. A shaft drill could also be used horizontally.
This was accomplished by rolling the shaft drill up and
down the thigh with one hand and holding the object
against the drill point with the other hand.
 Yet another technique was to "hold" the object between the feet and
use both hands to rotate the drill shaft back and forth. This type of drill
was seen used by members of Columbus' expeditions and mentioned in
"Antiquity of Mexico." Along with the "strap drill," this is the only
drill mentioned by Early American explorers.
 The successor to the shaft drill is the strap drill. This tool is used not
only for drilling holes but also for starting fires. Hence, the strap drill
is also known by the name "fire drill." The shaft drill is an
improvement because it increases the number of revolutions and
allows for greater pressure to be exerted on the top of the shaft. The
drill shaft is kept in position using a piece of wood (headpiece) and
held in between the person's teeth.
 The shaft is rotated by wrapping a leather strap once around it and
holding the ends by the hands. By pulling in one direction and then the
other, the shaft spun and drilled into an object. To get a better grip,
pieces of wood or bone would be attached to the ends of the strap. The
strap drill was used by cave dwellers in France as well as the early
Egyptian, Greek and Indian (Asia) civilizations. The Aleut and
Greenlanders of long ago are also known to have used the strap drill.
 The improvement to the strap drill came with the invention of the "bow
drill." This tool allowed the shaft to be rotated at a much greater speed
and the head piece is held by a hand instead of the mouth. The strap is
tied to a bowed stick (or, possibly, a curved piece of bone) and
wrapped once around the shaft. The bow is then moved backward and
forward with the other hand to make the shaft revolve.
 Yet another improvement led to the invention of the "pump drill." This
type of drill has a shaft which passes through a disc of stone, wood or
pottery and a crosspiece through which the shaft runs. To the ends of
the crosspiece is attached a leather string or thong, There is enough
"play" in the string or thong to allow it to cross the top of the shaft and
permit the crosspiece to reach close to the disc. The disc is turned to
wind the string about the shaft thus raising the crosspiece. By pressing
down on the crosspiece several time the shaft is made to turn. The
disc's purpose is to make the shaft rewind the string. This method
allows the pump drill to have even greater speeds than the strap drill or
bow drill. Also, one hand is left free to hold the object being drilled.
Fun Fact
 The pump drill was used by the Iroquois
and Pueblo Indians. It is still used today in
the process of creating works of art!
Action and Skill
Yo Yo
Mountain Bolo
Spool Tractor
Puddle Jumper
Rocking Horse
Cup and ball
Fish toss game
The yo-yo dates back to ancient Greece and
was used in England, France, and other
European countries. It was also known as a
"Bandelure" or winding toy and, in England, a
"Prince of Wales" toy, in France Bandelure.
About the beginning of the 19th Century, the
‘bandilor’ as it was called in England, became
a fashionable toy under the name of Quiz, and
scarcely any person of fashion was without
one of these toys.
Today, most yo-yos are made from either
wood or plastic, but they have also been made
from gold, silver, and animal horn.
Fun Fact: The Yo-yo fromed a part of the early
history of Filipino weaponry. Attackers would
hide among tree branches, waiting patiently
for the enemy to pass below, and then
skillfully release their yo-yos, hitting the
victims on the head.
Mountain Bolo
 This skill toy contains two small balls
at the end of the string. The string has
a small loop near the center, but the
lengths of string are unequal to avoid
a clash of the weights. Grasping the
center loop, the object is to make the
two weights orbit in opposite
directions (counter rotate) by moving
the hand up and down or back and
forth. This looks quite easy, but it
isn't until the straight line movement
is mastered. The weights often are
nuts (such as buckeyes and even
machine nuts), while in the eskimo yoyo version of the polar regions small
sealskin balls are filled with sand for
Spool Tractor
 Before children's toys became
mass-produced, many parents
made toys for their little ones
from whatever they had at hand.
This toy evolved from the
wooden spools of thread
normally found in the sewing
baskets of mothers. Other spool
toys were made but the spool
tractor became a classic toy.
Wind up the long dowel, put the
toy down on a hard surface and
watch it go!
Puddle Jumper (Flying Machine)
 This toy is possibly the world's
oldest flying toy! Over 2,000 years
ago, the Chinese invented a toy of
this type called the "Chinese Top,"
which consisted of a propeller
attached to a stick. A helicopter-type
flying toy of this kind was given to
the Wright brothers by their father,
and they became fascinated with the
idea of flying. Now known as a
hand propeller or helicopter, kids
love to play with this simple toy at
family gatherings and birthday
parties. Spin it between your hands
and watch it soar! Adult supervision
is suggested for young children.
Rocking Horse
 Rocking horses are more than a
great toy for a child; they are a
distinguished piece of history! In
fact private collectors and museums
currently own and/or display some
dating back to the 17th century,
including one once owned by King
Charles the First of England when
he was a child.
 Although rocking horses became
prominent during the Georgian and
Victorian periods of England (where
it subsequently became popular in
America), it is believed that crude
toy horses placed upon wheels were
made for children as far back as
ancient Greece and Egypt.
•A 17th-century rocking horse which could have been commissioned as a gift
for Charles I is to be unveiled as the V&A Museum of Childhood’s latest
acquisition. Purchased from a private collector, it will go on public display in the
Museum’s new mezzanine galleries when the Museum reopens to the public on
9 December.
 Spinning tops have been used by
cultures throughout history and
around the world. Tops were
introduced in Japan during the
8th century from China by way
of Koma in the Korean
Peninsula. Japanese tops are
known as "koma" and were
originally a game for court
people and nobility. Playing with
tops is also part of our Early
American history. They were
known as "peg tops" in the early
1800s and played with by boys.
Top Nursery Rhyme
 Spinning ‘Twirly’ Tops
No Strings or spring or ring or wing.
It spins on its pedestal true.
Just give it a twirl, then it’s off with a whirl.
And the effect will surely surprise you too.
Circle Toss (Top Game)
 Circle Toss – Twirly tops can be even more fun
when used in top games. The simplest of all top
games involves trying to land the twirly top in a
designated area. First, make a ring on the floor or
outside in the dirt. Stand back about a foot behind
the circle and throw the twirly top in the circle.
Make sure it lands spinning! The player whose
top lands in the circle the most times out of ten
attempts wins!
Plugging (Top Game)
 Plugging – the first player begins by
spinning a top in the circle. The next player
attempts to knock it out of the circle while
keeping his/her twirly top spinning
Numbers (Top Game)
 Divide a circle into sections and assign a
numerical value to each section. Players
alternate turns in the game. The first player
places his/her twirly top directly in the
middle of the circle and then begins
spinning the top. Score points according to
where the top stops spinning. The player
with the most points in ten attempts wins!
 Conqueror was an exciting game! Two
players spun their tops so that the tops so
that the tops bounced against each other.
The top that knocked the other over, but
stayed upright itself, was the winner.
Peg in the Ring
 To play this game children drew a circle on
the ground about 3 feet (1m) wide. Players
threw their tops into the ring one at a time,
trying to peg, or hit the other tops in the
ring. The object of the game was to split an
opponent’s top and keep the iron peg as a
Cup and Ball
Toss toys date back to ancient Greece. The Cup and Ball Toss Toy was played with in Colonial
America and is mentioned in an 1834 publication for girls. It is similar to, but much easier than the
Bilboquet, which has the ball landing on a pointed stick instead of inside a cup. See if you can catch
the ball with the cup. Play with others and see who can score the majority of points by catching the
ball the most. Do not let this toy fool you; it takes good hand dexterity to score.
Cup and Ball is a game that tests the hand-eye coordination of the player. Played indoors or outdoors,
the game consists of a cup made of wood. A wooden ball is connected to the cup by a string and the
cup is attached to the handle.
The object of the game is to swing the ball into the cup.
Fish Toss Game
 American Folk toy.
They say The Indian
Ring Toss game was
created by the Indians
to teach the children
how to spear fish.
When all the rings line
up just so, the fish
appears through the
holes and thats the
moment to spear him.
Walking on stilts is practiced by the shepherds of the Landes, or
desert, in the south of France…. Stilts are easily constructed: two poles
are procured, and at some distance from their ends, a loop of leather or
rope is securely fastened; in these the feet are placed, the poles are
kept in a proper position by the hands, and put forward by the action of
the legs. A superior mode of making stilts is by substituting a piece of
wood, flat on the upper surface, for the leather loop; the foot rests on
and is fastened by a strap to it; a piece of leather or rope is also nailed
to the stilt, and passed round the leg just below the knee; stilts made in
this manner do not reach to the hands, but are managed entirely by the
feet and legs. In many parts of England, boys and youth frequently
amuse themselves by walking on stilts. (Clarke, 73-4)
Take two long poles of equal length. At the same height, nail a flat
piece of wood perpendicular to each pole sot that it forms a small step.
Hold poles at angle so that the end of the pole closest to the step is
facing down. Wrap an arm around each pole so that your shoulder is in
front of the pole, but your elbow is behind the pole. Place one foot on
the step, and as you place your second foot up, pull the poles so that
they are perpendicular with the ground. Pull up with the stilt at the
same time you take a step. Take small steps to begin.
 Kite-flying has been a favorite
pastime of American Children for
generations. Perhaps the most
famous kite-flyer of all time was
Benjamin Franklin.
 In one original test, kite-flying was
described as “fine fun,” especially if
you had a good kite, plenty of string
and a day neither too windy or too
 The object of kite-flying was always
to see whose kite could sour higher
than anyone else’s or whose kite
could remain airborne the largest.
Bilboquette (Bilbo Catcher)
 A popular toy regarded today as an Appalachian toy,
the Bilbo Catcher is a ball with a hole drilled into it
which has a string running through the ball, and the
other end of the string is attached to a turned handle
with a small curved surface onto which the ball, being
swung, is to be caught and balanced. Much like the
Cup and Ball game, this is more difficult than Cup and
Ball. The chief differences between the two are that the
Bilbo Catcher has a much smaller area with which to
capture the ball, and the ball, once caught, is not
bounded by walls, and so can easily fall off rather than
being trapped in a cup.
The oldest reference of juggling appears in an Egyptian tomb
of an unknown prince from the Middle Kingdom period circa
1994-1781 B.C. A drawing depicts three women juggling by
themselves and two pairs of women with partners on their
backs who are juggling with each other. Balls used for play
during this time period would probably have been made from
leather stuffed with shredded leaves, three to nine centimeters
in diameter. We know of other balls made of wood, clay
faience, or plaited palm leaves because they were found in
children's graves. In ancient Greece, competition was a part of
life. Greek girls did not compete as much in physical activities
as the boys, but they did play games. A vase shows a Greek
girl juggling, but she is not considered an entertainer or an
acrobat, rather just an ordinary girl. The word juggling derives
from the Middle English jogelen to entertain by performing
tricks, in turn from the French jongleur and the Old French
jogler. There is also the Late Latin form joculare of Latin
joculari, meaning to jest.
Juggling became highly popular in America during the days of
traveling circuses and was closely associated with clowns.
Today, there are juggling associations, magazines devoted to
juggling and open competitions. Jugglers use other props to
juggle such as beanbags, rings, clubs, knives, and lit torches.
Juggling is a physical human skill involving the movement of
objects, usually through the air, for entertainment (see object
manipulation). The most recognizable form of juggling is toss
juggling, where the juggler throws objects through the air.
Jugglers often refer to the objects they juggle as props. The
most common props are balls, beanbags, rings, clubs, and
bouncing balls.
Optical Toys
 Thaumatrope
 Kaleidoscope
 Zoetrope
Thaumatrope (Wonder Turner)
 The Thaumatrope, also known
as the “Wonder Turner” was
invented in 1826 by the English
physician J.A. Paris. The
Thaumatrope consisted of a
piece of cardboard with a picture
or image drawn on each side and
two pieces of string attached to
the cardboard with which to spin
it. When the Thaumatrope was
rapidly twisted back and forth,
the pictures on either side
merged into one.
 The kaleidoscope was invented in 1818. It
looks like a telescope, but you can see a
wonderful design inside the tube. This
effect is created by several mirrors at the
end of the tube. The mirrors reflect the
pattern made by many chips of colored
glass. The design can be changed by
turning the section containing the bits of
 This toy makes pictures appear as if they
are moving. The toy is a drum like cylinder
lined with a series of pictures. Between
each picture was a small slot. To use the
zoetrope, a child spun the cylinder and
peered through a slot. The pictures inside
appeared to move creating a short cartoon.
Puzzle Toys
 Button and string
 Ox and yoke
 Nail puzzle
Button & String Puzzles
 The Button and String Puzzle is also
known as the Cinch Puzzle because
it resembles cinch blocks used to
tighten tent ropes during the
American Civil War. The object of
the puzzle is to remove the wood
button and string from the block of
wood without untying the string. A
similar but much more complicated
toy called The Puzzling Rings is
described in great detail in "The
Boys Own Book," published in 1829.
These kinds of puzzles are a great
amusement for anyone traveling long
distances. Keep this toy in your car
or give it to a child who has
everything, especially time on his or
her hands!
Ox & yoke Puzzle
Puzzles have been a source of amusement and
entertainment since the 3rd century B.C. If
there were a "golden age of puzzles," it was
probably around the end of the 1800s and early
part of the 20th century. It was during this
period that the first patents for puzzles were
The Ox-Yoke Puzzle belongs to a group of
string puzzles that were popular during the
mid-1800s and early 1900s. In fact, these
puzzles are still mind bogglers for all ages
The object of the Ox-Yoke Puzzle is to move
one wooden ring from the string loop on one
side of the puzzle to the string loop on the
other side of the puzzle without untying knots
or cutting the string.
Fun Fact: The Ox-Yoke Puzzle is also known
as the "Lover's Yoke Puzzle."
Nail Puzzle
 The Nail Puzzle is a good example of
olde-time ingenuity and
resourcefulness. It looks simple, but
is guaranteed to drive many bonkers!
Just when you're ready to pound out
the nails and use 'em in your fence,
they fall apart. But then try to show
somebody how it's done -- wrong-o!
Just remember, if at first you don't
succeed, try, try again. Getting them
back together is fully 50% of the
puzzle fun.
Metal Puzzles
Noise Making Toys
 Buzz Saw
 Bull Roarer
Buzz Saw
The Buzz Saw is one of the most popular
noisemakers of all times! Native Americans
made "buzzers" from a circular piece of bone
or antler and used sinew instead of string.
Colonial children played with buzz saws. This
type of noisemaker was also known as "button
on a string" during the Victorian Period and
later. A very large button from a mother's
sewing basket could be strung for this toy.
Coins, bamboo, stones, and seashells have also
been used to make this toy. Tin was even used,
and teeth were cut around the circumference
so that the disc would shred a piece of paper
when the two came in contact. Made this way,
it resembles a circular saw blade, and this is
where it got the name Buzz Saw. Other names
for the Buzz Saw are Whizzer, Whiligig,
Whirligig, Moonwinder, and Skyewinder.
Bull Roarer
The bull roarer is a primitive wind instrument and one of the first
musical instruments Man invented. It has been used by primitive
cultures in Africa, Australia, New Guinea, Europe, the Americas,
and the Arctic polar region. Its origins can be traced to 24,000
years ago! It has been a symbol of fertility, and evidence of them
has been found in several Paleolithic sites.
The bull roarer was an important acoustical part of various
spiritual rituals and certain rites of passage in some areas of the
world. When spun overhead in a circular motion, it produces a
pleasing "whirr, whirr" hypnotic droning sound. This sound was
incorporated into primitive rituals to produce a "voice" of an
ancestor, a spirit, or deity. To others, its sound represented
various insects and animals.
The bull roarer has been used for several purposes. It has been
used to call out to the spirit world and to gain the attention of
spiritual beings who were thought to be able to influence the
natural elements, such as wind and rain. Hence, bull roarers are
usually painted with various symbols representing clouds,
raindrops, lightning, and other depictions. The Apaches in North
America used bull roarers to call forth rain.
This ancient wind instrument was made with a flat wooden board
(called a "rhomboid") and pierced with a small hole at one of the
ends for attaching a length of cord or rope. The rhomboid was
sometimes carved, painted, or both. Sometimes animal bone or
stone was substituted for the flat wood board. Oftentimes, a thong
handle was tied to the other end of the cord for a better grip to
control speed and direction.
Bull Rorer Continued
The bull roarer's sound is produced by vibrations of the flat wood as it rotates in the air. Changing in
the speed and angle to the ground changes the sonority and allows an individual to make the sounds
of a whimper, moan, roar, or scream.
There is not a typical range for bull roarers as each one is a one-of-a-kind instrument. Change the
velocity of the spin, however, and the size of the instrument affects the relative pitch. The smaller the
bull roarer, the faster it can be spun for a higher pitch. Conversely, a larger instrument spinning at a
slower speed results in a lower pitch.
The bull roarer has been used by Native American cultures such as the Athabaskan, Nootka, Yokuts,
Pomo, Hopi, and Aztecs. The Navajo call their bull roarers "Tsin di'ni" (groaning stick) and used
them to drive away evil spirits. It is called several different names, including "Burliwarni,"
"Ngurrarngay," and "Muypak." Sometimes a bull roarer was used to send animals into ambush or to
alert a tribe of another's presence in their area.
To the Maori, the bull roarer is called "Purererhua" (butterfly), and a smaller version (called a
"Porotiti") was used for healing by spinning over areas of rheumatism or arthritis. (The sound's
vibrations massaged joints in a similar way to modern ultrasound therapy!)
The main academics that have studied ancient bull roarers have been ethnomusicologists and
anthropologists. This is because of the instrument's use in ritual and magic ceremonies.
Fun Fact: The bull roarer is also called a Rhombus and is still used today as the "voice of God" by
Aborigine tribes in Australia!
Fun Fact: The bull roarer is an "aerophone" and, along with the flute, one of the oldest musical
instruments of its kind!
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