Greek and Roman children played with balls, clay rattles, clay dolls, hand carts, hobby horses, hoops and spinning tops. Between the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages, when children were old enough to play they also learnt to work and use weapons and tools.
They would play outdoor games using pebbles, knucklebones and barrel hoops. Some would have hand made wooden toys such as tops, hobby horses and puppets. Attitudes have changed over the centuries. Puritans believed wanted to ban Holy days which were traditionally days for celebrating and playing games. The 18th century saw mass produced toys which were cheaper to make and buy. Wealthy parents spent their money on printed instructional toys that would aid learning and morality, such as pictorial alphabet cards, dissected map puzzles, books and board games.
In the 19th century the main retailers of technical toys were opticians who sold steam engines, magic lanterns, building blocks and optical toys such as the kaleidoscope and zoetrope. Victorian parents believed that children should not play games on a Sunday but they were allowed to play with Noah’s Arks because of their religious significance.
Many famous toy companies started business in the 1890s and 1900s. Britains started making toy soldiers and later farmyards, zoos, cowboys and indians and railway figures. Hornby produced clockwork and electric trains and Meccano. World War II brought toy production to a standstill. There was a revival in home made toys and knitted toy patterns became popular.
In the 20th century, the cinema and later TV, has had a major influence on the retail of toys. Buck Rogers and cowboys and indians to Thomas the Tank Engine and My Little Pony.
The popularity of many toys goes in cycles as new generations rediscover the toys for themselves. The use of battery power and computers have changed the way that toys operate. However the principles behind the toys are often the same with clockwork train replaced by the electric, the walking and talking doll relying on batteries rather than clockwork and string. Now there is also a return to wooden toys, traditional looking teddy bears and simple games such as marbles and spinning tops.