Archives for category: Toy

Toys can often tell more about a culture and its values than they initially let on. We control what we market, and more specifically who we market to. In stores, it is not difficult to separate the toys meant for boys from those meant for girls. There distinct and subtle indicators that alert the customer to items that are gender specific. The Easy-Bake Oven is a popular toy that has appeared in different forms throughout the years.[1] Due to imagery associated with its advertising, as well as a gender specific color scheme, this item is obviously intended for girls rather than boys. Closer examination of the Easy-Bake Oven gives insight into modern gender equality issues that the Women’s Rights Movement have been combating for years. Although women gained the right to vote in New York in 1917, they continue to battle misguided beliefs and traditional gender stereotypes in their pursuit of true equality. The belief that an oven, and by extension domestic life, is best suited for women is a sign that we have not made as many strides in our search for equality as we might think.

Easy-Bake Oven 2009

(Fig.1) Easy-Bake Oven, 2009, plastic, 14″ x 7″ x 8″. (Cooperstown Graduate Program), Cooperstown, New York, T2013.078.1a.

This 2009 example of an Easy-Bake Oven (Fig.1) features many similar design choices to a previous model from 1963 (Fig.2). While the shape of the oven has changed, there are certain visual traits that have remained in both the object itself and its packaging. One of the most notable features are the colors used in both models of the Easy-Bake Oven. Viewers can immediately note that the colors are lighter in shade. Turquoise blues appear on the body of both ovens, and pink features on the box of the 2009 model. These colors, especially pink, would indicate that these items are intended for girls only. Pink is considered a feminine color, and would therefore classify the Easy-Bake Oven as a “girl toy”.[2]  In addition, the visual materials of the 2009 Easy-Bake Oven, such as the box (Fig.3), exclusively depict girls playing with the toy. If it was not clear before, this would undoubtedly confirm who was playing with an Easy-Bake Oven.

Easy-Bake Oven 1963

(Fig.2) Easy-Bake Oven, circa 1963, plastic, 21″ x 16″ x 8.25″. (Cooperstown Graduate Program), Cooperstown, New York, T2013.079.1.


Easy-Bake Oven Box 2009.jpg

(Fig.3) Easy-Bake Oven, 2009, cardboard, 16″ x 8″ x 9″. (Cooperstown Graduate Program), Cooperstown, New York, T2013.078.3.

While we like to think that we have made advances in our search for universal equality between 1963 and 2009, we continue to tell girls they belong at home by tailoring toys that perpetuate and condition them to this stereotype. The prominence of toys geared towards young girls that promote domestic life indicate that we still believe those should be the spheres they inhabit. We continue to force our children into outdated gender roles, and enforce these beliefs with the toys we market and purchase for them. They lack of change in our mentality towards the Easy-Bake Oven and what it represents illustrates the work still required regarding gender equality.

By: Michael Barone

[1] “Easy-Bake Oven,” The Strong National Museum of Play: National Toy Hall of Fame,

[2] Erica S. Weisgram, Megan Fulcher, Lisa M. Dinella, “Pink gives girls permission: Exploring the roles of explicit gender labels and gender-typed colors on preschool children’s toy preferences,” Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 35(2014): 402.


By: Emily Q Welch

Today, one would be hard-pressed to find parents who would not brag about purchasing their child the latest and greatest gadget or plaything. Toys represent a luxury since they are not a necessity for survival or day-to-day function. More specifically, toys mimicking full-size furniture show that finery is not limited to the adults because it can be additionally afforded to their children. Such is the case with this child’s piano.

Toy Piano, 1890-1910, pine, metal, paint and paper, H: 10 x W: 18 x D: 10 in. Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Mrs. John Gardner, N0078.1966. Photographed by Emily Q Welch

Toy Piano, 1890-1910, pine, metal, paint and paper, H: 10 x W: 18 x D: 10 in. Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Mrs. John Gardner, N0078.1966. Photographed by Emily Q Welch

This toy is made of pine, is hand-planed, and constructed using machine cut dovetail, dado and socket joints. The legs are machine turned and the outside painted in a graining pattern to resemble rosewood. These physical attributes allow us to date this piano to somewhere in the 1890-1910 time range. A. Schoenhut Co. was well known for the high-quality production of toy pianos during this time period.[2] However, there are no marks to indicate it was made by anyone special. The panel behind the keys is uneven. The keys themselves are not even realistic, as the piano key motif is created by simply gluing appropriately colored paper to their tops. This indicates that this piano is a Schoenhut knock-off at best. Yet, the remarkableness of this toy piano does not come from its craftsmanship or realistic attributes, but in the rosewood it was painted to resemble.

In the late 1800’s, rosewood began to replace mahogany as a popular wood to use for decorative purposes, due to mahogany’s dwindling supply and high price point in the U.S. [1] Owning rosewood pieces was a luxury and far out of reach of most Americans at the time. Buying your child a toy made of real rosewood? For most, highly unlikely. Purchasing a toy with a rosewood veneer? A little bit more reasonable perhaps. But for most, the most obvious solution was to purchase a painted toy that utilized a graining technique to resemble rosewood.[1] Painted toys were quite common, especially in New England where toy making was a popular side business for many cabinet makers of the time.[2] The graining pattern done over the pine base of the toy piano indicates the pervasive nature of this popular wood, something that cabinetmakers and other woodworkers would have been well aware of in this time period. Even more interestingly, rosewood is coveted as a material for pianos and xylophones, of which this toy constitutes both.[3] The inner workings of the piano are actually a xylophone that gets struck when the keys are pressed to make the musical noise. Not only does this toy represent a status symbol achieved in an economic way through mimicking the rosewood texture in paint, but it also shows knowledge of woods important to the structure of these instruments.
[1] Falk, Cynthia. Lecture, Cooperstown Graduate Program, Iroquois Storage Facility, NY, September 8, 2015.
[2] O’Brien, Richard. The Story of American Toys: From Puritans to the Present, (New York: Abbeville, 1990), 74.
[3] “Rosewood: Tree and Timber,” Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed October 16, 2015,