This is the second in a series of examinations of urban legends related to toys. Today discover how the oil crisis affected G.I. Joe, learn why Lincoln Logs are called “Lincoln Logs” and learn which future kid’s toy was a major asset to the military during World War II!
Today is a “Grab Bag” day here at Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed, where each time we feature a different area of the world of arts and entertainment (outside of TV, Film, Music and Comics). Each time you will see grab bag legends from one of these following 23 “Grab Bag” categories
TOY URBAN LEGEND: The original line of G.I. Joe toys ended because of the 1970s gas crisis.
STATUS: True Enough
G.I. Joe was a popular children’s doll (or “action figure”) who debuted in 1964.
G.I. Joe was a twelve inch plastic doll that had vinyl outfits. As the character became more and more popular, the maker of the toy (Hasbro) began developing different varieties of the toy. In the late 1960s, with the Vietnam War at his peak, the “soldier” aspect of the toy was downplayed and G.I. Joe became more of an “adventurer” than a “soldier.”
By the late 1970s, the toy had gone through a number of changes and sales had slowed a bit. However, the biggest cause in the demise of the original G.I. Joe came in a surprising place – Iran.
You see, in 1973, the world saw its first gas crisis as the Arab nations that controlled much of the world’s oil chose to use their control of the supply as a negotiating tool with regards to the then-current war between Israel and a coalition of Arab countries (led by Egypt and Syria). The Arab nations wished to push the United States into convincing Israel to end the conflict, so they cut the United States off from Middle Eastern oil.
Oil prices naturally skyrocketed. Although they subsided when the United States brokered a peace in 1974.
In 1978, though, there was a revolution in Iran, then the second-largest distributors of oil in the world. The revolution led to the cessation of oil production in Iran. The other Middle Eastern countries could not cover the supply gap and prices skyrocketed once again.
It was here that Hasbro ran into a problem. You see, G.I. Joes were made almost entirely out of petroleum-based products. Petroleum was used for the plastic that made up the figure itself as well as the vinyl that made up some of the outfits of G.I. Joe and his friends. If sales had been as strong as they were in the early 1970s, Hasbro probably would have kept going, but their now fourteen year old toy line was a bit long in the tooth anyways, so the increase in production cost was too much and the line was shuttered in 1978 (they tried one more revamp before closing down – a futuristic approach to G.I. Joe in 1978 with “Super Joe,” with smaller eight inch figures).
When the toy line restarted in 1982, it was now with smaller, cheaper-to-produce toys (something Kenner showed could be done successfully in the late 1970s with their Star Wars line of toys).
Thanks to Dawn Herlocher’s 200 Years of Dolls: Identification and Price Guide for the information about why Hasbro discontinued the original line of G.I. Joe toys. Thanks to commenter Luke for making some suggestions for small changes to the piece.
TOY URBAN LEGEND: Lincoln Logs were named after the middle name of the father of the inventor of Lincoln Logs.
STATUS: I’m Going With False
Lincoln Logs are a famous children’s toy that consists of miniature logs with notches on them that can be connected and used to build forts and whatever other type of building your heart desires (perhaps a log cabin, even!). They were first designed in 1916 by John Lloyd Wright, son of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, first marketed in 1918, patented in 1920 and first sold a few years later.
Wright claimed at the time that he was inspired by his father’s design for the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, Japan (Wright was in Japan with his father at the time of the design and construction of the Imperial Hotel). I can’t speak to the veracity of that statement, especially since there were a goodly amount of similar block-building toys in the 19th Century.
However, one point that I believe I can speak to is the slight confusion brought about by the great website Mental Floss. The site had a feature on Lincoln Logs awhile back that has caused a bit of confusion with regards to the origins of the name “Lincoln Logs.” In an article about the secrets behind famous toys, writer Tim Moodie wrote in regards to Lincoln Logs:
But here’s the strangest part: the naming of the toy might not have been a tribute to Honest Abe. Here’s the scoop: Frank Lloyd Wright was born Frank Lincoln Wright, but he legally changed his name when his parents split. So, Lloyd Jones was his mother’s maiden name and Frank’s name change was to honor her. In any case, whichever Lincoln the toy was honoring, we’re pretty sure Honest Abe would have gotten a kick out of the little logs.
To Moodie’s credit, all he does here is point out that Wright’s original middle name was Lincoln. He does not explicitly state that the younger Wright did use that as the impetus for the name of his toy. It is just that Moodie’s “hey, did you know?” piece has since been translated, Telephone Game-style, into a definitive “Lincoln Logs were not named after Abraham Lincoln” statement, which does not appear to be Moodie’s intent at all.
As to whether John Lloyd Wright named the toy as a tribute to his father’s original middle name, I believe the evidence supporting such an allegation is so flimsy that, when placed against the much simpler answer, it is reasonable enough to go with a false here.
Here is Wright’s patent for the toy (along with the plans for the toy)…
As shown, the guy created a log cabin toy. Originally, you were given just enough blocks to create only a log cabin. To suggest that the Abraham Lincoln connection was incidental and based on his father’s original middle name takes evidence a whole lot more significant than “his father’s original middle name was Lincoln.” There has to be some record of John Lloyd Wright specifically stating the connection, and there is no such record. He never spoke about his father’s original name as an influence for the product name. In addition, the younger Wright was marketing the toy in 1918 because had been fired by his father in Japan earlier that year! The two were not on good terms with each other at the time, so when you add up…
1. An estranged relationship between John Lloyd Wright and Frank Lloyd Wright at the time of the marketing of Lincoln Logs
2. No statements from John Lloyd Wright that he named Lincoln Logs after his father’s middle name and
3. The fact that the toy is a log cabin, which has been famously associated with Abaraham Lincoln since the 1860s
then I think it is fair to say that there is enough evidence to give this a “false.”
In addition, for what it is worth, K’nex, the current corporate owners of Lincoln Logs (Wright sold out very early on in the process and did not make a lot of money off of the toy at all – he went on to create other building block toys that were not as successful), state in their official history of Lincoln Logs:
The product is named after Abraham Lincoln, the President who began his celebrated life in a log cabin in Kentucky.
I tend not to lend much credence to corporate histories like that, but I figure that it is worth at least mentioning it.
Thanks to Tim Moodie for the article that inspired this whole thing! And thanks to reader Dan W. for suggesting that I feature this one!
TOY URBAN LEGEND: The United States military purchased millions of View Master reels for training purposes during World War II.
Sawyers’ Photo Services was founded in 1911. In 1926, Harold Graves was brought into the company and was put in charge of photographs for postcards and collectible albums.
In the early 20th Century, postcards of famous places were often the only way people could ever see some of the world’s wonders like the Grand Canyon. In 1939, Graves formed a partnership with a man named Wilhelm Gruber to produce “stereo photographs.” These stereo photographs would be on film that would be put into discs (or “slides”) that you could then slide into a viewing device similar to a camera and then, well, view them. This viewing device was called the Viewmaster.
Here’s an early 1940′s Viewmaster (made out of metal)…
Viewmasters were used as replacements for scenic postcards. They allowed viewers to see all sorts of wonderful landscapes (the Grand Canyon was one of their most popular series of slides).
When World War II broke out, the United States military soon appreciated the utility of these devices for training purposes. From 1942 to 1945, they purchased 100,000 viewers and millions of slides.
Here are some of the military slides…
After the war, Sawyers purchased Tru-Vue, a Viewmaster knock-off company that had a license with Walt Disney. This led to Viewmaster’s first children-centric line of slides.
In 1966, Sawyers was purchased by General Aniline & Film (GAF) Corporation. This change in the company, combined with the 1962 move from metal Viewmasters to the now-famous red plastic models (seen here)…
led to the Viewmaster now being mainly a children’s toy. They picked up a bunch more licenses for new discs (including Star Trek). In 2010, the change became official. Viewmaster (now owned by Fisher Price) divested all of its remaining scenic photograph products and is now solely a company devoted to viewing discs for kids (everything is much fancier now, of course, with 3-D and sounds and the lot).
Thanks to Pinot and Dita for the photograph of the 1940-era Viewmaster.
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is email@example.com