San Diego Automotive Museum

Car Toys

car toy exhibit
Start Date
End Date

Toys – What Do They Represent?

The nature of toys is compounded of pleasure, fantasy, and imitation. The history of toys is made up of contrasts, and lies somewhere between the needs of the child, the interests of the historian, the desire of the collector, and, last but not least, the involvement of the adult in his childhood – the magic world, from which he cannot bear to be excluded forever by the mere act of growing-up. (Fraser, Antonia; The Nature of Toys, 1966)

The history of toys goes back several thousand years. Early people made ball-like objects from leather stuffed with grass – simple, but functional. Carvings of antelope and other hunted animals have been discovered in numerous caves and archeological sites also dating back to prehistoric times.

In the early days, a carved wooden animal object might represent what was on the mind of the group’s hunting party. Later, the object, wood or metal, may represent an unaffordable item – like maybe that Ferrari that will never be parked in the driveway. Then there is the desire to have something "child size" for that someone too small, too young to possess. The fantasy concept is a large part of toy culture.

Many adults build exotic model cars and display them proudly on a shelf in the den. That plastic or die-cast model serves to appease that burning in the ego and also is easier on the wallet.

According to Antonia Fraser,

At first children want to push a car or train across the floor themselves – to be the actual impulse of action. Later they become fascinated by the mechanics of movement and demand that every car should have an engine, because real cars have engines.

In … the 1930s … Susan Isaacs maintained that since in all their free play children are working out their fears and fantasies, the nature of their toys must be of enormous importance. She believed that toys helped them to accept the limitations of the world, and to control their real behavior….