Living & Entertainment

Come for Mr. Potato Head, stay for the Play-Doh at History Museum

A toy box has arrived in Tacoma, and inside it are the memories of youth.

“Toytopia” is the newest marquee show at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma.

It displays, both in cases and on hands-on tables, toys and games that span decades and generations.

“I had one of these,” could be heard earlier this week as visitors made their way through the exhibits.

It’s easy to get lost in this show, playing with Lincoln Logs or flexing muscle memory on old arcade games. But the show is more than just a big play arena.

The totality of the exhibition sends a message: Society and technology have long influenced toys — probably since the first cave man carved a toy antelope for his child.

From 1950s tin rocket ships to Darth Vader, there are plenty of toys to stir up memories for adults.

Kids will be delighted, and sometimes appalled, by the primitive toys their parents and grandparents amused themselves with.

Slinkys and Frisbees are here. So is an Easy Bake Oven, Etch A Sketch, Space Invaders and Monopoly.

An early Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (from the days when kids used actual potatoes) are on display. So is a table of the plastic variety for visitors to create their own.

“You can make the funniest looking people in the whole world,” a vintage jingle sings nearby.

“Toytopia” is an international traveling show. Its last stop was in Monterrey, Mexico.

That explains why earlier this week Zoltar the fortune teller was speaking Spanish. He’ll be switched to English by the time the show opens Friday.

Zoltar, from the 1988 movie “Big” starring Tom Hanks, hands out “Zoltar Speaks” fortune cards with the press of a button.

“You are destined to be very happy indeed,” one read.


“You’ve had some trouble mostly caused by inconsideration of others,” it continued.

Ain’t that the truth.

Around the corner is another artifact from “Big”: the larger than life keyboard that Hanks and co-star Robert Loggia used to bang out piano tunes.

Visitors, once they remove their shoes, can make their own tunes on the floor piano.

Dolls, including Chucky from the 1988 horror movie “Child’s Play,” are safely behind glass. Press a button near a Pinocchio doll and you’ll be greeted with, “I’ve got no strings to hold me down …”

History, if you want it, is here. Play-doh, created in 1958, was originally a household cleaner. Frisbees started out as pie tins.

Technology makes itself increasingly felt as toys and games span the ages. A vintage Lite Brite — those plastic pegs that light up when inserted on a board — is on display. So is a larger than life version with pegs the width of broom handles visitors can manipulate.

A ping pong table-sized Etch A Sketch is nearby with a few smaller versions for visitors to use.

Simon, the light up pattern game, flashes from a display case.

Old-school toys have their place here, too.

A doll house, large enough to qualify as a residence in San Francisco, offers miniature-size appliances for kids to play with. Pressing buttons create sound effects from flushing toilets to whirring blenders .

The arcade section allows visitors to play Donkey Kong, Atari Pole Position, Space Invaders and other games for free.

The history museum curators created their own, smaller toy shows to accompany “Toytopia.”

One is a Victorian-era drawing room full of toys that kids in 2018 might consider punishment. No wi-fi was in sight.

In another section, called “PlayDates,” visitors can watch an hour of vintage TV toy commercials.

A green Suzy Homemaker oven from 1965 is near a Boy’s Tool Chest from 1870, complete with mini saw and small ruler.

Former child Picassos can reminisce over every young artist’s must-have: The 64 Crayola crayon box with built-in sharpener. It debuted in 1958.

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541, @crsailor


What: The new hands-on show lets children and adults explore the toys, games and amusements of their childhoods (through June 10).

When: Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday, and 10 a.m.-8 p.m. every Third Thursday.

Where: Washington State History Museum, 1911 Pacific Ave., Tacoma.

Tickets: Adults $14; seniors, students, military $11; Children free.

Information: 253-272-3500,