Steam Toy Exhibit In New York

Steam engine

Steam engine at left turns a small water wheel. At right are steam hammers operated by means of a water-driven conveyor belt and paddle wheel. From collection of Bill and Lillian Gottschalk. Courtesy of Museum of City of New York.

Museum of City of New York

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An exhibit of toys, all originally designed to be powered by live steam, is now on view at the Museum of the City of New York, and will remain there until March 28.

The show is titled, 'H2O+Heat= Live Steam Toys. It is sponsored by the Friends of the Toy Collection of the Museum, and has been staged as a special Christmas exhibition.

Throughout history toys have reflected the life of their times. Children have learned about the workings of things through their own miniaturizations of society's tools.

This exhibit is believed to be the first public showing in the United States of such designs, and is of particular interest to steam engine enthusiasts. It is derived mainly from the private collection of Bill and Lillian Gottshalk of Baltimore, Md.

The 19th century was known as 'The Golden Age of Toys,' and most examples in this show date from the last quarter of that century. It was during this period that toys became powered first by clockwork, then by steam, replacing the earlier methods of water, sand, or hand power. At the end of the century there was an emergence of factories in the United States for mass production of toys, and although most toys in the show are German-made, some were manufactured in the United States by the Weeden Company of New Bedford, Massachusetts, from 1876 on.

The steam toys reflect many different aspects of the life of their times. There is a group of amusement park toys, with intricate ferris wheels and merry-go-rounds. There are small working mills of various kinds - windmills, graineries and even a distillery. There are boats and trains, and even a railroad bridge and station house. Artisans of the day are well-represented - blacksmiths, wood-workers and carpenters. One group of toys is an entire wood-working shop in perfect working condition.

Some of the toys are accompanied by paper accessories, which are considered to be very rare. One paper set enables the same engine to power a boxing match or a pair of ballet dancers. The toys are arranged in related groups. All are in mint condition, and some are seen in live operation. The most awed appreciators of the show seem to be children who 'ooh' and 'ah' in sheer delight at the antique toys.

The museum is located on Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street in New York City. It is open Tuesday through Saturdays from 10 to 5 (closed Mondays) and Sundays and holidays from 1 to 5. Admission is free at all times.