TRENTON — If you live in New Jersey, you probably know the spaces on the board game Monopoly are named for Atlantic City streets. But that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to New Jersey's presence in the world of toys.

Plastic green army men — first produced in Carlstadt, and later Hackettstown. The first sled you could steer down a snow-covered hill — developed in Cinnaminson. A cluttered basement in River Edge — the birthplace of Colorforms play sets.

These classic toys and many more are on display right now inside the New Jersey State Museum. Toy World, an exhibit running until April 30, takes visitors on a decades-long journey through New Jersey's role as a leading toy maker.

The Garden State, at one point, was a true powerhouse in toy manufacturing. From the turn of the 20th century up until the 1960s, only four states produced more toys than New Jersey, according to Nicholas Ciotola, the museum's curator of cultural history.

"There's really hundreds of companies that were located throughout New Jersey and many pioneering moments in toy-making history happened right here in the Garden State," Ciotola said.

New Jersey was also home to the very first talking doll, created by Thomas Edison. A factory in the Chambersburg neighborhood of Trenton was once known as the "World's Largest Doll House" because it manufactured so many on an annual basis.

The exhibit recreates old-time department store windows, stacked floor to ceiling with Jersey-born toys. But you'll have to resist the temptation to touch and play.

"We do not wind them up; we do not turn them on if they’re battery-powered," Ciotola said. "We need to preserve them for future generations, so 100 years from now these pieces are still in perfect condition."

The exhibit also recreates a living room set from the year 1959, equipped with a television constantly looping New Jersey toy company commercials from the 50s and 60s.

"People who lived through the 1950s walk into this space and they feel like they've been transported back in history," Ciotola said.

Toy World is just one of a handful of exhibits running Tuesday through Sunday at the museum along West State Street. The admission fee is an optional donation.

 

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.