One Word for Boomer Dinosaur Toys: Plastics

On a recent picnic outing with friends in a local park, Missus Boomer saw a small toy nestled in the grass. She picked it up and gave it to Mister B. It was a plastic long snouted dinosaur. Some poor child undoubtedly lost track of it, and now here it was, immediately transporting Mister B back to his own childhood years.

Plastic Dino
Unlike genuine, highly collectible plastic dinosaurs from our boomer years, this one did not have the name of the dinosaur stamped into its tail. Instead was the stamp of modern toys: "Made in China."

Plastic injection-molded toys became possible after polystyrene was invented in 1927. One of the first mass-market toys to take advantage of this new, durable material was Lego, introduced in 1932. After the War, the stage was set for toy manufacturers to supply a baby boomer generation with all types of toys. While Tonka relied on child-resistant metal, and Lincoln Logs continued to be made from good old-fashioned wood, plastic toys were the future, as stated in The Graduate (1968) when a friend of the father of Dustin Hoffman’s character pulls him aside to give him that famous one word of advice.

When it comes to the ubiquitous toys manufactured after World War II, there probably aren’t too many as popular — especially among young boys — as plastic dinosaurs. Like today, boomer boys would study and memorize the names of the dinosaurs, only to take their plastic toys and stage mock battles.

Mister Boomer had a small set of dinosaurs, consisting of a flying Pterodactyl, dorsal-plated Stegosaurus, super-sized Brontosaurus, vicious Tyrannosaurus Rex, three-horned Triceratops, armored Ankylosaurus, plant-eating Trachedon and the sail-finned Dimetrodon. In Mister B’s dino vs. dino battles, the T-Rex never won. They were dull brown, gray and green colors, not the brighter reds, yellows and greens of later-year 1960s plastic dinos, and of course, there was no such thing as a dinosaur whose tail didn’t drag on the ground. Besides, toy makers could use the tail as a way of stabilizing the plastic figure to stand.

Mister B was fascinated by all types of dinosaurs. It was one of his favorite drawing subjects. Sometimes he’d mix World War II elements in, like U.S. dive bombers attacking dinosaurs, or dinosaurs eating Nazi soldiers. Other times, the drawings pictured dinosaur battles that echoed scenes from movies. His drawings and play were fueled by a steady stream of movies containing dinosaurs throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. Alongside allegorical dinosaur films like Godzilla (1954), there were movies filled with special effects for B-movie viewers. Besides space travel, what down-to-earth subject matter could possibly be more enticing for 1950s filmmakers interested in special effects than dinosaurs? There were many films made, most centered on a lost area of the globe being rediscovered, or formerly extinct animals coming to life. Of note, other than the Dinosaurus! (1960) trailer pictured above, there was King Dinosaur (1955); Lost Continent (1951, with Cesar Romero and Hugh Beaumont, no less); and Two Lost Worlds (1950). Mister B saw them at both drive-in theaters and at home in glorious black and white on the family television.

What role did dinosaurs — and plastic dinosaur toys — play in your boomer Wonder years?

Boomers Tossed the Party Line

In telephone parlance, a party line was one phone line shared by two or more households. According to Bell Telephone history, the practice of sharing a line started in the late 19th century. At that point, the telephone was not yet in every home, and a party line was an economical way to introduce new users to phone service. It became the predominant package for home use. Into the early twentieth century, the telephone was thought of primarily as a tool for emergencies and the spread of pertinent family information (which usually meant bad news). Consequently, each phone call lasted no more than a few minutes.

As early as 1899, Ma Bell sought to make the party line undesirable so people would opt for the more expensive single, or “private,” line. Bell would place up to 20 houses on a single line to purposely complicate a consumer’s use of the phone. By the 1920s, people were moving off the party line, but the Depression put a crimp in Bell’s big picture. By the time the country’s economy was recovering, World War II came along. Many people, whether through tradition, inertia or family economics, kept their party line — much to the chagrin of Bell Telephone.

After the war and into the early boomer years, the use of the phone grew from an emergency tool to one of increasing social communication. Women were required to return to their homes after “manning” the factories while the men were at war, and now, at home and having babies, they used the phone to “reach out and touch” family and friends. As phone call times increased in duration, the frustration factor grew for party line users. It would seem that no matter when you wanted to use the phone, another person on the party line had beat you to it. Some neighbors used the direct link as an opportunity to eavesdrop on another neighbor’s conversation, while others were flummoxed by its inconvenience.

The 1959 Rock Hudson/Doris Day movie, Pillow Talk, portrayed scenes of a one-on-one confrontation between neighbors in New York City who were sharing a party line. Of course, the party line in the movie was used as a plot vehicle to get the two characters together. In real life, party lines in New York had all but disappeared after 1930.

The Rock Hudson character in Pillow Talk was a real ladies’ man, while Doris Day’s character was more of a homebody, career woman.

In the Midwest of Mister Boomer’s youth, party lines comprised about half of all telephone lines until the mid-60s. Mister B’s family had a party line connected to at least three or more other households. Often times, merely picking up the phone meant you were in the middle of someone else’s conversation. By picking up your receiver, a click could be heard by the actively speaking parties. That would prompt a terse, “We’re on the phone!” comment that would require you to instantly hang up for the sake of phone etiquette.

Mister B’s mother was constantly exasperated by the perpetual chatter on the phone every time she wanted to make a call. He recalls his mother yelling into the phone, “You’ve been on the phone over fifteen minutes! Give someone else a chance!” or, in periods of extreme frustration, “This is an emergency! Will you please get off the phone!”

Around 1962, she had had enough, and petitioned Mister B’s father to get a private line. That time period coincided with Bell moving people away from the two-letter phone number prefix to one of all numbers. Mister B’s household received their private line and new phone number that enabled direct dialing to and from anywhere in the world. It consisted of a three-digit area code and three-digit exchange, followed by an addition four-digit personal number (see Boomers Dial Up Some History).

As the Bell System introduced push-button phones around 1963, touch-tone dialing was replacing the older pulse dialing of a rotary dial phone. This technology conveniently required a private line, so it became another way Bell could move people off the party line and into a higher monthly payment bracket. Most households had dropped the party line option by the 1970s.

Do you have family memories of a party line, boomers?