Back in the day

At Gregory in Seattle’s suggestion I did a Google images search on “LEGO ad 1970s” and sure enough…compared to the present they look like a lost utopia.

Note the caution – when it’s a girl and boy together, the girl is smaller and younger than the boy. It wouldn’t do to have a dominant little girl, even though there are in fact some families in which there is a girl (or even more than one) who is older than her brother.

But all the same. Utopia, I tells ya.


  1. opposablethumbs says

    I never thought I’d look back on the 70s with anything like nostalgia, but … maybe there are a few things I miss. I thought sexism was still a massive issue but that it was gradually and definitely on the way out – and I actually assumed, with the enthusiasm of extreme youth, that it would be history by now.

    (I also thought we’d won for good at last on access to reproductive healthcare, for one thing, and now we have to be wary of and defend against US-led clinic harassment here in the UK. But I digress.)

  2. Katydid says

    You could have superimposed my face on any of the little girls in those ads–I wore the same clothes, made pretty much the same things with my gender-neutral Legos, played Legos with my brother (and sister). How was I to know that was the apogee of equality?

  3. guest says

    @katydid I was just about to write that–I would have been the same age as those kids at that time, and would have worn those same clothes and played with those same toys. It’s shocking to me to realise that that fraction of a decade, my personal formative years, was such an outlier.

  4. says

    I wonder how much the large, so-called “universal sets” had in making Lego more or less gender neutral then. They had no purpose, just a bunch of different blocks with a few suggested builds (usually houses or vehicles) to get kids started, so we’d dump them out onto the floor and just build whatever struck our fancy. These days the sets all have some building focus–make a Star Wars fighter, or a real historical building, etc.–and it seems like most are targeted at traditionally “boy things.” Not that girls are actively discouraged from building those things, but with all the other layers of societal messaging, I wonder how many parents are shying away from buying these special-build sets for their girls.

    Probably doesn’t help that Lego made that recent attempt to “fix” perceived gender imbalance in their sets by targeting pink sets at girls to build a café, “beauty shop,” and “fashion design studio.”

    Just bring back the universal sets, Lego. Don’t fold your assumptions onto what kids want to build; give them lots of different blocks and let them use their imaginations, girls as well as boys.

  5. opposablethumbs says

    Ah, MrFancyPants, but I bet there’s more profit to be made in selling loads of assemble-this-thing-only sets, where you “have” to buy lots of different ones, than there was in selling universal sets. Never mind that the one-thing-only sets are so restrictive compared with build-anything ones 🙁

  6. Radioactive Elephant says

    I was looking at other pictures online and found the letter Lego put in one of their sets back in 1974:

    To Parents
    The urge to create is equally strong in all children. Boys and girls.
    It’s the imagination that counts. Not skill. You build whatever comes into your head, the way you want it. A bed or a truck. A dolls house or a spaceship.
    A lot of boys like dolls houses. They’re more human than spaceships. A lot of girls prefer spaceships. They’re more exciting than dolls houses.
    The most important thing is to put the right material in their hands and let them create whatever appeals to them.

    I don’t think there’s a big enough “return to sender” stamp to express my feelings.

  7. says

    I worked for Fisher-Price in the 1990s, and FP had made a building system called Construx, though it was discontinued before I was hired.
    A lot of people liked it more than Lego.. and while there were a lot of “themed” sets (alien creature thingies, even a military set with olive drab and camo stuff), they didn’t have a specific “intended design” in most cases the way lego sets these days do.

    Still, though we got plenty of calls complaining that they were discontinued, we also got calls complaining that there were “no instructions.” People (parents, really) wanted explicit instructions for building the particular creature or vehicle that happened to be most prominently pictured.

    I can only imagine that it has gotten worse since, so it’s not surprising that LEGO are the way they are now.
    Hell, I bet before long people will be demanding a way to “know when you’ve WON.”

    (further off-topic, in my ancient toy collection I had a box of the original legos – before Lego corp. had the rights. They were invented by whoever it was (I forget his name) who started the toy company Kiddicraft in the UK in the 1950s or so. FP bought Kiddicraft shortly after I started there. Anyway, that original box of pre-Lego Legos was simply primary-colored bricks in a plain box. That’s how Lego started. Just bricks in a box.)

  8. says

    I would have posted the images myself, but that pesky “one link” filter.

    But it wasn’t just LEGO: Playskool used to be good about advertising their toys for children rather than for boys or for girls. Lincoln Logs, Weebles, most of the Fischer Price toy sets…. I was a kid when that advertising was out, and still shocks me to see how segregated toy marketing has become.

  9. mildlymagnificent says

    Never mind that the one-thing-only sets are so restrictive compared with build-anything ones</blockquote

    And it makes buying gifts a nightmare. When my kids were small, anyone could turn up at a birthday party or Xmas or whatever with a small, reasonably priced addition to the kids’ Lego resources. (Am I right in remembering that they used to come with little how-to pamphlets or booklets for ideas on what to build? Or was that Meccano or someone else?)

    Now I find that the equivalent sized items are much more expensive, which is annoying but OK if that’s what you want to do. The real problem is that casual friends and remoter relatives can’t know exactly which model kits the recipients already have. It used not to matter at all, now it makes gift purchases impossible unless you’re prepared to call a busy parent and quiz them about which items their kids already have. And be prepared for the disappointment of a kid whose parent didn’t exactly remember all the details of the 30+ Lego kits they already have.

  10. Onamission5 says

    When my younger daughter, then age seven, asked for Legos, she specifically requested a “build anything” universal set because she didn’t want to be limited to only a jet fighter or only a space ship. It was a beast to find but find one I finally did at a fancy local toy shop. It came with its own blue plastic tub. Once she’d tired of her set, she handed it down to her younger brothers, as older siblings are wont to do. That is the glory of ungendered childhood interests– sharing across ages and genders. Boy siblings and girl siblings wearing feather boas with brightly colored superhero capes, building shit with their Legos, cats and dogs and the sky falling and whatnot. Honestly what do people think is going to happen is we don’t pinkify and aggroify everydamned thing?

    As a kid of the 70’s, I distinctly remember having a tea set I shared with my sister which was green and white, had red apples on the plates, and was made of tin. Our Tinker Toys were wooden, primary colored. I wanted Lincoln Logs and a Playschool plane more than anything but they were too expensive. None of the items I wanted when I was little were considered to be boy’s or girl’s toys, they were simply children’s toys. A Snoopy dog that was a hand me down from one of my uncles, a red-faded-to-primer-pink Tonka truck came from another. I loved that truck because it reminded me of my mom’s ’52 dodge, which was also primer pink, not because girl but because she hadn’t found the funds to paint the thing yet. A plastic colander I wore on my head as a helmet. You know. TOYS.

  11. mildlymagnificent says

    A plastic colander I wore on my head as a helmet. You know. TOYS.

    Yup. I suspect the main objective of companies trying to Make More Money from selling all these very specific toys is to divert parents’ attention away from the fascinating-to-toddlers contents of the saucepan drawer and the Tupperware cupboard.

  12. Onamission5 says

    @mildlymagnificent #13:

    LOL. And with my own kidlets, turns out that items from the kitchen utility drawer last a whole hell of a lot longer when used in a sandbox than anything one can buy at the store. Out with the flimsy plastic buckets, and their shovels which snap in half, in with soup ladles and Rubbermaid.

  13. Al Dente says

    I remember in the 1970s there was a children’s museum in Boston which had a room full of Legos. There were about ten people building stuff, about half of them adults (including me).

  14. johnthedrunkard says

    Also note that in all the images, the children are dressed like children.
    > No tiaras, tutus, high-heels, lipstick, hot-pants etc. etc.
    > No camouflage, bandoleers, boots, holsters,

    No batting eyelashes or ‘terminator’ scowls either. How much of our current sexual nightmare can be traced to the increasing purdah of pre-adolescent children in the last decades. How can we be surprised when boys fall for PUA propaganda if they’ve never actually known any girls, or shared ANY of their experience.

    It is a mental Chador that the children of the last 30 years have worn from birth.

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