Consumer Products and Retail in 1962
When I think about Christmas in 1962, I realize that I had just recently turned 10 years old. So, what do I remember as a 10-year old at Christmas? We always went to grandma’s for dinner, and because I love stuffing I remember that hers was different than my mom’s, and in my opinion it was not as good. Grandma lived just across town, so we didn’t take a Roadtrip-'62 ™ style trip “over the river and through the woods” to get there. But I remember driving around town, on some night around Christmas, to see the outdoor lights and wishing we had some of our own. I remember having recently watched “Magoo’s Christmas Carol”, which debuted on December 18, 1962. Though Christmas is a religious holiday, the things that many of us remember most are more commercial. The sights, sounds, food, gifts, decorations, and more give a feeling to Christmas when we’re young that we try to recreate to some extent the rest of our lives. Of course you remember family gatherings, but it’s within the context of the commercial products that created the space for them to happen.
Being just 10 years old, mostly I remember toys! For weeks before Christmas, I would scour the Sears, Ward’s, Penney’s and even the Alden’s catalogs, enjoying the toy sections and making my wish lists. Somewhat surprisingly as I look back, I usually received one really nice item from my list along with other miscellaneous toys. Maybe this was the year I got a Kenner Girder And Panel Set! This popular toy was first produced by Kenner in 1957 and was fully mature by 1962, with several different sets available. I had the Bridge and Turnpike Set because I was in love with roads, and I believe one of my brothers had the standard Girder and Panel Building Set. They stopped producing the toy around 1968, probably about the same time I quit playing with it. Kenner was bought out a couple of times and by 1974 was owned by General Mills, the cereal and cake mix company. (The 1970s were an era of strange corporate structures called conglomerates, which mostly did not work out.) They restarted the Girder and Panel line and made them until 1979. The trademark lapsed after that and Irwin Toys of Toronto, Canada picked it up in 1992. Irwin made some sets for a few years, mostly for Canadian distribution. After another run between 2005-2016 by Bridge Street Toys of Boston, the toy has again been discontinued. I picked up a set of theirs at a rummage sale a few years ago for fun and it’s a good reproduction.
A toy we could get for Christmas in 1962 that’s still around today is the Etch-A-Sketch. I had one around that year, though I am not certain when we got it. These drawing toys are made in Bryan, Ohio, which we drove through on our US-6 roadtrip. I still have one, again purchased at a rummage sale a few years ago. I also had a toy cap gun, perhaps a new one for 1962, and plenty of Kilgore roll caps to shoot in it. You can find more info about all sorts of toy guns available for a 1962 Christmas at my Toy Guns from 1962 page.
Christmas also brought many inexpensive, generic toys beside cap guns. Plastic trucks and boats, and sandbox shovels and buckets are some that I remember. Some were quite likely made by American Plastic Toys, which began making such toys in 1962. They are still around, now operating five plants in Michigan and Mississippi and still making all of their components and toys in the United States from domestically sourced plastic. The company now makes over 125 plastic toys including furniture, garden toys, kitchen toys, workbench toys, vehicles and boats, pails and shovels, sand toys, riding toys and wagons, and sports toys.
Games were always a popular Christmas present for our family, as they could be shared by the five kids. One of my favorites was always a deck of cards. Not your typical playing cards; a deck of Ed-U-Cards. The variety of games and pictures seemed endless, as did the hours of play they afforded. Learn more about the fun at my Ed-U-Cards history page. One new board game was added to our collection each Christmas, and the 1962 game may well have been Square Mile by Milton Bradley. It debuted that year and was one of my all time favorites! Square Mile apparently did not age well, because it hasn’t been sold in many years. The game was a real estate development game, where the rudiments of real investment decisions were part of the play. You started with raw land and it was worth more as highways and railroads moved in, as zoning was upgraded, and other nearby development became denser.
A game I never had, but just recently bought at an antique store is Password. This also debuted in 1962 and was based on a popular television game show. The show was created for the highly successful Goodson-Todman Productions, who also produced What's My Line?, To Tell the Truth, and I've Got a Secret. The show began in 1961 on the CBS network and the original daytime run ended in 1967, with a prime time run airing simultaneously from 1962 to 1967. Both the daytime and prime time versions performed strongly in the ratings for those five years. The show was broadcast in black-and-white, as were many TV shows of the day, as CBS' New York studios had not made the full switch to color equipment. It was hosted by Allen Ludden and featured two teams of two players: one celebrity player and a contestant. One player gives a word clue to the other member of the team, who has to try to guess the secret word. The play of the home boxed game is exactly the same. As I mentioned, Milton Bradley Company sold the first home version of Password in 1962. They eventually released 24 editions of the game through 1986, tying it with Concentration as the most popular of Milton Bradley's home versions of game shows. It’s a little surprising to me that the boxed game was so popular, as you really don’t need any special equipment to play. It can all be done with paper and pencil!
Of course, I also remember Christmas music. Other than humming some of the songs from “Magoo’s Christmas Carol” though, I have a hard time remembering just what songs I heard in 1962. Some likely candidates are “Jingle Bells”, “White Christmas”, “Winter Wonderland”, “The Christmas Song”, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town”, "Frosty the Snowman", and "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree". There were versions of all these songs on the radio, but I don’t recall what artists I would have heard then, because I’ve heard so many different versions since. And of course there were religious Christmas songs on the air, like "What Child Is This?", "Carol of the Bells", "The Little Drummer Boy", "Joy to the World" and “Adeste Fideles”. I’m sure I heard Tennessee Ernie Ford’s version of “Adeste Fideles” because my grandmother was a fan of his. And though "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" was first released in 1958, it was popular enough in 1962 to hit #39 on the Bilboard Hot 100 chart. So I’m sure I would have heard it in 1962…over and over and over.
Besides Tennessee Ernie Ford, perhaps my grandmother or mother had some other Christmas record albums. For Christmas 1962, albums were on the market by Bing Crosby (I Wish You A Merry Christmas), the Everly Brothers (Christmas with the Everly Brothers ), Huey "Piano" Smith and the Clowns (Twas the Night Before Christmas), The Four Seasons Greetings (The Four Seasons Greetings), Dick Leibert (The Sound Of Christmas On The Radio City Music Hall Organ), Ray Conniff (We Wish You A Merry Christmas), and an all-time favorite, The Chipmunks (Christmas With The Chipmunks). When first released in 1958, “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)” reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Pop Singles chart, becoming The Chipmunks' first (and only) #1 single. It is also the only Christmas record to reach #1 on that chart, and the last Christmas song to reach #1 on any US singles record chart! The song was also included in the 1962 album "Christmas With The Chipmunks" and remains popular today.
Christmas advertising is always something special. As I’ve hunted around for things from 1962, I’ve seen some fun ads. How about Santa dropping into a snow white Corvette as part of the “Let Hertz Put You In The Driver’s Seat” campaign? Or food ads that show the delicious recipes for Christmas goodies like fudge, cakes, Chex mix, egg nog, Jello dishes, and every kind of Christmas cookie imaginable! Many food companies offered holiday cookbooks with new recipes. There were also lots of ads with headlines like “Joy Bringer Specials”, “Santa’s Village”, “Toyland”, and “Annual Christmas Sale”. And of course, there were thousands of ads for toys. But the strangest Christmas ad I’ve ever seen from 1962 is the one pictured above. It’s a magazine ad exhorting you to give Lucky Strike Cigarettes for presents. And they even came in a special holiday decorated box!
One of the most memorable Christmas advertising campaigns was for Coca-Cola. Over about a 30 year period, our collective image of Santa Claus was strongly influenced by the Coca-Cola Santa. The first of these Santas appeared in 1931, in magazine ads. Through 1964, artist Haddon Sundblom created over 40 of these paintings of Santa for the beverage. He referenced the verse in the well-known Clement Moore 1822 poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" and later cartoonist Thomas Nast’s drawings to come up with his depiction of Santa Clause as a warm, friendly, pleasantly plump, red clad man delivering toys. Besides the advertisements, these images have continued to be used on store displays, billboards, posters, and calendars. Many of those items are now popular collectibles. And because the images still resonate so well with the public, the United States Postal Service (USPS) chose them for its 2018 Christmas stamps. USPS chose four of the images for what it calls the Sparkling Holidays stamps, now available for postage. Four stamps show a cropped image of Santa’s head, while one shows the complete picture from 1963, including the Coca-Cola bottle.
And finally, here’s a few vintage 1962 Christmas decorations from my collection. The buildings are cardboard and were sold in dime stores like Woolworth’s, Kresge’s, W.T. Grant’s, and McCrory’s. They were made in Japan, which was typically the source of inexpensive goods like China is today. The lights are in the shape of candles and are a real nuisance to get on a tree! You have to slide the two wires over a branch and then crimp them with a wooden bead, all while trying to maintain the “candle” upright. After all, it wouldn’t look much like a candle if it were sideways or upside down. Time to relax with some egg nog or maybe a Coke after that! Here’s wishing all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Roadtrip-'62 ™.
All photos by the author and Copyright © 2018 - Milne Enterprises, Inc., except as noted.
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