The Unlikely Story of the Original Lincoln Logs

You love Lincoln Logs.

I know this because you’re reading this, which probably means you grew up in the 1980s or before, which means you played with Lincoln Logs in a classroom at some point, which means you love Lincoln Logs.

To know Lincoln Logs is to love Lincoln Logs, after all.

And, sure, there are still Lincoln Logs out there today — or rather, there are Lincoln Logs again, since K’Nex brought them back a few years ago.

But today’s version isn’t quite the same as the original Lincoln Logs from more than 100 years ago.

Heck, even the ones you and I played with back in the Dark Ages are different that the original Lincoln Logs,

Not crazy different, but still not exactly the same. And you know something else about those original Lincoln Logs?

They have a pretty interesting story … one you should read someday.

Like, you know, today.

original lincoln logs tall

Architectural Pedigree

Do you know where your favorite toys came from? Who developed them? What inspired them?

Maybe provenance doesn’t matter much to you, and I get that. You just want to fiddle around with those action figures or crash up those Hot Wheels cars.

Fair enough, and the inspiration for those baubles is pretty obvious, anyway.

But, even if you don’t care where your Lincoln Logs came from, the fact remains that they have a pretty impressive pedigree.

How impressive?

Well, they were created by John Lloyd Wright.

And, I’ll bet even your eyebrows went up at the “Lloyd Wright” bit of that name, right?

Sure they did, because John Lloyd Wright was the son of Frank Lloyd Wright, maybe the most famous architect of the 20th century.

Earthquake-Proof

The story goes like this …

John was in Tokyo, Japan, with his father in 1916 or 1917, where Frank was working on a revolutionary type of hotel.

In particular, in addition to the imparting the famous Lloyd Wright style to the new Imperial Hotel, Frank also vowed to make the place earthquake-proof.

A noble goal, seeing as how Japan is on the Pacific Rim and prone to the many earthquakes and volcanoes that rock the region on a regular basis.

The solution that Frank came up with was to build the foundation from a series of interlocking wooden beams that would provide a firm and solid foundation, but that had some give in them. Bend don’t break, in other words.

Properly inspired by his inventor-father’s ingenuity, John lifted the design and created a new toy — a set of “logs” that children (or childlike adults) could use to build cabins, outhouses, lean-to’s, or straight and stiff dark brown snakes with notches in them.

Patriotic Pastime

When the duo returned to the U.S. in 1918, World War I was about to wind down, and patriotic feelings were swirling in the air.

John capitalized on our national pride, and his father’s design, by patenting his log set and using as the keystone product in a new company — The Red Square Toy Company, based in Chicago, Illinois.

According to some sources, he further tugged on American heartstrings by naming the logs after our long-lost Presidential hero, Paul Revere.

No, wait. That’s not right.

Abraham Lincoln. Yes, that’s the guy. Abe Lincoln, 16th President.

Others, though, say John named his creation after Daddy’s full original name — Paul Revere Wright.

Dang it! Did it again.

Sorry … Andrew Lincoln Wright, which makes since considering dude was born in 1867.

Either way, John was able to capitalize on the Dad-Joke-Worthy homophone pairing of Lincoln and linkin’.

Television Trendsetter

Lincoln Logs simmered along for twenty years or so between the World Wars, a period marked by The Great Depression and the rise of toys as educational tools.

One of the companies who pushed their way to prominence during that stretch was Playskool.

Back in 1928, Lucille King established the Playskool Institute to develop wooden toys specifically for use in classrooms. Originally part of the John Schroeder Lumber Company, Playskool changed hands a few times.

By 1943, it had grown into the Playskool Manufacturing Company and started making acquisitions. Chief among them was the J.L. Wright Company who manufactured — you guessed it — Lincoln Logs.

As World War II came to a close and television started to gain a hold with American families, Playskool ramped up their production and marketing efforts.

With the Baby Boomers starting to develop into actual children, toy manufacturers took dead aim at their new consumers. In April of 1952, the Hassenfield Brothers (Hasbro) launched their Mr. Potato Head toy, accompanied by the first-ever toy ad on television.

Now, every household could “watch” toys on TV. How great for parents! (*eye roll*)

Lincoln Logs followed close behind, becoming one of the first playthings to show up in living rooms everywhere over the airwaves.

You couldn’t catch an episode of Davey Crockett or Pioneer Playhouse without a rousing round of “Sell the Lincoln Logs.”

Sources

https://www.collectorsweekly.com/toys/lincoln-logs

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lincoln_Logs

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