Consumer Products

The Road to Rochester: Little Green Army Men

Throughout October, Kidscreen will take a peek at each of this year's 12 nominees for the Toy Hall of Fame. These army personnel could march their way into the National Toy Hall of Fame. While they have no names, they do seem to have strength in numbers.
October 20, 2014

Throughout October, Kidscreen will take a peek at each of this year’s 12 nominees for the Toy Hall of Fame, located within the Strong Museum in Rochester, NY. Among its inductees are the Easy Bake Oven, skateboard and Atari 2600. Today, we look one at more toy that could join the list: Little Green Army Men.

They are the soldiers with bazookas, machine guns or bayonets. Others have pistols, sniper rifles or grenades. To keep them from falling over, the “pod feet” provided a much-needed base.

Their battlegrounds are the sandbox, living room or schoolyard. Some men are face down to avoid enemy gunfire. Others have binoculars to signal bringing in reinforcements. When kids play with Little Green Army Men, they have a power in numbers.

A continuation of when kids would re-enact the First World War with cast metal toy soldiers, Little Green Army Men were first introduced in 1938 by Bergen Toy and Novelty Co. Sold by the bulk inside large bags, these two-inch tall plastic moulds were very much the opposite of GI Joe. There was no single hero to save the day.  These soldiers had no names, let alone movable joints. Each toy, however, had its own role on the make-believe battlefield.

If one toy was lost in the sandbox, parents needn’t worry. If another was broken, melted, or chewed up by the dog, there were plenty of replacements. “They are faceless, nameless army personnel who—in the kind of play they receive—are cannon fodder,” says Christopher Bensch, chief curator of the Strong Museum.

Non-green men were created, too. There were army figures to represent the enemey Germans and Japanese. As decades went by and various manufacturers developed their own similar brands, the Little Green Army Men underwent many changes, but stayed true to the premise of each piece being a member of a larger team.

As a collective, they were inspiration for a long-running video game franchise. The Little Green Army Men even had their own supporting cast role in the Toy Story movies, where their long plastic bases didn’t prevent them from doing recon duty.

“One of the joys of getting your bag of Little Green Army Men was that you’ve got so many of them,” Bensch adds. “You can set up an elaborate battle with dozens of them for mere pennies.”

The three main criteria for induction into the hall of fame are (1) longevity, (2) recognition or icon status, and (3) encourage learning, creativity and discovery. This year’s other 11 nominees are: American Girl dolls, Bubbles, Fisher Price Little People, Hess toy trucks, My Little Pony, Operation, paper airplane, pots and pans, Rubik’s Cube, Slip ‘N Slide and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The two inductees for 2014 will be announced on November 6.

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