Then and Now: A time machine of toys, television and tunes

Click above to peek inside a living room from 1953, 1983 and today.
May 3, 2013

You have probably heard your parents say it many times: “When I was young, we didn’t have the Internet.” Or cellphones. Or Xbox.

But do you ask them what they did have? What were the cool toys? Which shows did they watch on TV? Which snacks did they eat?

KidsPost reader Riley Salovich from Poolesville talks to her mom about it, and she thought it would make a good story. So we decided to look back to 30 years ago (when your parents were probably kids) and 60 years ago (when your grandparents were kids) to find out how life was different from today.

Boom years

If you are a 10-year-old in 1953, you were born during World War II. Your parents might have named you James or Mary, the most popular names at the time.

You probably don’t remember the wartime hardships. (Dad may have served in the military far from home; Mom may have taken a temporary job at a factory.) The mood in the 48 states — Hawaii and Alaska are territories, not yet states — has improved. There are serious problems, such as war in Korea and unfair treatment of black Americans, but the economy is good.

Many American families have money to spend on entertainment, even if Dad is the only parent working outside the home.

Television sets are appearing in more and more living rooms, although your family’s set probably shows programs only in black and white. (Color TVs are new and very expensive.) There are only a few channels to choose from, and you turn a knob on the television to select a channel.

The most-watched show is the family comedy “I Love Lucy.” But you may prefer “The Lone Ranger” or the cartoon “Tom and Jerry.”

While watching a show, you might ask Mom for Lay’s Potato Chips, Oreos or Cheetos. Those snacks are old favorites; the Oreo has been around since 1912.

Other kids activities include playing Little League baseball, reading comic books and listening to music. Patti Page’s “The Doggie in the Window” is a big hit, so you beg Mom and Dad to buy the record. (What’s a record, you ask? It’s a disc the size of a small plate that stored recorded sound.)

Your home has many electrical devices, but your toys don’t plug in. A popular doll, the Honey Walker, moves with a little help from its owner. Holiday wish lists include the new Matchbox toy vehicles, which are available in only four models.

Information Age

Jump ahead 30 years to 1983. If you are 10, you might be called Michael or Jennifer, the names chosen most often for kids your age. Your parents may both work outside the home, and you may be a “latchkey kid,” someone who goes home after school to an empty house.

After a snack (perhaps Doritos and a juice box), you might head out to practice whichever sport is in season.

Your family’s TVs broadcast in color and may be able to tune into new cable channels such as MTV and Disney Channel. You can change channels with a remote control, but not everybody has one. Mom and Dad probably watch the news show “60 Minutes,” but you tune in to “Little House on the Prairie” or the action series “The A-Team.” With your family’s new video cassette recorder, you can watch the shows after they air. What a concept!

The television also turns into a mini arcade with the help of video game systems such as Atari. You and your friends spend countless hours playing “Pac-Man” and “Space Invaders.” Your sister prefers playing with her Cabbage Patch Kid, a big-headed doll that is the year’s toy craze.

Your parents just bought a personal computer, a Commodore 64, which looks like a thick keyboard. The once pricey computer now costs a few hundred dollars, so Mom and Dad decided it was time to replace their old typewriter. You quickly figure out that you can use it to play video games.

Even though you must share most electronic toys, you have your own music-listening device: a boombox. It runs on batteries and plays cassette tapes — one at a time. You are saving your allowance to buy a cassette of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”

Web generation

Today, you may be named Jacob or Emily. If your parents work, you may go to an extended-day program at school.

If you like sports, you probably picked one at an early age and now play it year-round.

Electronics have always been a part of your life. The TV remote, Mom’s cellphone and Dad’s laptop have been curiosities since your toddler years.

These devices have gotten thinner and lighter. Your TV may be four feet wide, but it’s light enough to hang on the wall. Your MP3 player fits in your hand but can hold hundreds of songs. That phone that you want for middle school can slide easily into your pocket.

The World Wide Web has turned computers, tablets and smartphones into virtual libraries and shopping malls.

Mom buys you a pair of jeans late at night because online stores never close. If you have a social studies report to write, chances are you have Googled your subject.

The snacks you eat are made to be fast and easy. Cheese is sold in sticks wrapped in plastic. Yogurt comes in tubes for eating on the go. Even carrots are peeled and cut when they come out of the bag.

Despite all the changes in the past 60 years, not everything today is unfamiliar to Grandpa and Grandma. A popular letter game from their youth is now a top-selling app. So challenge Grandpa to a game of Scrabble. Once he masters using your iPod, he’ll probably beat you.

— Christina Barron

Send us your family’s memories

If you have parents or grandparents who grew up in Washington, ask them to tell you something about the area that has disappeared or just isn’t the same today as it was when they were kids.

If you’d like to share what you learned from them, write a few sentences and ask a parent or teacher to send them to KidsPost, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or to kidspost@washpost.com with “then and now” in the subject line. (Photos are welcome, too, but be aware that we can’t return them.) Include your full name, age, home town, phone number and your parent’s permission to publish the memories in a future KidsPost. Always ask a grown-up before going online.

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