From an article by Ross K. Baker in American Demographics (December):
Fifty years ago, Americans celebrated the last Christmas before World War II and the last Christmas of the Great Depression. If you browse through the pages of mass-circulation American magazines dated December 1940, you can find a glittering array of gifts. . . .
Some 50-year-old Christmas gifts now seem downright bizarre. How about a kiddie tuxedo? It had a jacket with satin lapels, waistcoat and pants. For girls, a nurse outfit was the big costume for 1940. The boy in the tux could swing by to pick up the girl in the nurse's outfit in a $120 rear-engine gasoline-powered toy roadster that reached a respectable 12 mph.
For people addicted to video games, the popular games of 1940 seem primitive. The steadiest seller among the games at F.A.O. Schwarz was tiddlywinks.
If you blame Barbie for ushering in the era of fashion dolls with expensive wardrobes, consider the Sonja Henie doll of 1940. It was endorsed by the Norwegian figure skater and sold for a pricey $5, but that was just the beginning. Sonja also needed a variety of outfits, one of which was "trimmed in genuine marabou." Another hand-knit skating outfit sold for $7.
Parents could also buy their children a police car equipped with a siren and flashing lights. Or, for $25, a week's pay for many people in 1940, they could get a dollhouse with walls of glass brick, a sun deck and a "large expanse of horizontal windows" in the best art deco style. Both the police car and the dollhouse required power. Yet then, as now, batteries were not included.