Original Eames Toys

Ray and Charles Eames are serious role models for anyone interested in furniture design. However, it is worth noting that their sense of fun and inventiveness took them further than the realms of furniture. Throughout their years they were undoubtedly strong in their convictions to be creative with a purpose. They could never be pigeonholed, which is clear from their involvement in designing and creating leg-splints in the second world war.  They were involved in the film industry and the art world, perhaps unsurprising considering their desire to create beautiful things that mattered. Is it surprising that they would stretch into the realm of children’s toys? Perhaps not. 

Produced initially by Tigrett Enterprises, Eames won many Good Design Awards by designing a toy for the child that loves colour, creativity and inventiveness. The hidden value was connection, which came in the form of fun linked with education making it a winner in the educational toy market - a field that had been struggling up until this point. Eames toys became major players, which is surprising considering they marketed their toys by using the most simple, descriptive and non gimmicky names like ‘The Toy’. It doesn’t really send you to the shop with your wallet out, does it! The reputation that the Eameses had earned meant that they didn’t need flashy product names to sell anything they made—people just knew it would be an unusual, creative, purposeful product. Ray and Charles Eames never wanted to waste anyone's time or money, they certainly didn’t waste theirs. 

The Colouring Toy wasn’t supposed to help children play in a meaningless way; it was more about allowing the shapes and colours to stimulate the mind of the child who played with it. There was no inherent structure or end as such, it was simply designed to help the child discover a myriad of ways that something could be used and enjoyed. It’s a far cry from the toys of today which are perhaps played with for 5 minutes - this was an age where gifts were treasured and possibly rare, and a time when people generally had a higher level of concentration, relishing the opportunity to spend hours at play. 

There was also the famous House of Cards series of building toys, created using images approved by Ray Eames and Alexander Girard and applied to cards, with slots positioned to allow the building of towers, boxes, or anything one might think to build. The series came in large and small sets. The large set was made from 8-ply cardboard stock and the small set on playing card stock, both being highly collectable. 

Learning should be interactive, which is something they sought to encourage when they designed Mathematica in 1961. Photos show it to be a room full of images that could be puzzled over and objects that could be touched. 

In 1957 they created a toy well advanced for its time: the do-nothing-machine, which was produced for Alcoa, the Aluminium Company of America. This was a colourful device, made for fun and education and powered by the sun.

Consumerism always took a side step with the Eameses. Creating was about meaning, solving the problem, making the leap and helping us think. It’s as though Ray and Charles Eames were the Alice in Wonderland of innovation—they were always one step ahead down the rabbit hole and enjoying every moment of the journey!

Photo credit: