Featured objects from the Ed and Saryl Von der Porten Collection, part of the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park museum collection.

The Von der Porten Collection
All of the objects exhibited here are part of the Ed and Saryl Von der Porten Collection, a collection of over 1,800 WWII-era artifacts that are part of the museum collection at Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, CA. The Von der Portens spent several decades building this collection of Home Front memorabilia that includes books, war bond and ration materials, toys, models and model kits, newspapers and magazines, household and decorative items, posters, and military souvenirs. Their passion and appreciation for history and material culture resulted in an incredible collection of artifacts that will remain an important part of the WWII American Home Front legacy.
Home Front Households: The Playroom
During WWII, images of war permeated almost every aspect of children’s lives, through toys, puzzles, comic books, cartoons, film, and radio. While government propaganda campaigns targeted adults to foster patriotism and elicit support for the war effort, toys and other items ensured the war stayed present in the lives of children. By playing with a toy that reflected the war effort, children participated in something that otherwise would have excluded them, therefore claiming a valid place in the country's collective identity as patriots. The objects featured in this exhibit demonstrate how, during WWII, material culture both fed and satisfied children's fascination with war and a desire to be included. 
War Play
During WWII, toys acted as a medium for delivering the patriotic symbols necessary to encourage support for and cultural acceptance of the war. By encouraging children to engage in war play by providing toys for that purpose, it ensured that the narrative of war remained present in their everyday activities. The items exhibited in this section reflect how toy makers marketed a variety of toys for children that fostered active engagement with the war effort.

Tinplate toys, popular since the mid-19th century, boomed in production and popularity following WWI. After the U.S joined the war in 1941, the manufacture of tinplate toys was temporarily discontinued in order to conserve raw materials, but Marx tinplate toys remained popular through the 1960s. This tank dates to the late 1930s and would have been present in playrooms during WWII.

During WWII, military use of parachutists, known in the military as paratroopers, began on a large scale. Children could make this parachutist fly by blowing air through the bottom of the tube, shooting the figure out of the other end.

The walkie-talkie, or two-way radio transceiver, was developed during WWII and greatly assisted the military during the war. As a result, walkie-talkie toys such as this were instantly popular with children and allowed for interactive “war play.”

Due to material shortages, composition became a popular alternative for toy manufacturers during WWII. Made of sawdust and glue, it was cheap and easily molded into virtually any shape.

The Boy Scouts used the Fleron Signaler as their official signaler to train boys in Morse Code during the first half of the 20th century. Whether one was a Boy Scout or not, this toy allowed children to learn and play at being a signaler. An advertisement in the February 1940 issue of Boys’ Life magazine said, “Every boy wants one. Every boy ought to have one.” Sold individually or in sets of two, Fleron Signalers could be hooked up together for sending and receiving messages with friends.

Miniature toy soldiers have a long history throughout the world. Prior to WWII, the majority of toy soldiers were made of metal; however, material shortages during the war restricted the use of metal, and composition soldiers gained popularity. Toy soldiers and their accessories allowed children to “play war” like their daddies and always be the victorious hero without the burden of its ugly realities.

Wooden Toys
Wooden toys increased in production during WWII as a result of material shortages. The collection of wooden toys in this section highlight the variety of style and economic range of wooden toys available, from those made by well-known toy manufacturers like Holgate and Keystone, to "shop toys" created in garages and home workshops. 

When new, this wheeled wooden “rugrat toy” included a small wooden tank that fit in the barge and rolled out of the hinged door. Manufactured in 1943, this toy capitalized on children’s desires to be involved in the war effort.

Keystone, known for their pressed steel trucks, adapted to the metal shortages during WWII by producing wooden toys instead. This cannon features a small spring mechanism for firing Keystone brand projectiles.

Holgate has been in business since 1789. Originally a manufacturer of industrial and domestic wood products, they began making toys in 1929. Many of their toys, such as this truck, include peg people that can be interchanged with other Holgate toys. Holgate featured this Army Truck in its 1941 catalog, along with several other vehicles modeled after the U.S. Army, and touted the vehicles as “Toys of Today.”

Tank toys surged in popularity during WWII as a result of their visibility as a military machine. Though tanks were used in WWI, use was not universal and tank technology was not well-developed until WWII. Toys like this durable wooden pull-toy tank with moveable tracks reflected a growing interest in tanks by children.

This simple wooden toy gun with a colorful adhesive label is an excellent example of a toy manufacturer cashing in on material shortages, frugal consumers, and children's desires for toys that reflected the war.

During WWII, people often made their own toys as a way to save money. This homemade wooden tank piggy bank features a removable artillery gun with a coin slot on top.

Miniature wood and cardboard army play set by Jaymar Specialty Company with four tents, four Jeeps, an airplane, a tank, and two paper American flags. Known for their wooden-jointed character toys, Jaymar began making war-themed toys after the U.S. joined the war.

Like toys, children's games also received war-themed makeovers. Games were a great way for children to pass the time, learn about significant events from the war, and stay engaged while remaining safe from its dangers. The items in this section are just a few of the sixty children's games from the Von der Porten Collection.

At Ease card game for "A POCKET FULL OF FUN ANYTIME ANYWHERE * 35 GAMES AND STUNTS." Box contains twenty-four game cards with thirty-five activities and games plus one answer card.

This classic cardboard and glass ball-in-the-hole game sent a clear message about who America's enemy was and emphasized the theme of victory.

Even classic games like checkers got a war makeover. Playing this game, which features WWII battlegrounds and military themed playing pieces, kept the war present during leisure time and reinforced the notion of victory over the enemy.

Cardboard jigsaw puzzles surged in popularity during WWII, as they were inexpensive and the materials used to make them were not among those rationed. Battle scenes, military images, and patriotic themes became the norm for puzzles during WWII, encouraging engagement with the war.

Reading, Learning, Creating
War-themed cartoons, coloring books, and educational items provided a creative outlet for children that also ensured the war remained visible in their day-to-day activities. The items featured in this section show how manufacturers tailored images and symbols from WWII to suit young minds.  

Dave Breger (Irving David Breger 1908-1970) was an award-winning cartoonist who created the popular Sunday comics, Private Breger and G.I. Joe. Private Breger was a spoof character based on Breger himself. His cartoons appealed to children and adults alike, as they provided some lighthearted comic relief to the serious topic of war and being a soldier.

Promotional products such as this were an effective way for companies to advertise both their products and their support for the war effort. This insignia guide, included with the purchase of a loaf of Wonder Bread, was designed to teach young people about military insignia.

The victory theme was visible in almost every category of children’s books, toys, and games during WWII. This coloring book originally belonged to a girl named Elizabeth who colored some of the pictures and signed her name on each one.

Candy cigarettes were introduced in the early 20th century and remained popular throughout. Though Peco made these collector cards prior to U.S. involvement in the war, 1940-1941, they highlight an interest in military planes by children as a result of the global conflict. These two cards are part of a set of twenty-eight cards that could be collected from packages of Peco Candy Cigarettes.

Dolls & Dress-Up
Although war toys primarily were marketed to boys, many were tailored to girls or designed to appeal to both. The items in this section highlight how clothes, dolls, and figures sought to include all children, regardless of gender, in the war effort. 

This paper doll kit features patterns for nine female figures. With men off to war, women were expected to fill positions that challenged traditional gender roles. This paper doll kit reflects those changes and celebrates women in a variety of jobs, some of which were normally reserved for men. Though these changes were intended to be temporary, with women resuming their positions as housewives and mothers once the war was over, many young girls viewed these new opportunities afforded to women as something to aspire to. Mr. Ed Von der Porten, the original owner of this collection, created the reproduction WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) and Nurse dolls. WAVES served as a unit of the U.S. Naval Reserve.

Dollywood Defense Dolls are credited to makeup artist Betty Westmore, who reportedly donated sale profits to war relief funds. Later rebranded as "Dolls of the Allies," this cute wood and cloth soldier doll appealed to boys and girls alike.

General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964) was a larger-than-life figure during WWII. Admired by children and adults alike, this doll appealed to people of all ages.

Without question, soldiers were highly visible, especially as role models for young children. This little ceramic night light features a soldier standing guard. Simple items such as this gave children an extra sense of security when they went to sleep at night.

Model-making has long been a popular hobby in the U.S. During WWII, model manufacturers cashed in on the war by creating model kits that reflected the public's interest in Jeeps, military planes, and Navy ships. Model kits were available in a wide range of skill level and price points, making them accessible to everyone. The Von der Porten Collection contains over 350 models and model kits encompassing the full range of ability and cost. The models featured here demonstrate how manufacturers tailored their kits to material shortages and interest in the military.

The Army Jeep was first manufactured in November 1940, and the sturdy four-wheel drive vehicle quickly became an essential tool for the U.S. Army and popular with model makers. This cardboard model features a fold-down windshield and required its builder to borrow straight pins from their mother for the dashboard and shifter details. Mr. Ed Von der Porten, the original owner of this collection, built this particular model.

Wallis Rigby's punch-out paper models with his signature tab-and-slot construction design were popular during WWII due to their affordability and realistic-looking details.

Joe Ott is well-known for the model kits he produced in the 1930s and 1940s. This kit, designed to be fun and educational, contains six die-cut sheets for making twenty-four different Allied and Axis military airplanes. Building the models in this kit was a great way for children and adults alike to pass the time and stay engaged with the war effort.

Credits: Story

Thank you to the late Ed and Saryl Von der Porten and to the Rosie the Riveter Trust for purchasing the collection and donating it to the park.

Exhibit created by Rosie the Riveter/WWII National Historical Park.

Images courtesy of Rosie the Riveter/WWII National Historical Park.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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