Playing with Politics

The Strong | National Museum of Play | Rochester, New York

White House Marx Master Builder Kit (1962) by Louis Marx & CompanyThe Strong National Museum of Play


Toys and games celebrate and venerate the office of president, educating players in the process.

Righty 2004 Beanie Baby (2004) by Ty Inc.The Strong National Museum of Play

Playing with Politics

Having no official religion, and claiming no divine right of kings to rule, the American republic and its democratic processes nonetheless rest on veneration of cherished symbols and national heroes. But reverence has its flip side in these United States. Satirists, game designers, toymakers, and propagandists can’t resist playing with politics and political figures. Sometimes, political amusements celebrate and, just as often, they aim to repudiate. And so comedians and partisans poke fun at the trappings of office, the pretentions to celebrity, and the games politicians play.

Lefty 2000 Beanie Baby (2000) by Ty Inc.The Strong National Museum of Play

This online exhibit is about the lighthearted ways we find to join in every four years.

Presidential Seal PEZ Dispenser (2016) by Pez Candy Inc.The Strong National Museum of Play

Playing with Presidential Dignity

Such is the esteem with which we regard high office in this country that Federal law actually stipulates fines and imprisonment for any who would use the Seal of the President of the United States “for the purpose of conveying, or in a manner reasonably calculated to convey, a false impression of sponsorship or approval by the Government.” The American eagle holds in its beak a scroll with the Latin words for “out of many, one” —a statement of national resolve. It turns its gaze toward an olive branch, the symbol of peace. And it holds in its left talon thirteen sharp arrows that vow determination. Yet here the powerful symbol appears comically on a candy dispenser!

The Presidents Coloring Book (1991) by Gerald R. Ford Museum and John SteeleThe Strong National Museum of Play

Picturing the Presidency

With a cover page featuring the famous image of Mount Rushmore, this interactive book presents, in chronological order, line drawings of all the chief executives ending with Gerald Ford, who, unelected, had followed an unusual path to the Oval Office. The book also includes readable, capsule biographies. By drawing upon visual, spatial, and tactile intelligences, coloring books help make new knowledge stick. It’s easier to remember the 38th president when you have played at coloring in his picture.

Meet the Presidents Board Game (1953) by Selchow & Righter Co.The Strong National Museum of Play

Presidential Trivia isn’t Trivial

This game from 1953 contains 33 coins embossed with portraits of all the presidents through Dwight D. Eisenhower. Players advance across the board by successfully answering detailed questions about presidential administrations. The first to put eight presidents in the White House wins the game. In the 1950s, most practicing historians, teachers, most American History textbooks emphasized political history over other ways of understanding this country. Thus they identified eras such as “Jeffersonian and Jacksonian Democracy,” “The Age of Lincoln,” “Theodore Roosevelt and his Time,” and so on. In the 1960s, scholars began to reject this “presidential synthesis” in favor of a less “top-down” history that centered in Washington, D.C. And so they began to study culture, gender, class, ethnicity and race, social movements, mentalities, economic trends, technological change, and many other interesting topics. Meantime, popular curiosity about the presidency never flagged. And in the 1990s, scholars revived their own interest in how politicians exercise power in the United States.

George Washington Doll (1950) by Dorothy HeizerThe Strong National Museum of Play

First in war, First in peace, and First in the Hearts of His Countrymen

In his remarkable “Farewell Address” (1796), George Washington celebrated the new government and its separation of powers. He warned, however, of the threats of party factions and sectional loyalties. And he cited the dangers of “foreign entanglements.” He hoped for the prospect of peace abroad, tranquility at home, and the liberty that the new nation highly prized. Both friends and rivals thought of him as the “father of the country.” He steadied politics at a crucial time. As this dignified shelf doll attests, Americans still revere him as they do no other president.

Dwight D. Eisenhower Doll (1987) by Effanbee Doll Co.The Strong National Museum of Play

Admiring rather than Satirizing

Sometimes caricatures flatter the politician. In the successful presidential campaign of 1952, managers found for Dwight D. Eisenhower, a World War II hero, a winning catchphrase: “I Like Ike.” Cartoonists sometimes pictured him off playing golf, his passion, during a crisis, or they poked gentle fun at his roundabout sentences. But they almost never descended to ridicule this president.

Lincoln Logs Construction Set (1923) by John Lloyd Wright Inc.The Strong National Museum of Play

Lincoln: Playing with the Symbol and the Toy

When John Lloyd Wright (son of architect Frank Lloyd Wright) invented Lincoln Logs in 1916, he took advantage of an old story—how tough and independent pioneers, personified by Abraham Lincoln, had carved a livelihood from the ancient American forests. Packaging for the initial version of the toy featured an image of the nation’s celebrated 16th president alongside this slogan: “interesting playthings typifying the spirit of America.”

Barak Obama Bobble Head Doll (2010) by KC HawaiiThe Strong National Museum of Play

Born in the U.S.A.

"As the child of a black man and a white woman, someone who was born in the racial melting pot of Hawaii, with a sister who’s half-Indonesian but who’s usually mistaken for Mexican or Puerto Rican, and a brother-in-law of Chinese descent, with some blood relatives who resemble Margaret Thatcher and others who could pass for Bernie Mac, so that family get-togethers over Christmas take on the appearance of a United Nations General Assembly meeting, I’ve never had the option of restricting my loyalties on the basis of race, or measuring my worth on the basis of tribe."

Barack Obama
The Audacity of Hope

Abraham Lincoln Puzzle (1890) by McLoughlin BrothersThe Strong National Museum of Play

The Enigmatic Abraham Lincoln

"Many elements of the inner Lincoln necessarily remain a puzzle. Lincoln wrote with arresting precision and clarity, but only reluctantly did he proffer autobiographical sketches, and then only brief ones. Though he was an indefatigable conversationalist, could be excellent company, and dominated gatherings through his storytelling, even his near friends encountered reticence and secrecy, and most judged that he 'never told all he felt'."

Richard Carwardine
Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power

Abraham Lincoln Rubber Duck (2016) by Oriental Trading Co. Inc.The Strong National Museum of Play

Going Against the Flow

Jokers can’t look at a legend with a straight face. For satirists and gagsters, political figures are the fairest of fair game. And thus Abraham Lincoln, preserver of the American Union, has been turned into a rubber duckie. George Washington, who received the same treatment, also made fun. Kids could enjoy these toys as toys while splashing about. But adults who floated in the tub, or supplied their children with the buoyant American hero, layered a laugh on top of the laugh.

The Presidents of the United States Card Game (1986) by Thomas PublicationsThe Strong National Museum of Play


Games and artifacts draw players into political intrigue and calculation.

Oswald B. Lord's Game of Politics (1936) by Parker BrothersThe Strong National Museum of Play

Game for Politics?

Parker Brothers of Salem, Massachusetts, introduced Oswald Lord's Game of Politics in 1935 and continued producing it for the next 25 years. Designed for both kids and adults, this game of skill and intrigue helped familiarize players with the real world of presidential politics. Each player represented a politician trying to become president. Modeled on the actual electoral system of the United States, the game had players competing for each state's electoral votes. The winner was the person who got a majority of the votes first. Just as in real politics, the players had political platforms that either helped or hindered their campaigns in various parts of the country. With limited campaign budgets, players also had to manage their money wisely. The game's creators cautioned, “Managerial skills and good judgment are more important than luck. Manage your campaign just as you would if you were actually running for President.”

Who Can Beat Nixon (1971) by Harrison-BlaineThe Strong National Museum of Play

You Win Some, You Lose Some

This partisan board game rigged the rules against incumbent President Richard M. Nixon’s candidacy in 1972. The game’s likely roll of those who could defeat the incumbent that year included six Democratic stalwarts: Senators George McGovern; Ted Kennedy; Edmund Muskie; and Hubert Humphrey, the mayor of New York City; John Lindsay; and independent populist George Wallace Governor of Alabama. The list of those who could beat Nixon also wryly (and prophetically) included Nixon himself. The instruction promised “plenty of pitfalls for everybody.” In reality, the Democrat McGovern lost the 1972 election in a landslide, one of the greatest electoral margins in American history. But in the middle of his second term, Nixon resigned—a victim of the coverup of his own “dirty tricks” campaign and in advance of a likely impeachment.

Hillary for President Wristwatch (2008) by Time for a ChangeThe Strong National Museum of Play

Time for a Change

Democracy rests on the right to vote, an entitlement that grew for more Americans over time. For example, freed African American slaves first enjoyed access to the voting booth in 1870 after the Fifteenth Amenement to the United States constitution prohibited denying the right to vote by "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." It took another 50 years and another Constitutional amendment before American women achieved the right to vote. Nearly a century later, the presidential campaign narrowed to questions of women’s rights and empowerment. Sometimes political jokesters make a wearable pun of an object. Here, a wristwatch from 2008 marks the first time a woman gained a realistic chance of becoming president.

Landslide: Parker Brothers Game of Power Politics (1971) by Parker BrothersThe Strong National Museum of Play


In an actual presidential election, one candidate must obtain at least one more than half of the total number of electoral votes in order to be elected. Otherwise the vote goes to the House of Representatives for a decision. In the board game Landslide, four candidates divide 538 electoral votes and the winner with the most votes becomes President. The game uses "votes" as if they were money. Players “bid” (and rules cynically allow them to attempt to steal) states already “bought.” It is interesting to note that, of the 56 United States presidential elections before 2016, 17 have been decided by overwhelming majorities, and so have been termed “landslide” votes.

George and Martha Washington Dolls (1950)The Strong National Museum of Play


Democracy creates no official royalty, but first families are near enough to it.

Martha Washington Doll (1950) by Dorothy HeizerThe Strong National Museum of Play

The First First Lady

Martha Washington stayed by the General’s side at the freezing winter encampments during the Revolutionary War. Afterward, she hoped to retire from public life. Though she proved to be a gracious first lady, she disliked the rough and tumble politics of the early Republic so deeply that she did not attend her husband’s inauguration. (In fact, she made no effort to conceal how much she detested her husband’s successor, third President Thomas Jefferson.) Years later, “lady biographers” tried to turn her into the reflection of a genteel, retiring, decorous, submissive 19th-century woman that this shelf doll portrays. Capable, independently wealthy, and the manager of the giant estate, Mount Vernon, she was, instead, half of the premier “power couple” of a rawer colonial age.

Mary Todd Lincoln Doll (1950) by Lewis SorensenThe Strong National Museum of Play

The Great Emancipator’s Wife

Mary Todd Lincoln, the well-educated daughter of a wealthy, Confederate-leaning family, helped her husband preserve the Union. Also, playing a role that later First Ladies would undertake, she refurbished the White House, which by the time of the Civil War had grown shabby. She surveyed the furnishings with a cold eye. The worn carpets, torn draperies, broken furniture, and peeling wallpaper made the First Residence look like a third-rate hotel. Congress balked at the cost of remodeling, but lost the battle in a stare-down and appropriated $20,000 for the purpose, the equal of about half a million dollars today. This doll celebrates the elegance for which she strove. In reality, a head injury, the result of a carriage accident, left this First Lady afflicted with often crippling migraines and a reputation for heated outbursts.

Eleanor Roosevelt Doll (1946) by Evelyn GreeneThe Strong National Museum of Play

Many “Firsts” for this First Lady

Eleanor Roosevelt, a thinker and a “doer,” broke precedent during Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s four terms. She was first to hold press conferences, she wrote a daily newspaper column—audacious undertakings for a first lady in that age. Speaking engagements earned her a salary equal to her husband’s. (The fees went to charity.) Bitter critics deplored her support of civil rights and denounced her campaigns for labor, women’s issues, antipoverty projects, and veterans’ causes. Although a little girl could have played with this plainly dressed, one-of-a-kind artisan-made doll, it more likely stood prominently on display for all onlookers to admire.

White House Paper Dolls (1969) by The Saalfield Publishing Co.The Strong National Museum of Play

A Difficult Role for Strong Women

"You have to appreciate what Pat Nixon did in this White House.... People who are married to politicians are under a great strain. Unless you have a pretty strong sense of your own self-identity, it becomes very easy to be buffeted about by all the people who are around your husband. People who are advising him, people who want favors from him, people who want to do things with him, for him, and to him—very often those people are not anxious to have the politician’s wife or family members around because they represent competition for their time."

Hillary Clinton
Quoted in
Kate Andersen Brower
First Women: The Grace and Power of America's Modern First Ladies

Nancy Reagan Fashion Paper Dolls (1983) by Tom TierneyThe Strong National Museum of Play

"I was called more names than I can remember. Queen Nancy. The Iron Butterfly. The Belle of Rodeo Drive. Fancy Nancy. The Cutout Doll. On the Tonight Show, Johnny Carson quipped that my favorite junk food was caviar. I was also accused of being too “Hollywood.” Well, yes, Ronnie and I worked in Hollywood. We’re proud of it. But we were never part of the glitzy Hollywood scene."

Nancy Reagan
My Turn: The Memoirs of Nancy Reagan

First Family Paper Doll and Cut-out Book (1981) by Whitman Publishing Co.The Strong National Museum of Play

Irreverent or Friendly?

It’s slightly cheeky to depict the president and his first lady clothed only in their underwear. Political foes surely reveled in this mischievous play. But the first family’s friends and admirers also gave these paper dolls as gifts. Ronald and Nancy Reagan took the gag in stride; as former Hollywood actors, they were used to costumes, especially those from the Westerns they starred in. Naturally, for these ranch-owners, the cutouts included cowboy and cowgirl outfits: boots for both, chaps, a stetson, and a branding iron for him, and a monogrammed skirt, a holstered blow-dryer, and a metal detector for her.

George Bush and His Family Paper Dolls (1990) by Dover Publications, Inc.The Strong National Museum of Play

The President’s Family in the President’s House

"One of the sweetest sights of [inaugural] week was Marvin and Margaret [Bush’s] little Marshall asleep on the Lincoln bed. She looked big as a minute. Neil and Sharon [Bush’s] son Pierce, learned that if he rolled over on his back at the top of the ramp by the solarium he could slide to the bottom. He would pop his hands over his head with his stuffed monkey and buffer his stop. Then one by one our children left, leaving George and me alone in that wonderful house with literally the weight of the world on his shoulders."

Barbara Bush
Barbara Bush: A Memoir

Amy at the White House Play Set (1979) by The Toy FactoryThe Strong National Museum of Play

An Unusual Childhood

Amy Carter grew up under the national gaze. A regular kid, she roller skated in the East Room and kept a Siamese cat named Misty Malarky Ying Yang in the executive residence. She attended local public schools during the day and state dinners at night. And when she invited classmates to sleepover in the tree house on the South Lawn, Secret Service agents kept watch.

Marvelous Mariah (2009) by Ty Inc.The Strong National Museum of Play

Not so Welcome Celebrity

In 2009, Ty Inc. issued Sweet Sasha and Marvelous Malia, dolls that closely resembled the presidential children. Michelle Obama, a concerned mother, objected to the “inappropriate” use of “young, private citizens for marketing purposes.” The first family thanked the company for “retiring” the dolls soon after.

Sweet Sydney (2009) by Ty Inc.The Strong National Museum of Play

The retirement did not squelch demand, however. And before long, the figures returned when the company issued lookalikes called Sweet Sydney and Marvelous Mariah.

Hillary Rodham Clinton A Ready-for-action Figure (2016) by FCTRYThe Strong National Museum of Play

A First Lady and the First Lady-President

Politics is a very tough game that, it may be argued, requires women to play twice as hard. This never was demonstrated more clearly than in the unusual and contentious presidential campaign of 2016. That contest featured two candidates, one with a reputation for examining policy questions meticulously over a very long career of public service. The other had no record of governmental experience and said of debates intended to include policy matters, “You can prep too much for those things.” This toy features Hillary Clinton, a former president’s wife, as a “ready for action” action-figure.

John F. Kennedy and His Family Paper Dolls (1990) by Dover Publications, Inc. and Tom TierneyThe Strong National Museum of Play


The American political process makes the president the most famous person in the country.

General Grant Mechanical Figure (1880) by Ives, Blakeslee & Williams Co.The Strong National Museum of Play

Why is President Grant Blowing Smoke Rings?

Ulysses Grant, who had commanded the victorious Union army during the American Civil War, became the 18th U.S. president. An accomplished amateur artist and accomplished writer, he was the closest thing to a superstar that the country had yet seen. He was a frequent cigar smoker, and this wind-up toy accepts a tiny stogie which, once lit, comically blows smoke rings. People got the point of the joke as we do not. Here’s the explanation. Grant was personally honest, but his private secretary, Orville E. Babcock, was indicted for his connection with the “Whiskey Ring” scandal. (A “ring” is an old-fashioned word for a criminal conspiracy.) And this scheme involved distillers, distributors, and officials who defrauded the government of millions of dollars of tax revenue.

The Exciting New Game of the Kennedys (1962) by TranscoThe Strong National Museum of Play

Making a Game of Wealth and Power

John F. Kennedy, a hero of the naval war in the Pacific, a Pulitzer Prize winning biographer, and an eloquent speechmaker, was the first U.S. president born in the 20th century. The handsome scion of a Boston Irish political family, JFK became a congressman, a senator, and, in 1956, nearly the Democratic vice presidential nominee. After defeating Richard Nixon in the presidential campaign of 1960, he dubbed his program the “New Frontier” and imagined new governmental initiatives to explore space, pursue peace, strengthen the military, and alleviate poverty. Admirers called his administration “Camelot” after the ideal Celtic kingdom. Americans treated this handsome and charming family like an American version of royalty. This game let them imagine the roles of his brothers, his children, and his glamorous young wife, Jacqueline, as they accumulated endorsements and electoral votes.

Trump: The Game (1989) by Milton Bradley Co.The Strong National Museum of Play

"Trump the not the kind of thing you want to pull out on the spur of the moment when grandma comes over. It can leave you exhausted and feeling like you don't want to play again. As accurate as it may be at capturing the feeling of insecurity in the real world, the game doesn't give you a feel-good experience, which is the purpose most people rely on for playing games."

Phil Orbanes
Senior Vice President, Research and Development, Parker Brothers
Quoted in
Beth Ann Krier
“The Summer's Hottest Board Games and How They Play”
Washington Post
August 04, 1989

Barbie for President 2000 (1999) by Mattel, Inc.The Strong National Museum of Play

You’ve Come a Long Way, Barbie

"Early in the spring of 2000 it looked as if, once again, the American electorate would not have the option of voting for a woman for President. Then suddenly into the breach came a female presidential candidate wearing a tailored blue suit, high heels, pearl earrings and a perpetual smile—Barbie. She brought formidable political assets… name recognition, fund-raising capabilities. She has traveled to 150 countries. Her resume includes stints as an astronaut, a surgeon, and an airline pilot."

Nancy Burns
The Private Roots of Public Action

Barack Obama with Magic Podium in 3 Dimensions! by Reel FXThe Strong National Museum of Play

Parody and Mockery

Prominence and power makes presidents fair game for satire.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Jigsaw Puzzle (1933) by C. C. BeallThe Strong National Museum of Play

A Healthy Disrespect

Political satire skewers candidates right, left, and center. Artists go for laughs by exaggerating facial expressions and features. Game designers capitalize scandals and poke fun at policy. Toymakers tease presidents for their regional accents and fashion mistakes. The best of these parodies, the funniest and most memorable, remind us why politicians attract fervent admirers and zealous detractors.

The First Family Record Album (1962) by Cadence Records, Inc. and Vaughn MeaderThe Strong National Museum of Play

Play it Again and Again…

In October 1962, comedian Vaughn Meader good-naturedly parodied President Kennedy’s strong New England accent on a new phenomenon, the comedy album. Sales skyrocketed. Fans and frenemies bought more than seven million copies. They played and replayed tracks at neighborhood parties, memorized the longer bits, and repeated catchphrases and punchlines. JFK, who enjoyed the spoof and the attention, gave out copies as Christmas gifts.

Lyndon B. Johnson Dashboard Doll (1964) by Remco Industries Inc.The Strong National Museum of Play

Politics Southwestern Style

The election of 1964 ended in a landslide victory for Lyndon Baines Johnson. His opponent, Barry Goldwater, a five-term United States senator, would later specialize in increasing American defense appropriations. Though differing widely in their politics, voters from the Northeast saw some commonalities in these candidates who hailed from Texas and Arizona, respectively.

Barry Goldwater Dashboard Doll (1964) by Remco Industries Inc.The Strong National Museum of Play

And so did the artists who sculpted these three-dimensional cartoons. Notice that the contenders (here rendered as magnetized dolls meant for display on metal automobile dashboards) both wear tamed versions of cowboy hats. The Goldwater figure sports his trademark early-60s horn-rim glasses.

Big Time Nose Around (1968)The Strong National Museum of Play

The Presidential Schnozz

Cartoonists loved drawing President Richard Nixon’s profile, which reminded them of Pinocchio’s. (Remember how the puppet’s nose grew whenever he lied?) This comical ring-toss game invited competitors to play with politics.

Nixon-Agnew Two-faced Jigsaw Puzzle (1970) by The Puzzle FactoryThe Strong National Museum of Play

Caricature and Character

Political cartoons don’t pretend to be fair or balanced. Cartoonists and artists happily made our recent presidents and candidates look, by turns, goofy, tuned out, tricky, unlucky, unsure, and untrustworthy. In this instance, the puzzle has a front and a back, one for the president, and the other for his vice president. Or, as advertized, it’s “two-faced.” In repressive countries, parodies like these will land an artist in jail—or worse. But in these United States, citizens cherish their right to freely express their opinions, however impolite.

Archie Bunker for President Goblet (1972)The Strong National Museum of Play

Archie Bunker for President?

During the election of 1972, odds-makers gave the Democratic challenger, antiwar candidate George McGovern, little chance of beating the sitting President, Richard Nixon. In assessing Republican strength, political observers began to note the importance of a block of conservative, white, urban, working-class men that they called “Archie Bunker Voters.” And so liberals launched a parallel parody election campaign that nominated the television sitcom character—a loveable mossback hopelessly out of step with evolving opinions on race relations, women’s rights, the peace movement, and the sexual revolution. Marketers produced mock campaign items including t-shirts, buttons, bumper stickers, and this beer “fishbowl” goblet. The memorabilia sold well not just to the jokesters but also, surprisingly, to the very men who sympathized with Archie Bunker’s retrograde views, the objects of satire themselves. Within two years of his near-landslide reelection, however, President Nixon resigned under pressure of revelations connected with a political dirty trick he helped engineer and then cover up: the burglary of a Democratic headquarters at Washington’s Watergate office building.

The Watergate Scandal Game (1973) by American Symbolic CorporationThe Strong National Museum of Play

"The Watergate Scandal is an exciting and fun-filled game for the whole family. Nobody in this game wins. There are just losers. If you are caught covering up or trying to deceive you are given penalty points. The loser with the least amount of penalty points is therefore the winner. Cover-up and deception not only add zest to this game but are the only way to come out on top. Players have even been known to bribe the dealer, stack the deck, remove and destroy important cards, and “bug” other players.

Game Rules
The Watergate Scandal: A Game of Cover-up and Deception for the Whole Family

Presidential Jack-in-the-Box Collection (2001) by Design MastersThe Strong National Museum of Play

Hail to the Chief?

Here’s the joke. This jack-in-the-box plays the traditional presidential processional, “Hail to the Chief.” At the very end, though, instead of the usual jester popping up, the comical figure of President George W. Bush erupts. This implied that the erupting weasel, this time, was the President of the United States. Designers also took care to make the figure small behind the lectern making the chief executive look overmatched. Designers also gave him an expression that looked a little bit bewildered, too. Note that toymakers, equal-opportunity satirists, produced similar versions for Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton.

Mr. Flip Flop (2004) by Campaign CollectablesThe Strong National Museum of Play

Flip Flops

Presidential candidate Senator John Kerry held to a nuanced position on the war in Iraq—out of patriotic feeling he had voted to authorize funds for the war, though he had hoped diplomacy could have been given a greater opportunity to avoid a full-scale conflict. He explained this poorly, however, declaring “I actually did vote for the 87 billion dollars before I voted against it.” George W. Bush, his opponent, and the incumbent President, seized on the confusing statement, and in persistent campaign ads called Kerry’s stance a “flip flop” and the challenger a “flip-flopper.” Kerry lost the election, but later went on to become the country’s chief diplomat, the Secretary of State. The flip-flop sandals, which had given partisans the opportunity to walk all over Kerry’s image, endure as relics of the 2004 presidential campaign

Donald Trump Talking Pen (2016) by Green Straw, LLCThe Strong National Museum of Play

Toys can Speak Truth to Power

This pen, a little electronic marvel, made its humorous point by throwing the candidate’s bluster—his own words—right back at him. Press the button and the recorded snippets proclaim, “I will be the greatest President that God ever created.” And, “We will have so much winning if I get elected, that you may get bored with winning.” And, “Look, I’m really rich.” Note, too, how the caricature captured the angry glare and shouting that became President Trump’s signature campaign style.

Donald Trump Bobble Head Doll (2016)The Strong National Museum of Play

Satire or Endorsement?

Such was the rancorous, polarized tone of the 2016 election season that this toy, intended as satire, could be taken up equally by supporters of the incoming president. The campaign frequently turned on issues of immigration and asylum for political exiles. Note how the figure has broken the sign that advises caution to a family of desperate, fleeing refugees. One happy “verified purchaser” wrote in the review section on the Amazon page, “I don't personally know anyone who is voting for Hillary, but if I did I would expect this to work like garlic to a vampire.”

Theodore Roosevelt Collecting Card (1940) by T.C.G.The Strong National Museum of Play

Policy, War, and Diplomacy

Great deeds and momentous decisions invade play.

Washington Crossing the Delaware Puzzle (1890) by J.H. SingerThe Strong National Museum of Play

Piecing History Together

On Christmas Day 1776, under cover of darkness in Pennsylvania, George Washington began a secret operation to cross the Delaware River into New Jersey to mount a decisive surprise attack upon British mercenaries, “Hessians,” encamped at Trenton. In the bold incursion, he captured a thousand prisoners, along with muskets, artillery, and a store of critically scarce gunpowder. More than a century later, puzzle players reassembled a famous image of the General’s crossing, keeping a memory of national heroism alive, piece by piece.

The Charge Board Game (1899) by E.O. ClarkThe Strong National Museum of Play

The Making of a President

In the sweltering July of 1898, during the Spanish American War, Theodore Roosevelt commanded a ragtag volunteer cavalry of college jocks on summer break, outdoorsmen, cowboys, miners, and other skilled horsemen. He outfitted his regiment to look like ranch hands, complete with slouch hats and colorful bandanas, and called them the “Rough Riders.” Though the 10th Infantry, a unit of African-Americans known as the Buffalo Soldiers, assaulted both points on the high ground that day, Teddy Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill grabbed all of the headlines. Roosevelt’s fame as a war hero propelled him to the governorship of New York and soon the Vice Presidency. When an assassin took William McKinley’s life at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, Roosevelt assumed the presidency. Players relived the pivotal moment in this board game and contemplated the dramatic illustration on the box top.

Risk Board Game (1980) by Parker BrothersThe Strong National Museum of Play

Cold War Play

Issued in 1959, Risk: The Game of Global Domination played out on a board marked as a world map. Players manipulated pieces—“armies”—to seize, occupy, and hold 42 territories on six continents. Dice rolls moved attacks forward. Players needed to plot moves strategically because spreading forces too thinly made captured regions vulnerable to counterattack. The contest resonated closely with dangerous high-stakes real-world international politics of the post World War II era. At the height of the Cold War, a tense period of military buildup in which the West, a coalition led by the United States confronted and sought to contain a territorially aggressive, nuclear-armed Soviet Union and its block of allies.

Nuclear War Card Game (1965)The Strong National Museum of Play

Not That Funny

Nuclear War! Comical cataclysmic card games for 2 to 6 players of all ages. A humorous confrontation between touchy world powers as each player attempts to sway his opponents' populations with diplomacy and propaganda. When that inevitably fails, the annihilation begins! Little old ladies defect in electric cars and the dreaded "supergerm" escapes to spread devastation! This is one of the few games where it is possible to have no winners. Often everyone loses!

Mao-Nix Ping Pong Set (1972)The Strong National Museum of Play

Ping-Pong Diplomacy

These ping pong paddles, which feature an irreverent portrait of President Richard M. Nixon, tell an important story about international relations. The United States and the People’s Republic of China had been keen adversaries on the world scene following a proxy war in Korea (1950–1953). The American government did not even maintain diplomatic relations with the world’s largest country. Yet relations began to thaw some in 1971 when the Chinese premier, Zhou Enlai, always attentive to the potential benefits of cultural exchange, invited the U.S. table tennis team to play a series of “friendship” matches. “Ping-Pong Diplomacy” opened the door a crack, and President Richard Nixon flung it wide open when he visited China in 1972 and met personally with Communist Party Chairman Mao Tse-tung. This stunning diplomatic achievement marked the high point of Richard Nixon’s presidency. Speaking from Shanghai, the American president said that this first contact would begin to build “a bridge across 16,000 miles and 22 years of hostilities which have divided us.”

Ronald Reagan Puppet (1980)The Strong National Museum of Play

The Art of the Deals

Ronald Reagan, the old Cold Warrior who denounced the Soviet Union as an “Evil Empire” and so hastened that country’s demise, is here humorously represented as a pugnacious puppet. In the long run, though, the 40th president likely may be more often remembered for diplomacy internationally and compromise at home. In his second term Reagan partnered with a reformist Russian premier to ratchet down a risky nuclear arms race. A charmer in public and private, and a practical man, he found ways toward bi-partisan compromise, collaborating closely with the Democratic Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill, on preserving Social Security funding, reforming the tax structure, and using United States military power in the Middle East.

Reaganomics Board Game (1981) by Stockmann Mfg. Co.The Strong National Museum of Play

A No-Win Scenario

In 1981, three partners from Detroit—a computer technician, an engineer from Ford Motor Company, and an audiovisual repair specialist—designed a Monopoly-like board game that lampooned the policy decisions of the Reagan era. Mainly, the game challenged players to balance the Federal budget based on dubious “trickle down” economic theories then current. But the rigged game rules made that impossible. Danger squares included the scandals of the day that landed competitors in the middle of an FBI sting operation or put them on “the dole.”

Willie's White House Board Game (1998) by West Shore Games Inc.The Strong National Museum of Play

Favoring Politics

Such is the tenor of contemporary politics that a successful legislative record during a thriving peacetime economy did not save William Jefferson Clinton, 42nd president of the United States, from intense scrutiny and political opposition that resulted in a failed impeachment. Some of that surfaces in a satirical board game first published in 1998, just after the chief executive became embroiled in a sex scandal involving a 22 year-old White House intern. A Monopoly-like wealth accumulation game, Willie's White House runs on political favors.

Brochure for Richard Nixon (1968) by New York State Republican Campaign CommitteeThe Strong National Museum of Play


The Whole World is Watching

Any Bonds Today? Sheet Music (1941) by U.S. Government Printing Office and Irving BerlinThe Strong National Museum of Play

It’s a Mistake to Take Democracy for Granted

A look back into the history of nations reveals a record replete with palace coups, military takeovers, government collapses, and coerced abdications. Yet, the American Republic, the very first modern democratic system, has set the planet’s standard for the peaceful transfer of political power. This is a precious legacy and a civics lesson for all. The stability of the United States depends on the civil commitment to representative government. And the rancorous contested presidential elections of 1800, 1824, 1860, and 2000 put this shining example to the test. Staying a “united” country rests on a confident faith in fair play and just process that citizens have renewed in each election cycle. Democracy is, in this sense, always emerging and ever in need of confirmation. The election of 2016, striking for its unusual, ungenerous, fearful, and pessimistic tone, ignited a culture war—the course of which is not yet clear and the outcome of which cannot be predicted. One thing remains certain , however, when Americans go to the polls—and the time afterward too—the whole world is watching.

PussyHat (2017)The Strong National Museum of Play

The Joy of Knitting Together

Usually, a Presidential Inauguration sets the tone for reconciliation, and the time-honored Inaugural Address reaches for renewed commitment to the country’s shared promise, as the new president issues a call for unity. After the erratic campaign of 2016, the wide disparity that opened between the popular vote and the Electoral College tally set the scene for massive protests and White House recriminations. Aerial photographs that showed a sparse turnout at the Inauguration so wounded the new president that he falsely claimed they had been faked. The next weekend, massive women’s marches, animated by a spirit of defiant fun, followed in world capitals and many hundreds of small cities, including Anchorage, Alaska, Auckland, and New Zealand. At these rallies, protesters donned homemade pink hats knitted with cat ears in wry reference to remarks Donald Trump made on a television entertainment-news program.

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Playing with Politics is produced by The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. Learn more at

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