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Dayton’s toy-making past lovingly captured

What’s the first answer that comes to mind if you’re asked, “Quick, name the inventions that Dayton is best known for?”

Of course, “Flight!” is the first answer that comes to mind.

Folks who grew up around here (or know even a bit about Dayton history) would add, “cash registers.”

Spend time along the path by the river downtown, noticing the monuments to Dayton’s amazing history of inventiveness, and you might add “pop top cans!” and “automotive self-starter!”

But how about Dayton as the birthplace of the friction toy — you know, those little wheeled toys, such as cars, that you wind up by pulling backward along the floor, and then let go of so that they can travel a bit of a distance? How about Dayton as the height of toy manufacturing in the United States about a hundred years ago (a movement cut short by the Great Depression?)

Yes, those facts are also part of Dayton history, a charming and fascinating history that also includes a bit of intrigue. This history is beautifully captured in a newly released book called “The History of Dayton Ohio Toy Makers,” carefully researched, written and published by William C. Gallagher and Dr. Richard C. Cummings. (The book was printed and produced by the Dayton company, BookFactory.)

The book is, the authors say, a labor of love, a result of many years of collecting toys, and eventually, toys manufactured in Dayton. While the book is a well-organized and written, and beautifully designed history of toy manufacturing in Dayton, with many photographs, I was interested in what led the authors to create this book. Richard (who prefers to go by Dick) is a Dayton native, a retired dentist who lives in Oakwood with his wife, and a Carillon Historical Park volunteer who spends many hours working on restoration at the park. William, originally from Canton and a retired division president from Reliance Electric in Cleveland, moved with his wife to Springboro several years ago to be near their son.

One of the first questions I had for both authors was why they began collecting toys in the first place.

At first, the gentlemen weren’t quite sure how to answer (I believe they were thinking, well, who wouldn’t want to collect toys?), but Dick explained, “my mother was a neatnik. We had toys, of course, but only a few at a time. I’m the opposite. One year, as an adult, I decided to put some old-fashioned toys around our Christmas tree as decoration, just to give our living room an old-time feel. I liked how that looked, and I guess the kid in me came out. I started collecting toys.”

William, on the other hand, says he started as a train collector. While visiting an antiques toy show, he and his wife both found toys “we could relate to.” Later, while selling toys at another antiques show, he met Dick, and they became friends.

Both men are members of the Antique Toy Collectors of America. Eventually, Dick and his wife donated a significant portion of his Dayton-made toy collection—including many fine examples of those friction toys—to the Carillon Park; the donation is on display in the park’s Heritage Center.

“At one point, there were at least 38 toy manufacturers in Dayton,” William says. “They were a natural result of the legacy of invention here, as well as of the tool and die industry that sprang up to support that legacy.”

The History of Dayton Ohio Toy Makers does its part beautifully to capture that unique aspect of Dayton history and life. The book is available for sale at Dayton’s Carillon Historical Park’s gift shop or via Daytontoy.com, where several images from the book are available, and the authors answer questions about their work on researching the book and the challenges of verifying toy manufacturing history.

Literary Life News

• Friday, June 21, 7 p.m.—Linda Castillo will introduce “Her Last Breath,” the newest book in her Amish mystery series, at Books & Co. at The Greene.

• Though registration for the full week option of Antioch Writers’ Workshop’s 28th annual summer program is now closed, registration for “A La Carte” options (morning classes only, an afternoon seminar on writing fiction or nonfiction that does not require a manuscript, and a one-day Saturday Seminar) remains open through July 2. All programs take place in Yellow Springs during the week of July 6-12. Visit www.antiochwritersworkshop.com to learn more.