Collections Corner: Playing Doctor

Toy medical kit by Fisher Price, 1977 (008056002)

Most of us remember playing doctor or nurse to an injured doll or teddy bear. When I was a child my Cabbage Patch doll often fell ill and my sisters and I nursed her back to health using a Fisher-Price Medical Kit. Developed over thirty years ago, this toy has stood the test of time and has also evolved several times since its inception. The kit contains everything a young doctor or nurse needs, including a stethoscope, thermometer and a sphygmomanometer, also known as a blood pressure cuff. These colourful children’s versions of the real instruments also helped my parents prepare me for trips to the paediatrician; I learned what to expect through play, which made check-ups and doctors visits much less stressful for all parties involved.

Operation game by Milton Bradley and Somerville Industries Ltd, 1965 (008045001)

Another toy that makes medicine fun is the game Operation. The game concept was developed in 1962 by John Spinello, an industrial design student at the University of Illinois. As part of a school assignment, Spinello was tasked with designing a toy and came up with an electric box-shaped game of skill with thin, crooked openings through which a metal rod had to be moved without touching the sides. If the rod hit the sides of the box, it triggered a loud bell. Soon after its development, Spinello sold the concept to Marvin Glass Associates for $500.00 and a position at the company. The concept then made its way to the Milton Bradley Company where it was redesigned to resemble a patient in an operating room with a buzzer and a light bulb in place of a bell, and tweezers in lieu of the metal rod. The first version of the game was released in 1965 and we met “Cavity Sam” who was troubled with 12 medical conditions including Water on the Knee, a Charlie Horse, Writer’s Cramp and a Bread Basket. To win the game, players were challenged to remove all of the ailments plaguing the patient without touching the sides with their tweezers. Today, Hasbro has kept the game alive and Operation remains a popular choice for children and adults alike. Special runs of the game since 1965 include celebrity “Cavity Sams” such as Buzz Lightyear, Spiderman and R2D2.

Medical toys such as these have stood the test of time and allow children to use their imaginations while introducing them to careers in the field of health care in fun and challenging ways.

Meaghan Eckersley
Collections Technician

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