Everything You Need for Christmas…100 Years Ago

Family History
20 December 2012

When I was young, this was the week when I’d be frantically writing out my wish list for Santa. Then I would fret until Christmas day, hoping the post office had rushed that letter to Santa in time for him to pack my gifts into his sleigh. Even if he got it the day before, surely he’d have enough time. I mean, he’s Santa. And he has all those elves to help him. And he’s magic.

Nowadays, kids can procrastinate even later. Santa’s on the technology bandwagon and kids can text him their list and take it right down to the wire. Times have changed…a lot.

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Look at the items that are on those Christmas wish lists. The lists of the current generation are typically populated with electronics and gadgets. Mechanical toys were popular 100 years ago, but they were of a simpler nature. Take this sand-operated windmill from the 1912 Sears catalog. According to the ad, “Its fascinating action attracts the child’s attention for a long time and banishes many idle hours.”  I couldn’t help but wonder how many future engineers whiled away Christmas day watching the Dutch mill, pondering how it worked.

Pranksters in 1912 could surprise unsuspecting friends and family with this fake camera that launched a three-foot cloth snake instead of snapping a photograph.  


And the country wasn’t limiting its tricks to practical jokes. Harry Houdini was at the height of his career in 1912 and the country’s interest in magic tricks is reflected in the page full of magicians’ “outfits,” card tricks, and magic wands.

The Teddy Bear, then only 9 years old, was already a favorite among children and remains so to this day. The 1912 Sears catalog proclaims, “[Teddy] bears are not a fad, but are actually more popular than ever before. No toy brought out in recent years will hold the interest of the child so well as the bear.” Available in a variety of sizes, this bear even growled when the body was tilted forward.  Teddy bears not your thing? Sears also offered “A Real Fur Covered Dog” and a “Natural Voice Wool Sheep.” A little something for everyone.


Another constant in the past 100 years is the popularity of Santa, although his appearance changed over the years. In addition to decorations for the home and tree, the catalog also included this Santa mask and costume.

Regardless of his appearance, in 2012, as in 1912, Santa is still spreading his magic—the spirit of the season.

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