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A Short History of the Humble Building Block Toy

Of course you’re probably aware that building blocks are a traditional toy that have been around for ages, but just how long have they been around?

Personally, we believe these toys must’ve been around since the caveman days. If anyone back then picked up a few rocks or pieces of wood and stacked them together, would that not count as a sort of proto-building block toy? We think so.

But, while we can only speculate when the first person actually stacked some rocks together for entertainment, we can actually take a look back through recorded history to find a short history of the humble building block toy.

We pored over thousands of historical documents and searched through some of the oldest texts known to mankind to find references to building block toys.

… Just kidding. (We used the internet like everyone else.)

A Short History of the Humble Building Block Toy

  • 1693: English philosopher John Locke makes the statement that "dice and playthings, with letters on them to teach children the alphabet by playing" would enhance a child’s experience when learning to read.
  • 1798: Maria and R.L. Edgeworth's Practical Education references building blocks, calling them "rational toys" and saying their intent is to teach children about gravity and physics and spatial relationships.
  • 1820: S. L. Hill of Brooklyn patents "ornamenting wood” -- painting a block surface, embossing it and then adding another color afterward to create multi-colored blocks -- and begins the first known large scale production of toy building blocks.
  • 1837: Friedrich Fröbel invents the concept of Kindergarten and also develops a set of educational toys known as Froebel Gifts, which consist largely of building blocks.
  • 1850: Using the pseudonym Felix Summerly, Henry Cole writes a series of children’s books, one of which, A book of stories from The Home Treasury, includes a box of terracotta toy blocks and an accompanying pamphlet called "Architectural Pastime,” which contains actual blueprints.
  • 20th Century: Throughout the 20th century (and into the 21st century), many different types of building toys are invented and mass produced, some garnering worldwide fame and inspiring entire subcultures to pop up around them.
  • 2003: The National Toy Hall of Fame at the Strong Museum, inducts ABC blocks into its collection, granting them the title of a toy of national significance for the United States.
  • 2014: The greatest building block toy the world has ever known, Click-A-Brick, debuts just before Christmas.

So, there you have it. A short history of the humble building block. We’re proud to be a part of such an amazing family of toys and we hope parents continue to use this traditional yet highly effective educational toy to help their children develop and learn through play.