Whenever we talk about World War I and wars in general, we normally discuss, well, the war itself: the nations, their soldiers, tactics, the weapons, and all the numbers related to it, be it the number of deaths or costs, or areas. That’s totally understandable. Unpopularly and although not prioritized, the toys produced during wars were also affected and changed for reasons.

Before World War I, toys in Britain, France, and the United States were usually imported from Germany. As the conflicts began, the patriotic fever also increased, and they didn’t want anything from Germany anymore. Their toys became unpopular, to say the least. While these nations were preparing for war, it was business as usual to the manufacturers. They took the opportunity of filling the gap in the market and the demand for nationalistic toys, in a sense that they altered those popular toys into their nationalistic versions. Toy weapons, toy soldiers, and even board games were all made realistic in the sense that uniform colors, gun details, and technicalities were accurate. Department stores would display large battle scenes on their windows that accurately represent the real battle details like the trenches, artillery, soldiers’ uniforms, and the likes.

Unconscious Doll Exerciser

National Doll League Children’s Unconscious Doll Exerciser (EPH 3325). Photo: IWM London

We’re not sure why it’s called “unconscious,” but we sure do hope it’s not because there is a conscious version of it. Eugene Sandor patented this National Doll League Children’s Unconscious Doll Exerciser in 1915 from the image of British soldiers during World War I. This rather cute dolly was designed to “encourage children to engage in healthy play activity as, associated with it, were details of 21 games which would stimulate health-giving exercise.”

Kill Kiel

Kill Kiel Board Game. (Photo: tarsasjatekok.com)

John Jaques of London published this inappropriately named two-player board game, the same company that had exclusive manufacturing rights for a chess set and snakes and ladders. In the game, children would move the Dreadnoughts into fighting positions across the sea, just like how it was in actual warfare in the North Atlantic. As written by Birmingham Children of War:

“These board games encouraged children to develop their interest in military strategy and affairs, as well as providing entertainment.”

Trench Goal Football

Trench Goal Football. (Australian War Memorial)

Another game with an accurate description, the goal of this game was to navigate a small ball across no man’s land and past the German defenses, including a feeble goalie named Willie. The player must be able to navigate the ball and reach the printed goal behind the final long hole without dropping into it to win the game.

Willie was a parody of Kaiser Wilhelm (the mustache says it all). He was the last German Emperor and King of Prussia. He was known for his thoughtless public statements and inconsistent foreign policy that was disliked by international communities and was said to be one of the reasons why World War I began.

The instructions of the game had an even more apparent anti-German message, referencing the other German officials:

“You have a feeble opponent in ‘Little Willie’ at ‘Outside Right’. Loot Ball is his speciality and passing the outsider with the contempt he deserves, you negotiate the skulkier Von Tirpitz (notorious for his foul play) on his first ever appearance in the open as ‘Centre Forward’.

Having downed (or drowned) him you pass to your ‘Outside Left’ and although Von Kluck is now used to being ‘left outside’ he is an honest thruster but is not clever, and in an important match of recent date he lost his nerve and broke down badly when within shooting distance of goal.

Von Bulow at ‘Inside Left’, talkative and tricky, can be swept aside with an honest rush.

Von Hindenburg at ‘Inside Right’ has not been played regularly of late, the Grand Duke having badly shaken his confidence. Competent critics are of opinion that he was greatly overrated, and is not likely to re-gain his form or to give trouble on this or any future occasion.

Von der Goltz, stiff and stodgy at ‘Right Half’ has never been able to think clearly since the Belgian International outwitted him.

Von Moltke, a poor imitation of the Great Von Moltke has greatly subsided since his quarrel with the goal keeper, and it is unlikely that he will in any way retard the attack.

Enver Pasha of doubtful sanity, at ‘Left Half’ is, on a pinch, more than likely to attack his own colleagues.
Von Sanders at ‘Left Back’ is a comparatively new man of unproved merit.

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Count Zeppelin at ‘Right Back’ is the gas-bag of our opponents, he has been badly pricked of late, and is far less dangerous than he appears on paper.

‘Lord High Everything, Canting Bully Bill’ in ‘GOAL’ you must keep your eye on, he holds the record for mouth, and foul play.

To obtain a goal you must dodge his mouth, it is the chief difficulty. He has proved himself mentally incapable of understanding the rules of the game or the meaning of fair play. Many complaints have been lodged against him, and it is probable that he will in the near future be ‘suspended indefinitely.

Vigour and decision is necessary in dealing with him.”

Toy production considerably declined at the latter part of the war due to metal shortages and increased weapon industry demand. Before 1917, the demand for military toys died out and was not hyped back even after the war. Not that you had to actually encourage boys to play at wargames on their own.