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In 1911, the Deutsche Spielwarenzeitung, which had a bi-weekly circulation of 20,000 stores and shops, advised toy sellers to tell customers "in the modern playroom everything is electric. Therefore the first requirement to facilitate play for the modern child is a miniature dynamo." (1) At the same time Westermanns Monatshefte, a German equivalent of the Atlantic Monthly whose readership numbered many tens of thousands, warned parents that "technological toys make the child pretentious and self-centered." The magazine demanded they be banned from all civilized playrooms in favor of more traditional wooden exemplars that articulated Heimat motifs. (2) Why did adults in late 19th century Germany care about the kinds of miniatures with which children played? This article argues that toys became the material culture for a public debate over how technology related to middle-class values. They allowed millions of ordinary consumers to participate in an argument of major significance to most adult citizens which had previously been limited to members of the intellectual, political, military and economic elite. Modris Eksteins referred to Wilhelmine Germany as "the modernist nation par excellence," whose citizens believed one could make a utopia. (3) Contrary to ideas of cultural despair (4) suggesting Germans had no practical solutions to the many problems facing the Kaiserreich, a survey of toy consumption shows the intense public engagement of Germans with middling incomes and above. Late nineteenth-century consumer culture was much more vigorous and diverse than is generally admitted, and we cannot understand identity politics in the Wilhelmine era without exploring the ways in which selling, buying and consuming allowed individuals to fashion themselves in a rapidly changing environment. (5)

December 22
Journal of Social History
The Gale Group, Inc., a Delaware corporation and an affiliate of Cengage Learning, Inc.

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