Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A is for Alphabet Blocks: Inventions by Women A-Z


Parents have long understood the educational value of alphabet blocks in teaching their children how to read, in addition to inspiring the imagination and encouraging coordination skills as a building toy. 

Alphabet blocks are just plain fun.  

In the 19th century, alphabet blocks were found in school rooms everywhere in the educated world. Historically, some form of alphabet blocks existed as far back as 1693. The English philosopher John Locke wrote that “dice and play-things, with the letters . . . teach children the alphabet by playing,” and make learning how to read enjoyable. 

Does anyone reading this not remember playing with alphabet blocks as a child?

"Baby at Play" (Thomas Eakins, 1876)

Similar references to alphabet blocks appeared in 1798 in a book called Practical Education (Maria and R.L. Edgeworth) as "building bricks," in 1820 (U.S.) as "multi-colored blocks," again in 1837 (Germany), and in 1850 (England) as "terracotta toy blocks." 

Adeline Dutton Train Whitney (1824-1906)

But the alphabet blocks that most of us identify with today were invented by a Massachusetts woman named Adeline Dutton Train Whitney

Adeline was well educated and came from a well-to-do family. Her father owned a successful shipping business. After marrying at nineteen and raising four children, Adeline pursued her dream of writing. She wrote poetry and over twenty books, stories mostly for young girls

Adeline held to traditional values typical of her time, opposing women's suffrage and promoting the domestic role of women in the home. At age 42 (1882) Adeline patented a set of alphabet blocks constructed of wood, and officially became the toy's inventor. Her model is still used today, although they are often made with non-wood materials.

 Image result for free images alphabet blocks




Sources:
http://www.aauw.org/2010/09/16/alphabet-blocks/
http://famousamericans.net/adelineduttontrainwhitney/
http://www.toyhalloffame.org/toys/alphabet-blocks
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toy_block



42 comments:

  1. Always an engrossing post from you Sharon. Enjoy the Challenge. And I actually don't remember alphabet blocks. But that might just say something about my memory.

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    1. Ha-ha. Okay, no worry Fran. I don't want to go into all I forget!

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  2. A most interesting subject, yes I remember reading blocks........though a very long time ago now. I also loved to read books, always at the library.
    A great post Sharon and a joy to read.

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    1. Thanks ....and very nice to meet you. Love your kitty with the guitar :)

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  3. Hi Sharon - the history of our recent ancestors learning to read and write is a fascinating one - I hadn't heard of Adeline - interesting history she had - not supporting the women's suffrage - I'm glad her views were overcome (eventually!) .. great start to the A-Z .. cheers Hilary

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    1. No, not a modern women at all but true to her day :)

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  4. Hi Sharon -
    I think I'll enjoy your theme, and get some surprises. Like Alphabet blocks. I hadn't even thought of that. And I remember I loved them. I'd forgotten how the letters are raised and the wood blocks are so crisply painted. Funny how touch and sight go together with our earliest memories. Fun!

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    1. I remember building tall towers, but not sure if with my kids or farther back.

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  5. What an fascinating post Sharon thank you! I did not know that their inception went that far back. I'm not sure I remember A-Z building blocks in my or my sons' childhood (certainly wooden blocks for other purposes) but if ever I have grandchildren that will be the first gift I'll give them. I'll get them for my grandnephews in the meantime.

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    1. Sometimes the simplest of toys work best. My grandchildren have an abundance of toys and I wonder if they need that much.

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  6. A wonderful childhood pastime. We didn't know the educational motives behind the fun.

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    1. Nice to meet you. Would visit if you had a blog :)

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  7. One of my favorite toys growing up. Alphabet and regular blogs. I would build towers and spell words across the top. Thanks for the memories and for sharing!

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    1. You're welcome. Just remembered those trains I would build too. Fun!

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  8. Oddly enough, I don't remember having alphabet blocks. Now I want to call my mom and see if I did. :-) Very cool A to Z theme.

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    1. It will spark a nice conversation with your mom :)

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  9. Interesting! I had wooden blocks as a child, but not alphabet blocks. Funny to see how they existed before her, but she was the one smart enough to patent them :)
    Happy A to Z!

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary - Epics from A to Z
    MopDog - 26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary

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    1. Yes, smart lady....and busy lady. I was surprised she was a writer too.

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  10. Those simple ideas are often the best, aren't they? I remember playing with them, but I'm not sure I had them for my kids.

    Annalisa at Wake Up, Eat, Write, Sleep

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  11. I remember playing with blocks like that...and had some for my kids too!
    TheCyborgMom

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  12. Interesting post. I think your theme choice will be compelling enough that people will want to read them all. Good luck and hang in there. It'll be a long but worthwhile month.
    ; )

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    1. Thanks. I've learned a lot. Hope you're enjoying the a-z!

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  13. I didn't have alphabet blocks as a kid but they are absolutely ubiquitous. Thank you for sharing the history!

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  14. This was so interesting and I didn't know it was invented by a woman but it makes sense a woman would come up with this. Educational, for the children and a great way to learn. I remember I had blocks and 2 sides were letters but the other 2 had very pretty pictures on them

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    1. I'm not surprised either. Hope you're enjoying the a-z. Love your movie star theme!

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  15. You know? We tend to take these things for granted and we never think how and when they came into existance.
    This was a very intersting post :-)

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  16. What an interesting theme! Thanks for sharing - I'm A-Z Blogger number 596 Leaning On The Gate - and having great fun so far!

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    1. Thanks for visiting my blog for the first time :) Have fun in the a-z!

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  17. Yes, I had alphabet blocks. Interesting that Adeline was a social conservative but also an educational innovator.

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    1. Hmm....that's right, a social conservative, true to her time!

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  18. Love alphabet blocks and anything colorful! Thanks for the interesting article!

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  19. Ha, fascinating! I'd never thought much about alphabet blocks. I love your theme for the A-Z.

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  20. Wow, I never really thought about how alphabet blocks came to be before. Great choice for the start of A-to-Z! :)

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  21. First off, love your theme. I'll definitely be following along. Second, thanks for the history lesson; I like it when learning is fun. Good luck with the challenge and thanks for sharing.

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  22. I remember playing with Alphabet Blocks :) I had no idea anyone had ever patented them.
    Tasha
    Tasha's Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

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  23. Adeline sounds like she was quite the character. Love the history you're adding to each of these. It will add a certain element to each invention that will insure I never look at them the same way again! Thanks!

    Alex Hurst, A Fantasy Author in Kyoto
    Out of Print, Fiction authors and their shorts

    A-Z Blogging in April Participant

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  24. I spent many an hour building with blocks. Maybe that's why I like building with Legos so much. Thanks for the history lesson!

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  25. I had alphabet blocks as did my younger brothers and sisters and even my own children. And I played with them in all generations. Such a classic toy. I'm wondering if my grandkids have them?

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

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  26. Interesting, I didn't know this.
    I need to check out your other inventions.

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