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.