Meadowlands Museum Collection, 83.2.1
By: Alex Russo
The rocking horse: one of the seminal toys of childhood. It has been around in one form or another for centuries. Crude toy horses have been around since 500 B.C. appearing in places like Egypt, Rome and Greece. The Ancient Grecian variety of toy horse was the precursor to the popular “Hobby Horse”, featuring a stick as the body of the horse.  These toys were extremely popular, lasting in this design up until the 16th century when they developed into a “Barrel Horse”. This design was a log on four wooden legs, sporting a crude horse head.
It wasn’t until the 17th century that the toy horses took on the “deeply curved rocking base”.
Despite all of the aesthetic changes, the Rocking Horse was still not done undergoing transformations. The beloved children’s toy entered its heyday during the 18th century. They became works of art, lovingly handcrafted by inventors and artisans, moving away from the crude renderings of the past. At this time, dappled grey horses (as legend has it, Queen Victoria picked this exact model out, launching this model into immense popularity) on bow rockers were very much in style in affluent parts of Great Britain. They also flourished in parts of Germany and America until the middle of the 20th century. Parents bought their young children these finely crafted toys in hope that they would help the child practice their balance for when they switched to the real deal (that is riding actual horses, of course).
By 1880, the Rocking Horse would undergo its last major aesthetic change. In Cincinnati, Phillip Marqua would invent and patent the “safety stand”. This put the Rocking Horses on a fixed, static stand while the horse only moves relative to the stand. This innovation not only saved families on precious space in their homes, it quelled any fears of the little-ones fingers or toes getting caught under the big bow rockers of the rocking horses of yesteryear. This iteration of the Rocking Horse surpassed the Bow Rocker version far and wide, finding its way into nearly everyone’s home, and becoming the staple toy of innocent childhood amusement.
The Rocking Horse that the Meadowlands Museum is in possession of is a beautiful dappled grey horse, slightly worn with age. The horse has a tan saddle seat, green velvet saddle skirt, two stirrups and sits on a static spring, metal base. The company McKee & Harrington of Lyndhurst, NJ, produced the horse. McKee & Harrington was the premier manufacturing companies in the area at the time, helping to usher in the Industrial Revolution. They were most notable for producing bicycles, baby carriages and rocking horses. The exact date that the rocking horse was made is not known, but from the appearance of the horse suggests that it was made in the late 1880’s.
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 “Lyndhurst History.” http://www.westfieldnj.com/whs/history/lyndhurst.htm