Recently, a friend entrusted me with antique doll cradle that needed some repairs. The thin wooden slats on the sides and bottom were in bad shape, with many pieces badly split where nails were used to attach the pieces. The base had worked itself loose, and the pivot points had worn away after years of play. It no longer rocked. The finish showed its age, and several areas were worn, splintered, or had pieces chipped out.
What made this a fun project for me was the story of where it came from, and the story I made up while I was working on it. My friend’s grandfather had made this cradle for her mother, around 80 years ago. It was likely made from wooden fruit crates, assembled with 48 nails (Yes, I counted them as I carefully pulled them out) and a couple of bolts for the pivots. As I gently took the whole thing apart, the wood creaked, the splits got worse, and a few of the nails refused to yield. All I could think was, “Geez, just don’t break this thing!” As some point though, there’s no turning back.
Some might say that it was crudely built. But as this was built 80 years ago, that would put its origin at around 1941, right at the start of World War II. I started imagining this man breaking down wooden crates at a basement workbench and marking out his design on a few pieces of lumber scrounged from another project. At that time, most lumber was being diverted to the war effort. Toy production was limited too. FDR established the War Production Board in January of 1942 to oversee the use of critical materials as factories converted from civilian to military production. The board issued a “General Limitation Order, L-81,” which prohibited production of toys that contained more than seven percent of some materials, such as iron, steel, and rayon, which were deemed critical to the war effort.
It might have been much more difficult to go down to the local toy store to shop for Christmas presents at that time, so what is a man to do? He’ll make his own toys, that’s what. This man took materials he found or had on hand and made a beautiful new toy for his daughter that she cherished enough to pass to her daughter. And she cherished it enough to preserve it. It’s so awesome that she’s kept this heirloom all these years.
I remember my own grandfather’s workbench in the basement of their house. Four-by-fours for legs, a piece of Masonite on top, and multiple coffee cans and baby food jars full of nails and screws, and the bright red steel machinist’s vice bolted to the top. On a shelf below behind a curtain that my grandmother probably made, lie multiple pieces of scrap lumber waiting to be turned into something useful. To me, this cradle was made on a workbench just like that one.
Well, that’s all for now. Next time, I want to share how I made the repairs. My goal was to keep as much of the original material as possible, preserve the memories, and maintain the look and feel as the original craftsman intended it. Had to get a little creative in a few places, so tune in next week!
Toys in Wartime (ohiohistory.org): President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the War Production Board (WPB) in January 1942, to oversee the conversion of factories from civilian to military production and to govern the use of “critical materials” in each U.S. industry. In March 1942, the WPB issued General Limitation Order L-81, which prohibited the production of toys that contained more than seven percent of specified critical materials including iron, steel, and rayon. Existing toys containing materials over this limit could only be sold through June 1942.