Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this blog post, Mary searches old newspapers to find craft projects our ancestors might have made, such as cut-out patterns, paper dolls, soap box coasters, and paper airplanes.
Want a fun craft project for a child’s Christmas or holiday gift that can be completed in a weekend?
Search old newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, for ideas about gifts our ancestors might have made. Newspapers’ Feature pages of the past often included patterns and craft projects that our grandparents made, and the projects have the added benefit of inspiring the young to pursue genealogy.
Coloring books, cut-out patterns, paper dolls or even paper airplanes are easily found in old newspapers. Assemble the patterns into a booklet or place the projects into a special Christmas stocking along with the required materials. You might even consider embellishing the stocking by adding some of the patterns to the fabric of the stocking.
If you don’t wish this to be a surprise, help your children make these crafts as gifts for others. Either way, the fun will last for hours!
- Search the newspapers’ Photos & Illustrations category with keywords such as: “contest,” “cut out,” “paper dolls” or “paper planes.”
- Some of the projects, including those for toy airplanes, were patented in their day. Search Google’s Patent Search for corresponding projects.
Here are some examples of fun children’s craft projects and activities from yesteryear.
Christmas Fireplace to Be Cut Out
Here’s a pattern from 1903 for your child to create a fireplace decorated for Christmas.
Prize Painting Contest
Use this kid’s craft pattern from 1904 to create your own mini contest. Add crayons or watercolors and fun prizes so that friends or siblings can play along. The caption reads:
For the four best paintings of the above picture two prize packages and two gold-plated Outlook Flag Pins are offered. Boys and girls who love painting should try what they can do with this picture, which has been made in outline especially for them.
Paper Dolls to Paint and Cut Out
What child doesn’t love a paper doll?
Novelty Paper Dolls
Here’s a dapper-looking gentleman cut-out from 1902.
Soap Box Coaster
In this 1915 newspaper article, 11-year-old Albert Weld explained how he made a coaster for the soap box derby for only 30 cents—and for his prize-winning entry, the paper paid him $1.
This contest article also shows how every part of a newspaper can provide genealogical information about your ancestors. Imagine if Albert Weld was your ancestor, and you found this article. From it you learn:
- Albert was 11 in 1915
- He lived in Cleveland
- His address: 1840 W. 52nd St.
- He was in seventh grade at the Detroit school
- His teacher was Miss Ward
Perhaps most wonderful of all, you get to read the short essay Albert wrote describing how he built his coaster for only 30 cents, including his plaintive final words: “I did this all myself, as I have no father or brother to help me.”
To top it all off, you get a picture of Albert, showing how he looked as an 11-year-old, even if the photo caption misspelled his first name as “Alfred.”
Here’s one from the Patent Office.
“Arrowplane” for Boys and Girls
Reg. U.S. Pat. Office. In the accompanying drawings, four airplanes are shown. Cut out carefully all parts, following black lines being sure not to tear the paper. From a piece of cardboard, about the thickness of a writing tablet back, cut out four long and four short strings same size as patterns shown. These are used to reinforce the front edges of the airplane and to give them proper balance for flight…
If you tried any of these kids’ craft projects, please let us know how they went! Or share with us some of your own homemade toy projects.
After all, as the introduction to Albert Weld’s article above stated:
Home made toys are just as much fun to play with as those that are bought readymade, and they are such fun to make.
Happy holidays to you and yours!
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