This toy talks. It talks. It’s an inanimate object and it talks. Imagine the delight and awe of the average toddler in the 1960s who received a See ‘n Say. It was like having a little minion that imitated all sorts of sounds at your command. Pretty heady stuff for a 4-year old.
See ‘n Say, created by Mattel Toys in 1965, was circular, made of brightly colored plastic and originally featured pictures of different animals on the clock-like face. An arrow in the middle spun when the rope was pulled and the magic voice said, “The (insert animal name here) says, (insert animal sound here)”. So maybe the voice wasn’t exactly magic; in fact it was barely recognizable as human (or animal) speech but it would last as long as it took the string to retract inside the toy. Perhaps the most fun came from speeding up or slowing down the recording by manually forcing the arrow to go faster or slower. You could put the See ‘n Say down on the floor and really go to town on that arrow, turning a rooster’s joyful crow into a protracted death rattle.
The technology behind this Mattel marvel was surprisingly simple, the same as that developed for Thomas Edison’s phonograph – which explains the quality of sound. Still, for children who had never heard a cow moo or a sheep baah, it was just like taking a virtual trip through the barnyard. And, batteries were not required.
A plastic lever eventually replaced the string, being a sturdier and safer choice for repeated pulling. The barnyard See ‘n Say remained a fan favorite but was eventually joined by other educational versions, and by some that were purely for entertainment. In the 70s, See ‘n Say went electronic, leaving behind its mechanical roots and entering the digital age. It’s still a surprisingly popular toy for modern preschoolers – who are woefully unaware of its long and illustrious history.
If you’ve tugged the strings of a few See ‘n Says in your day, we’d love to hear your memories in our comments section, as we tip our hats to an iconic toy that just keeps on giving, here at Retroland.