In the 1960s, toys that could talk were all the rage. Chatty Cathy started the trend when she was released in 1959, but it wasn’t until 1965 that Mattel released what would become a staple in the educational toy market.
The See ‘n Say used the same technology as Thomas Edison’s original gramophone to bring the sounds of barnyard animals to children everywhere.
The circular plastic See ‘n Say typically had a clock-face-like arrangement of cartoon animal portraits. In the centre of the portraits, a rotating arrow pointed at one of the animals.
When you pulled a string (or sometimes a lever) on the side of the See ‘n Say, a low, soothingly garbled voice said “The rooster says . . . ” (or whatever animal to which the arrow pointed), followed by a long vocal representation of the particular animal’s sound. A crow in the case of the rooster, a moo for the cow, a gobble for the turkey, etc.
For many children, it was the first time experiencing the sounds of animals that were not usually found roaming the streets of the average urban area.
Of course, because the recording was roughly the same quality as those original Edison gramophones, the animal sounds weren’t exactly the same as you might find out on the farm. But See ‘n Say didn’t do too shabbily for using hundred-year-old technology.
Originally, the See ‘n Say was a pre-school aged educational tool, focusing exclusively on the sounds that animals made. But as the toy evolved into a signature product, several variations were introduced.
Licensed characters such as Mickey Mouse got into the act, and soon there were See ‘n Say’s that vocalised everything from popular cartoon characters to letters of the alphabet.
Eventually, as the 1970s and 1980s spawned the age of personal electronics, the See ‘n Say went digital, abandoning the gramophone technology for the electronic equivalent. See ‘n Say even had distant relatives in the computer age – Speak & Spell by Texas Instruments is one apple that didn’t far too fall from the See ‘n Say tree.
Even though the first See ‘n Say sold over thirty years ago, the relatively basic toy is still sold to kiddie barnyard enthusiasts today. And the Mattel executive says, “Ker-ching!”.