Before 2-XL, there was Alphie — but only by a few months. Both were introduced in 1978, marking the beginning of the age of the electronic, educational toy. Though different in design, the two are comparable, each employing limited technology to simulate a computerized experience. Alphie even boasts of being programmed by a computer (I haven’t torn mine apart yet to see how he runs, but I suppose there is circuitry to be found in Alphie).
The following is an excerpt from Toys and American Culture, An Encyclopedia —
In 1978, Playskool introduced a toy called Alphie. The smiling robot was meant as a learning tool for young children. With the help of card inserts, Alphie introduced kids to colors, numbers, and the alphabet. Although Alphie could not move or change his facial expression, children enjoyed the fact that he played music and interactive guessing games. Alphie is considered America’s first electronic preschool toy. — (p. 263)
It must be noted that 2-XL was a far more ambitious toy, offering a richer, more complex experience. That 2-XL actually spoke put him ahead of any other toy in his class, including Alphie, which offered simplistic (but certainly age-appropriate) challenges. 2-XL was a much more expensive toy, priced between $50 and $70. Alphie sold for considerably less.
See Alphie in action:
Alphie is still in production today —
Note: While Alphie was introduced months prior to 2-XL, 2-XL had been in development years before Alphie. Dr. Michael Freeman, who invented 2-XL, had previously created Leachim, an educational robot that was used in a New York City classroom in the early 1970s.
© 2013, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.