Hey Santa, Here's One Word for American-Made Toys: Plastics.

Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.

Benjamin: Yes, sir.

Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?

Benjamin: Yes, I am.

Mr. McGuire: Plastics.

--"The Graduate," 1967

If you need to buy Christmas gifts for the little kids in your life, take a cue from "The Graduate." Think plastics. 1960s audiences probably snickered cynically at Mr. McGuire's advice, but it turns out he was onto something. Plastic manufacturing still thrives in this country, especially when it comes to toys. Unfortunately, plastic imports thrive as well, and sometimes seem to crowd out USA-made counterparts. Check the labels. Choose accordingly.

Truth is, I'd forgotten all about American-made plastic toys until this morning when a helpful friend emailed to say she'd discovered an assortment of great looking, affordable plastic toys online, all made in the USA by a company called American Plastic Toys. I thanked her for reminding me. Yes, of course. Plastic toys! The perfect topic for Day Nine of CAMJ's Twelve Days of Christmas.

Here's a bit about American Plastic Toys. From its website:

American Plastic Toys has proudly manufactured safe toys in United States since 1962. We currently operate a total of five facilities in Michigan and Mississippi. Our product line includes over 125 different items ranging from a simple sand pail to a play kitchen set.

We assemble 100% of the toys in our product line in the United States. Most of the components in our products are molded in our plants or purchased from US companies. Less than four percent of our toy value content is imported from the Far East. The majority of this small percentage consists of sound components and fasteners. Toys with imported components only represent 25% of our entire product line. None of these components are painted or include phthalates.

All of the plastic used to make our toys is purchased in the USA. The majority of our toys are molded with Polypropylene (~80%) and Polyethylene (~20%) plastic. The colorant molded in all of our products is purchased domestically and is FDA approved for use in food packaging. None of our products are painted or include phthalates.

Try getting that kind of detailed quality assurance from Chinese manufacturers. So refreshing. The key word for me (besides plastic)? "Safe." Isn't that our top priority in purchasing toys for children?

This company manufactures hundreds of awesome looking toys--role-playing toys, riding toys, sports toys, vehicles, preschool toys--but I'm a sucker for a nice red wagon. Check it out. Found this one at target.com:

If you'd like to do a bit of comparison shopping, let's look at Radio Flyer's Classic Red Wagon, also at target.com:

So adorable. Sad news: This all-American metal classic is now manufactured in China. However, Radio Flyer assures me it does make all its plastic wagons in Wisconsin, USA. Here's the plastic Radio Flyer Pathfinder Wagon, also sold at target.com ($74.99):

But wait, when it comes to American-made plastic wagons and toys, there's more!

Little Tikes, based in Aurora, Ohio (now a subsidiary of MGA Entertainment) has churned out molded plastic toys since 1969. My own kids loved their yellow and orange Cozy Coupe. In 1998, the Little Tikes Cozy Coupe was so popular it outpaced sales of the Honda Accord and Ford Taurus. Happily, most Little Tikes products are still manufactured in the USA. Check out one of its many wagons, available for purchase at numerous retailers and at littletikes.com:

Our wagon extravaganza wouldn't be complete without one made by Step2, the largest toy manufacturer in the United States. I've purchased several Step2 products. I'd give 'em all A+ This company also gets my consumer-vote for providing excellent information regarding its labeling system; but rest assured that most Step2 products are manufactured in the USA, with a small percentage of components--components not integral to the toys' designs--imported. From its website:

With concern about toy manufacturing at an unprecedented level, we at Step2 believe we have a responsibility to clearly communicate the country of origin of our products. We understand that our customers want to make informed purchasing decisions.According to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines, nearly all Step2 toys can be labeled "Made in U.S.A." Nevertheless, we set a higher standard, and it is our desire to clearly inform you about where our products are made. This includes noting when accessories or smaller toys are sourced from overseas manufacturing plants. We use a three-tiered labeling system on our retail packaging...

Again: Think you'll ever come across that kind of meticulous explanation about a China-made toy? Here's one of Step2's wagons:

So many great choices, but one thing's clear: It's time to circle the wagons 'round American toy manufacturers that still choose to make products here. Support these companies. Buy their products. Get the word out: plastics.