A human-sized Mr. Potato Head, who will appear at the Mayborn Museum’s new traveling exhibits opening Saturday, checks out a “Tinkertoy: Build Your Imagination” station next to the neighboring “Adventures of Mr. Potato Head” area.

Staff photo— Jerry Larson

Two of America’s most-famous brand-name toys will act as catalysts for young imaginations and creativity this spring in new touring exhibits opening Saturday at the Mayborn Museum.

“Tinkertoy: Build Your Imagination” and “The Adventures of Mr. Potato Head,” both created by the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum of Milwaukee, will allow kids to construct their own toys and machines and take an imaginative trips to space and under the ocean.

Rebecca Nall, the Mayborn Museum’s associate director of communications, said the toy-inspired exhibits address the value of open-ended play for children, with toys serving as tools employed by the imagination — plus they’re fun.

Tinkertoys were invented in 1913 as a set of small wooden wheels drilled with holes into which connecting rods are fitted. They remained largely unchained from that original design — whose 1914 patent drawing is displayed in the exhibit’s “Tinker Tank” on inventors — until the 1960s, when wood was dropped for plastic.

Mr. Potato Head started some 38 years later as plastic eyes, mouth, nose, ears and accessories inserted into a real potato or other vegetable to give it personality. It became the first toy advertised on television for children, and while the number of parts and styles grew over the years, Mr. Potato Head didn’t become a plastic body until 1964. Mr. Potato Head later became a principal character in the Pixar animated “Toy Story” films, voiced by comic Don Rickles.

Both toys, members of the National Toy Hall of Fame, are owned and produced by global toy manufacturer Hasbro.

The two exhibits, created for a target audience of children ages 3 to 10, offer different approaches to play. The Tinkertoys side features eight stations with frames resembling oversized Tinkertoys and containing activities within. Most offer ideas for building — vehicles, windmills, structures — with touchscreens offering videos that suggest ways to assemble those ideas from Tinkertoys at hand.

Filling the other half of the Anding Traveling Exhibition Gallery is “The Adventures of Mr. Potato Head,” 13 activity stations grouped into two adventures, one in space with a space station and a rover dome, and the other under the sea, with submarine, treasure chest, reefs and scuba sled. Rather than build objects, the Mr. Potato Head side aims to stimulate thinking through hands-on games.

Followers of the Mayborn Museum’s Facebook also have seen local adventures of Mr. Potato Head, with the toy popping up for photos at such locales as the Waco Suspension Bridge, the Cameron Park Zoo and Baylor University’s Judge Baylor statue.

The two exhibits open to the public Saturday and run through May 1. A human-sized version of Mr. Potato Head will be available for photos with kids at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. and there are free screenings of “Toy Story” at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. in the Mayborn’s SBC Theater.