11 Popular Toys We Were Obsessed With As Kids
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Take a trip down memory lane with these classic toys.
Talk about nostalgia! From Barbie and Chatty Cathy to Little People and Mr. Potato Head, some toys manage to stand the test of time and send us back to our childhoods. A few were instant classics while others gradually gained popularity more gradually over the years, yet all have been passed on through the generations.
Here, we relive our youth (complete with original commercials!) with some of the most popular toys of the 50s, 60s and 70s.
Growing up, there were few things more exciting than a bright yellow box containing the latest model of Dinky Toys. Made in England between 1934 and 1979, the die-cast Mazak zinc alloy miniature vehicles were produced by Meccano Ltd. Dinky Toys predated other popular mini cars like Corgi, Matchbox and Mattel’s Hot Wheels.
Although first introduced in 1939 by pharmacist (and photo-finishing business owner) Edwin Eugene Mayer, the View-Master really took off as a must-have toy in the 1960s and 1970s. Was there anything more exciting than glimpses of your favourite cartoon characters in glorious Stereoscopic vision? The thin cardboard “reels” containing seven 3D images simulated binocular depth perception.
Toy land’s first working toy oven was an instant classic. Introduced by Kenner Products in 1963, the original model used incandescent lightbulbs as a heat source, while current versions (manufactured by Hasbro Inc.) use a true heating element. The original turquoise range-style oven allowed kids to bake their own mini cakes with the heat emanating from a 60-watt lightbulb. Kenner sold more than 500,000 Easy-Bake Ovens in its first year of production. By the mid-1990s, more than 23 million Easy-Bake Ovens had been sold.
The all-American hero is more like an international man of mystery: G.I. Joe has undergone dozens of incarnations through the years—from soldier to sailor to pilot to astronaut, even to superhero. Hasbro Inc. first introduced the original action figure in 1964 during a time when the vast majority of parents balked at the thought of boys playing with dolls—even when said doll was an 11.5 inch soldier known as “America’s Moveable Fighting Man.”
Mr. Potato Head
Take him apart and put him together! This 9-inch spud was the brainchild of inventor George Lerner who released the three-dimensional plastic face in 1949. Originally, Lerner sold the toy to a cereal company that planned to use the plastic pieces—mouth, eyes, ears, nose—as prizes in cereal boxes. But the spud-head wasn’t a commercial success until Hasbro bought the rights from Lerner. In the following years, the Mister was joined by a Mrs. Potato Head and the couple made a splash in the Disney-Pixar Toy Story trilogy.
Etch a Sketch
In the mid-1950s, French electrician André Cassagnes envisioned a mechanical drawing toy complete with a joystick, glass screen and aluminum powder. Originally called the Magic Screen, Etch A Sketch became a commercial hit in 1960 when it was purchased and mass-produced by The Ohio Art Co. It’s simple concept, with twin dials and an erasable screen, allowed kids to sketch and remove their creations with a shake. In 1998, it was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, New York.
The lumpy substance known as Play-Doh began not as a beloved children’s toy, but as wallpaper cleaner. Yes, really! Joe McVicker of Kutol Chemicals in Cincinnati discovered the non-toxic product. By 1955 he’d recommended its use to his sister-in-law, a teacher who’d frequently complained about her students’ struggles to mold shapes with clay. McVicker and his brother, Noah, formed Rainbow Crafts Co. the following year and began produced 1.5-pound cans of the reusable modeling compound. Since then, more than 2 billions cans of Play-Doh have been sold (with current manufacturer Hasbro) in a variety of colours.
It can be twirled around the waist, limbs or neck—and it took the toy world by storm in the late-1950s. The modern hula hoop was invented in 1958 by Arthur K. “Spud” Melin and Richard Knerr, however kids and adults have used them throughout history. Traditional hoops were made from willow, rattan (a flexible and strong vine), grapevines and stiff grasses. Today, they are usually made of plastic.
Arguably the world’s most famous (and controversial) doll, Barbie was first introduced in 1959 by Ruth Handler, one of the founders of toy manufacturer Mattel Inc. Handler was inspired to create the iconic fashionista doll after noticing her daughter, Barbara, would dress her paper dolls in cutout clothing. Barbie debuted at the American International Toy Fair in New York City and cost $3 to buy. Barbie’s boyfriend, Ken, was introduced in 1961.
Originally produced by Fisher-Price Inc. in the 1960s, the Little People toy brand was first introduced as the Play Family People for children ages three and up. The “Little People” name was trademarked by Mattel and Fisher-Price in 1985 after consumers admitted they referred to the Play Family People toys as “those little people.” In 2016, Little People was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, New York.