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Favorite Toys of the 1950s, 1960s & 1970s
Toys, Toys, Toys! We Baby Boomers remember the great toys of our childhoods; many of those toys are still being produced today. As children, my two older brothers and I had our own “playroom” filled with cars, trucks, games, blocks, dolls, stuffed animals and the like. Monopoly tokens, houses and hotels were actually made of wood!
What kinds of toys did you prefer? Here’s a look back at some of the popular toys of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
In the early 1950s, Barbie creator Ruth Handler saw that her young daughter played with “adult” paper dolls; putting them in “grown-up” situations like, for example, getting ready for a school dance. Several years later, Ruth was traveling in Europe when she found a German doll with an adult’s body called Bild Lilli. Handler brought the doll home to Mattel (the toy company was co-owned by her husband), created a prototype and called it Barbie, after their daughter Barbara.
Mattel introduced Barbie at the International Toy Fair in New York on March 9, 1959. The Ken doll, named for the Handlers’ son, was introduced in 1961 as Barbie’s boyfriend. The first “ponytail” Barbie had copper tubes in her feet that helped her stand on a plastic platform. Barbie sold for $3.00 in 1959; now it is a collector’s item which, depending on its condition, can fetch thousands of dollars at auctions and doll shows.
The Chatty Cathy doll was made by Mattel between 1959 and 1965. Through a string in her back, the first Chatty Cathy dolls spoke 11 phrases through a small phonograph record placed in her stomach. In 1963, Chatty Cathy said 18 phrases like “I love you” and “Let’s play school.” The blond-haired dolls came out in 1960, the brunette version in 1962 and the red-haired dolls in 1963. Dark-skinned African American dolls were also sold during those years.
Chatty Cathy had a number of outfits that were sold separately in addition to a family of “chatty” dolls; Chatty Baby (1962), Charmin’ Chatty, Tiny Baby Chatty,Tiny Chatty Brother (1963), and Singin’ Chatty (1965).
COLORFORMS: “It’s More Fun to Play the Colorforms Way” with brightly-colored vinyl cut-outs that cling to a laminated picture board. Colorforms were developed in 1951 by a New York couple who assembled the first play sets in their New York apartment. The original Colorforms were geometric shapes in primary colors.
During the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, Colorforms grew in popularity with “theme” sets in addition to cartoon characters such as Popeye and the Peanuts gang. There is a variety of Colorforms sets on the market today.
EASY-BAKE OVEN: Designed to look like a conventional kitchen appliance, Kenner’s Easy-Bake Oven was introduced in 1963. Little girls (and boys, too!) mixed pre-blended baking ingredients with water and slid the small pan through the oven’s slot. The Easy-Bake Oven of the 1960s had a light bulb that burned hot enough to bake cookies, cakes, pretzels and candies. Over the years, the design of the Easy Bake Oven, now made by Hasbro toys, was changed into one that resembled more modern ovens, including a microwave.
ERECTOR SET: The Erector Set was actually invented in 1911; it was produced from 1913 until 1967 by the Gilbert company. When the Gilbert company went bankrupt, the Erector Set line was sold to a Pennsylvania company which manufactured the toy through the 1970s into the 1980s.
ETCH A SKETCH: The original design of what became the Etch A Sketch was developed in France in the late 1950s. The drawing toy, which uses a powder-coated screen that is scraped by a knob-controlled stylus, was later picked up for production by the Ohio Art Company, where it was produced in Bryan, Ohio until 2001. Etch A Sketch is made in its original form, computerized models and others capable of producing multi-colored drawings.
SPIROGRAPH: With colors, curves and precision, Spirograph was introduced to the American toy market in 1966. Spirograph sets have plastic gears with edged-teeth to connect with other shapes such as triangles, straight pieces and rings. Kids (and adults, too!) would pin a piece of paper to the drawing board, insert the pen into a hole on the rotating gear and draw the mathematical equation-based designs. There were a number of Spirograph sets available in the 1960s and 1970s, including Spirotots; designed for younger children.
G.I. JOE: First produced by the Hasbro toy company in 1964, the G.I. Joe (“G.I.” stands for Government Issue) touched on all four branches of the United States military service; Army (Action Soldier), Navy (Action Sailor), Marines (Action Marine) and Air Force (Action Pilot). Avoiding the term “doll,” Hasbro introduced and marketed G. I. Joe action figures for boys to play with, using the registered trademark “America’s Moveable Fighting Man.”
HOT WHEELS & MATCHBOX CARS: Produced by two separate (and competitive) companies, Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars could be found in just about every household with children. Hot Wheels, introduced by Mattel in 1968, were designed with permission (and in some cases, blueprints), from Ford, General Motors and Chrysler to be miniature models of their vehicles.
Of the first 16 original Hot Wheels cars manufactured, 10 of them were models of real cars from the late 1960s; six were designed from racing cars and show vehicles. Hot Wheels were a kind of a “knock off" item from die-cast Matchbox cars, which were introduced in 1953 by the Lesney Products company.
Mattel eventually acquired the Matchbox line; both Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars are highly sought collectors’ items as a well as offering models that are popular in today’s market.
STRANGE CHANGE MACHINE: The Strange Change Machine was introduced by Mattel in 1967. Plastic, vinyl-like squares were placed in the Strange Change Machine, a type of heating chamber that melted the “memory cubes” into different “creature” shapes which could be returned to their original state by re-melting them. Two versions of the Strange Change Machine were released by Mattel; The Time Machine, and the Strange Change Machine Featuring the Lost World time Capsules.
ROCK 'EM SOCK 'EM ROBOTS: Featuring two dueling mechanical “robot” boxers, Rock 'Em Sock ‘Em Robots was introduced by the Marx toy company in 1964. The robots, “Red Rocker” and “Blue Bomber,” stand in a boxing ring, ready for action. Players push buttons on joysticks that allow the robots to throw punches; if a punch hits a robot with enough force at the correct angle, the opposing robot’s head pops up. The current version of the Rock 'Em Sock ‘Em Robots game, with slightly smaller robots, is now made by Mattel. There are also computer and video games of the Rock 'Em Sock ‘Em Robots.
HULA HOOP: First marketed by the Wham-O toy company in 1957, the idea of an “exercise hoop” turned into a fad that sold more than 100 million plastic Hula Hoops by 1960. Hula Hoops for children and adults are still popular today, used in many exercise programs and contests.
MR. POTATO HEAD: Mr. Potato Head came out in 1952, originally as separate pieces (like ears and a mouth) to place in real potatoes and other similar vegetables. The plastic potato bodies were included in the kit in 1964, other members of the “potato family” came later. Mr. Potato Head has been redesigned several times but is still popular with children today.
PLAY-DOH: In the 1930s, the ingredients that made up Play-Doh were first used as a cleaner but the product was redesigned when the manufacturer learned that children were using the putty-like compound to create Christmas ornaments. In the 1950s, the product was marketed as children’s modeling “clay.” Retail stores began stocking the multiple colors of Play-Doh in 1956. Play-Doh and its “Fun Factory” accessories are now manufactured by Hasbro toys through the company’s Playskool division.
SLINKY: “It's Slinky, it's Slinky, for fun it's a wonderful toy.” The Slinky was actually created in the 1940s and introduced at the American Toy Fair in 1946, but Slinky has been a favorite toy for more than 60 years. Original Slinky toys were 2 ½ inches tall with 98 steel coils. Slinky Dog came out in 1952 and other toys came out in the 1950s; the Slinky worm, Crazy Eyes (a pair of glasses that uses coils over the eyeholes attached to plastic eyeballs) and “Loco” the train. The original Slinky is still popular today, priced at around $5.
Other Popular Toys and Games of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s
Barrel of Monkeys (Lakeside Toys/Milton Bradley, 1965), Big Wheel (Marx Toys, 1969), Battleship (Milton Bradley, 1931), Candy Land (Milton Bradley,1945; Hasbro), Checkers (Pressman Toys, 1922), Chutes and Ladders (Milton Bradley, 1952; Hasbro), Clackers (C.K. Fitch, 1949), Crissy Doll (Ideal Toys, 1968), Don’t Break the Ice (Schaper Co., 1968), Duncan Yo-Yo (Flambeau Products, 1929), Footsie (unknown, circa 1967), Frisbee (Wham-O, 1957);
The Game of Life (Milton Bradley, 1960 ), Lite-Brite (Hasbro, 1967), Lego Building Bricks (Lego Group, 1949), Lincoln Logs (Wright, 1916/Red Square Toy Company, 1918; K’Nex), Lionel Trains (Lionel, 1900), Magic 8-Ball (Alabe Crafts, 1950), Mighty Dump Truck (Tonka, 1964), Monopoly (Magie (The Landlord’s Game), 1904/Darrow (Monopoly), 1934/Parker Bros., 1935), Mystery Date (Milton Bradley, 1965; Hasbro), Nerf (Parker Bros., 1969; Hasbro);
Op Yop (Kramer Designs, Circa 1965), Operation (Milton Bradley, 1965; Hasbro), Pet Rock (Rock Bottom Productions, 1975), Radio Flyer Wagon (Liberty Coaster Co., 1930), See ‘n Say (Mattel, 1965), Shrinky Dinks (Morris/Bloomberg, 1973; Hasbro), Silly Putty (Wright, 1943; Crayola), Silly String (Wham-O, 1972), Slip ‘N Slide (Wham-O, 1961), Stadium Checkers/Roller Bowl (Schaper Co., 1952), SuperBall (Wham-O, 1964), Super Elastic Bubble Plastic (Wham-O, 1970);
Tinkertoy Construction Set (Pajeau/Pettit, 1913; Hasbro), Tiny Tears Doll (American Character Doll Co., 1950), Troll Dolls (Thomas Dam, 1959), Trouble (Milton Bradley, 1965;Hasbro), Twister (Milton Bradley,1966; Hasbro), View-Master (Gruber & Graves, 1940; Fisher-Price), Weebles (Hasbro, 1971), Wizzer (Mattel, 1969).
© 2014 Teri Silver