A Basic History of Toys

A Basic History of Popular Toys

4000 BC

A Babylonian game, which is the ancestor of  modern draughts  begins to be played

3000 BC

First Game resembling modern Backgammon is played in Sumeria.

2000 BC

Stone marbles first used in Egypt.

1000 BC

Kites appear in China. Stone Yo-Yos begin to be used in Greece

600 BC

An ancestor of chess called ‘Chaturanga’ is played in India.

1759

Roller skates are invented by  Joseph Merlin.

1903

Edwin Binney & Harold  Smith patent the first ‘Crayola’ crayons.

1909

Kewpie Doll-devised by Rosi O’Neill patented in 1935

1914

Frank Hornby manufactures ‘0 Gauge’ Clockwork model trains

1925

The first electric ‘Hornby’ train appears

1928

Mickey Mouse is created by Walt Disney. The licensed toy is born. Dolls from 1930

1929

Duncan Yo-Yo’s are first launched

1931

Alfred Butts, an unemployed Architect invents ‘Scrabble’

1936

The Parker Brothers invent Monopoly based on locations in their native Atlantic City USA. (In their lifetime they  invent over 100 games including Cluedo, Risk, Sorry and Pit)

1943

Naval Engineer, Richard James invents the ’Slinky Spring’

1949

Ole Christiansen, invents Lego bricks. Just six bricks will fit together in 102,981,500 ways !

1951 

A Muffin The Mule push-along  toy  is the best seller this year.

1952

Mr Potato Head is launched.  Jack O’dell creates the first Matchbox car.

1953

A  ‘Little Princess’ doll designed by Norman Hartnell is launched to celebrate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

1956

A Mr B Francis puts small electric motors in his scale models of cars and ‘Scalectrix’ is born.

1959

Barbie is created by Ruth Handler, and is named after her daughter Barbara.

1965

The James Bond Aston Martin from Corgi is the most popular toys this year. A version of the toy is still on sale today.

1966

Action Man, the first ‘Doll For Boys’ is launched and is a massive success.

1967

Spiro-Graph is toy of the year

1970

Rolf Harris Stylophone (Musical toy with a strangely annoying pitch. Apparently invented by accident the Stylophone enjoys cult popularity among musicians and has been used by bands as diverse as David Bowie and Blur.

1971

Space Hoppers, inflatable orange bouncers with horns for handles. Klackers, a modernised version of conkers that made a very annoying ‘Klick Klack’ sound and lead to dozens of imitations.

1973

Mastermind, a game that had nothing to do with the TV show and everything to do with cracking the code of your opponents coloured plastic pegs

1974

Magna Doodle. The magnetic drawing toy which was invented in Japan by pen engineers trying to create a clean mess free chalk.

1975

Wombles. Womblemania hit the UK and Womble toys where everywhere.

1976

Raw Power. A handle that you added to your bike and ‘revved’ to create the sound of an engine.

1977

Slime, a bright green PVA based blob that came in little plastic pots and ruined many a households soft furnishings! Othello, the strategy game of Black & White counters.  Holly Hobbie, dolls based on the popular character. Skateboards, 1977 saw the high point of the 1970’s skate craze and featured thin ‘surfboard’ style boards.

1978

Star Wars, after the release of the movie the previous year the toys soon followed and became one of the most successful movie licenced properties of all time, the toys dominated toy shops until the middle 1980’s when their popularity waned. Simon, the electronic game where you followed a sequence of lights and sounds before you threw it across the room in sheer frustration!

1979

 Space Lego, the humble building brick went where no man had gone before. Stop Boris, a game where you stopped Boris, a creepy spider, with a light gun.

1980

Rubiks Cube, invented by Hungarian designer Erno Rubik over 100 million of these tricky little puzzles were sold between 1980 and 1982.

1981

Lego Train. Lego launches their first electric ‘train set’ which featured strangely enough blue rails!

1982

BMX Bikes, everybody went BMX crazy, BMX is short for Bicycle Motocross.  ZX Spectrum, the first ‘affordable’ home gaming computer arrived in UK households.

1983

My Little Pony, based on an Animated TV series there was an entire world of small plastic horses and accessories to collect. My Little Pony went on to become one of the most successful girls toy concepts of all time. Boys did not miss out this year as they got He Man & The Masters Of The Universe which followed the same based on animation format and became one of the most successful boys toy concepts of all time.

1984

Care Bears. Following the successful ‘toys from an animated series’ format from the previous year the Care Bears arrived from Care-a-Lot. Shortly before Christmas Cabbage Patch Kids, created by artist Xavier Roberts also arrived and created chaos in toy shops across the land as parent competed to buy one of the sought after dolls. The Board game Trivial Pursuit was the best selling board game in 1984 and dolls based on popular Pop Stars Michael Jackson and Boy George was also big hits.

1985

Transformers, robots in disguise. These ‘action figures’, which transformed from vehicle to robot and back, again confounded parents and delighted children. Optimus Prime was THE toy to have in 1985 and lead to huge shortages of product.

1986

In this World Cup year the playground graze was Panini Football stickers. If you managed to complete an album you were a playground hero.

1987

Sylvanian Families, a range of cute and cuddly animals with play-sets and vehicles. Rubiks Magic, a follow up to the Rubiks Cube.

1988

Ghostbusters, based on the popular movie and animated series, children across the land strapped on ‘proton packs’ and set out to capture ghosts. Slimer, one of the lead characters was also a firm favourite in toy shops, along with the vehicle Ecto-1.

1989

 Another hit movie, another toy shop success. The Tim Burton movie ‘Batman’ breathed new life into an old favourite and Batmania swept the UK.

1990

Donatello, Michelangelo, Leonardo and Raphael, the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles arrived in toy shops and where an immediate hit. Originating in the US from a comic book the original word ‘Ninja’ in the title was replaced with ‘Hero’ in the UK for fears that it would violent connotations with parents.

1991

Nintendo launched Game Boy in the UK.

1992

Thunderbirds enjoyed a re-birth this year and dads of a certain age across the land re-lived there childhoods with their children. Shortages of the most popular toy, Tracey Island were so severe that Blue Peter ran an episode where the showed you how to make your own….

1993

Power Rangers, the TV show arrived on our screens and children’s TV has not been the same since. Toys based on the show sold out immediately.

1994

Magic Eye Pictures were all the rage and toys and puzzles featuring these pictures within pictures prompted even more people to ask ‘can you see it?’

1995

POGS, small cardboard disks stormed into playgrounds and became a huge craze. Star Wars toys start production again after a short hiatus, 1970’s kids are now adults and collect the toys out of nostalgia but a new generation of kids also embraces the saga.

1996

Toy Story, the animated film from Pixar was a huge hit in the cinema and toys from the movie were more than elusive. Parents went to desperate measures to secure a Buzz Lightyear doll. The rights to produce toys from the film went to a small independent Canadian toy company who simply could not cope with the demand. Why? Because all of the major toy manufacturers turned down the chance to make Toy Story merchandise, as they felt that the movie would never catch on. Corinthian figures, small figurines of football stars with oversized heads were the hot collectible and equally popular with adults and child collectors.

1997

The year of T, Teletubbies, Tamagotchi and TY Beanie Babies are toy shop best sellers. 

1998

The humble Yo Yo returns as the craze of the year, after last being seen in the 1950’s and the 1970’s. The ProYo II is the Yo Yo of choice. Just before Christmas the interactive pet, Furby arrives in toy shops.

1999

A board game based on the hit TV quiz show ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ is the best selling board game. Toys and games based on Pokemon the Nintendo game prove to be quite popular. The firm favourite are the trading cards hundreds of millions of which are sold, swapped and traded across the globe.

2000

 Robotic Pets and Aluminium Folding Scooters are this year crazes. They are also accompanied by another familiar face, The Thunderbirds return again and Tracey Island is another Christmas best seller.

2001

Bob The Builder toys are big hits, Folding Scooters continue to be the must have accessory for both kids and style guru’s alike. Closely followed by Pogo Sticks which enjoyed a resurgence of interest this year.

2002

Bratz Dolls, steal some of Barbie’s position as top fashion doll, a place she has held since she was born in 1959. Beyblades, customizable spinning tops and Micropets, miniature robotic pets are the favourite crazes

2003

Beyblades continue to be the playground craze closely followed by Yucky Yo Balls, fluid filled stretchy balls on an elastic string. However Yucky Yo Balls are swiftly banned by the government over safety fears. This is the first time that the government has banned a toy in over 10 years.

Acknowledgments: In order to compile this history The Entertainer wishes to acknowledge the many sources used, including The History Channel, The BBC, The Museum of Childhood, The Batr and Gerald Masters, whose tireless efforts as unofficial ‘Historian’ for the Batr over the years have been invaluable.