Most Popular Toys of Christmases Past

Most Popular Toys of Christmases Past

Enjoy a Healthy Dose of Nostalgia

With Christmas just around the corner, parents everywhere are rushing to every store in town, looking for that one particular gift that every kid wants this Christmas. Nowadays it’s probably not even a toy anymore, but rather a smartphone or the new Call of Duty game. However, we’re taking a look at Christmases from the past that were dominated by the search for one particular toy.

1. Radio Flyer

Photo: Kevin Dooley via Flickr

Photo: Kevin Dooley via Flickr

The little red toy wagon was probably the first iconic toy of America. If you were a kid in the 1920s, this is what you wanted. It was developed by Italian immigrant Antonio Pasin who made his first wagon out of wood in 1917. Initially, he sold them under the “Liberty Coaster” name, but in 1927 he started making them out of steel and rebranded his company as Radio Steel. The wagons themselves were renamed Radio Flyer to honor two of Pasin’s heroes, Guglielmo Marconi and Charles Lindbergh.

The company, which was officially renamed Radio Flyer after its iconic product in 1987, has been producing the red wagons ever since. The only exception was during World War II when steel became a precious commodity and Radio Steel shifted production to jerrycans for the army.

2. Yo-Yo

Photo: Clément Bucco-Lechat

Photo: Clément Bucco-Lechat

This toy has remained constantly popular ever since its debut in the 1920s. Technically, the yo-yo can trace its origins 2,500 years back to ancient Greece, but it didn’t become an international sensation until 1928 when a Filipino immigrant named Pedro Flores started selling them in America.

Before then, the yo-yo was virtually unheard of in the United States, but it was popular in the Philippines so Flores saw a new, untapped market. He first sold handmade yo-yos until he made enough money to open a factory. In just a few short years, Flores’ Yo-Yo Manufacturing Company became hugely successful and Flores sold his interest in the factory for a fortune during the Great Depression.

3. Red Ryder BB Gun

Photo: TRF_Mr_Hyde via Flickr

Photo: TRF_Mr_Hyde via Flickr

Before the days of concern over gun control, little boys wanted nothing more than a Red Ryder BB gun. Made by the Daisy Outdoor Products Company, it was named after a popular comic strip character and made to resemble the Winchester rifle popular in western movies. For kids growing up wanting to be cowboys, there was no cooler toy on the planet. Although the Red Ryder comic strip hasn’t existed since the 1960s, the BB gun is still in production.

4. Slinky

Photo: Enochlau

Photo: Enochlau

One of the most popular toys of all time was invented by accident. Its creator, Richard James, was a naval engineer who was working on spring coils when he accidentally knocked one off the table and it started doing its iconic arc “stepping” pattern. James thought it would make a good toy and his wife came up with the name “slinky”.

At first, James had trouble marketing the slinky, but this changed in 1945 when Gimbels let him show off his invention in their toy store. Everyone was hooked and James sold his entire inventory of 400 units in under two hours. The toy became an even bigger hit in the 1960s thanks to a memorable commercial with a catchy jingle that became the longest-running jingle in advertising history.

5. Mr. Potato Head

Photo: Mike Mozart via Flickr

Photo: Mike Mozart via Flickr

Mr. Potato Head was the brainchild of inventor George Lerner. It was created in 1952 and is still in production and enjoys quite a bit of popularity, primarily due to the Toy Story characters.

Lerner’s original idea was to simply create face and body accessories that could be inserted into real fruits and vegetables to make toys. However, in post-WWII America, the idea of wasting food to make toys didn’t appeal to companies so many of them turned Lerner down. Eventually, a food company bought his idea and used the accessories as prizes in cereal boxes. Hassenfeld Brothers (later Hasbro) bought the rights off the food company and Mr. Potato Head was officially launched in 1952.

There still was no body included in the set. People had to use their own potatoes. A plastic body wasn’t included until 1964 and this was because new government regulations prevented the toys from being sharp enough to puncture real potatoes anymore.

6. Frisbee

Photo: Hynek Moravec

Photo: Hynek Moravec

Technically, the name of the toy is a flying disc. “Frisbee” is a registered trademark of Wham-O and they aren’t very keen on people using the word to describe any flying disc because it puts their trademark at risk. Even so, the reality is that “Frisbee” has become the generic term used by the general public to refer to this particular toy.

The name came from the Frisbie Pie Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Back in the 1950s, kids would play by throwing the pie platters to each other and yelling “Frisbie!” as a warning. The flying disc existed before, but it wasn’t until Wham-O promoted it as the Frisbee and the toy was redesigned by Ed Headrick that it really took off in popularity.

As a bonus story, click here to find out how Ed Headrick became a permanent part of his beloved Frisbee after his death.

7. Barbie

Photo: Vaniljapulla via Flickr

Photo: Vaniljapulla via Flickr

What is there to say about the iconic Barbie doll that hasn’t already been said numerous times? Launched in 1959, Barbie was the creation of Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler who named the toy after her daughter. Right off the bat, Barbie was available as a blonde and as a brunette. However, the blonde model was far more popular and that stuck as the definitive Barbie look.

8. G.I. Joe

Photo: Cerebral Pizza via Flickr

Photo: Cerebral Pizza via Flickr

While girls were playing with Barbie, little boys had their own toy to enjoy – G.I. Joe. When it was introduced in 1964, the idea of marketing a doll to boys had never been done before. That’s why G.I. Joe was rebranded as an action figure – a rough, tough macho man that was promoted as the anti-Ken doll. The whole marketing campaign made it clear that G.I. Joes were toys for boys and it was hugely successful. The line was even licensed in Europe where it became the Action Man.

A few decades later, G.I. Joe is a huge franchise that also includes comics, video games, cartoons and a few recent Hollywood blockbusters. There is even a limited series line of real people who have been honored with their own G.I. Joe action figure.

9. Nerf Ball

Photo: Mike Mozart via Flickr

Photo: Mike Mozart via Flickr

Most kids grew up with a golden rule – “No playing ball in the house!” Let’s face it, that was a rule that was meant to be broken and toy companies knew this. That is why Parker Brothers introduced the Nerf ball in 1970 and promoted it as the world’s first indoor ball. It was made out of a special foam material that became known simply as Nerf.

By the end of its first year, Parker Brothers sold over 4 million Nerf balls. The original ball was quickly followed by a larger version, a Nerf basketball and a Nerf football that would go on to become the line’s best-seller. In the late 80s, the Nerf line underwent a major shift as it introduced Nerf Blasters. These were toy guns that shot Nerf darts and went on to become even more popular than the Nerf balls.

10. Stretch Armstrong

Photo: Alex Beattie

Photo: Alex Beattie

Billed as “the unbreakable toy”, Stretch Armstrong dared kids to do their worst – stretch it, squeeze it, twist it – it would soon be back to its original size without a scratch. Introduced in 1976, the Stretch Armstrong was an instant hit with children and parents which is why almost 70 different versions of the toy were released worldwide during its two-decade production time.

Despite its reputation, Stretch Armstrong could, in fact, be damaged and the original toy came with a booklet that told parents how to repair it. This is also why original Stretch Armstrongs in mint condition now command huge prices online.