Who can forget the thrill we experienced of getting a new toy? Whether it was the trendy toy that year and really big deal or whether it was a dime store cheapie, there was nothing quite like it. Kids always love to play, but toys have changed quite a bit over the years. Here are 50 years of the most popular toys from 1930 to 1980.
1930 Charlotte Clark Mickey Mouse Doll
The small stuffed dolls were designed and produced by Charlotte Clark and her staff after the Walt Disney short “Steamboat Willie” was released to great accord. In true 1930s fashion, when demand exceeded production, patterns for mothers to make a Mickey for their children were released by Clark! What followed in the years after was a slew of merchandise on everything from notepads to watches to socks and everything in between.
1931 Finger Paint
Look at those wonderful polka dot smocks to keep the paint off their dresses. Before 1931, the concept of finger-painting was not well-known.
1932 Rockford Sock Monkey
This icon of American childhood would not have been possible without the Nelson Knitting Company, which created the first no-seam socks during the 19th century (in Rockford, Illinois). When copycat socks began to chip away at their business, a red heel was added in 1932 to assure customers that they were buying the original. As needs must during the Great Depression, mothers soon made use of this red heel as the mouth for an easy to make homemade toy that could be produced from a worn out sock. It was not until the 1950s that the Nelson Knitting Company acquired any kind of patent for a sock monkey, despite the fact that they had been including a pattern with each pair of Red Heel Rockfords for years.
1933 Kewpie Doll
1934 Buck Rogers Pocket Pistol
1935 Shirley Temple Doll
1936 Balsa Wood Model Sets
Balsa wood model kits were cheap to produce and this was a bonus for many families. Models continued to be popular, but in later years were often made of plastic or metal. This kit contains a mixture of metal and balsa pieces.
1937 Pedal Cars
A pedal car in 1937 would have cost a family about $15, which in today’s money would have been about $250. An extravagant gift even by today’s standards, pedal cars were most popular during the interwar period and were prominently featured in Sears catalogs every year during the Great Depression. The shortage of metal during WWII did more to harm sales than did the overall poverty of the Dust Bowl years.
1938 Red Ryder BB Gun
1939 Beach Ball
New innovations during the ’30s and during WWII meant that many new designs were being applied to children’s toys. However, in many cases the materials simply weren’t there. Metals and plastics were being used in the war effort and many new toys created during this time did not begin production until well after the war. It was a simpler time of pastel books, bright red fire engines, and a return to the homemade toys of the Great Depression.
1940 Bubble Wand
1942 Little Golden Books
1943 Pull Toy
As during the Great Depression, inexpensive or homemade toys once again became popular during WWII. Pull toys made of wood were cheaper than other kinds of toys and could be made at home, though they were consistently on offer from retailers year after year.
1944 Army Toys
These metal toys, often vehicles, were often made in the US Zone of Germany or in Occupied Japan. Calling on a long tradition of metal toys, these often had bright paint and some of them were wind-up. With the war over, a flood of inexpensive metal toys saturated the market.
1947 Toy Instruments
1948 Tinymite Radio
Crystal radio sets had been growing in popularity since the 1930s from a niche market to a new plaything that delivered a new hobby to many young children. Tinymite was one of the most popular in 1948.
With the war over, metals and plastics were, for the most part, again freely available for toy manufacturers. As the number of children born kept increasing, toy-makers churned out toy after toy to meet demand. While military toys were still in fashion, they often took a backseat to good old-fashioned cowboys, which were on TV nightly.
1950 Chatter Teeth
1951 View Master
Invented in 1939 and subsequently used for a toy and as a personal training device by the U.S. government, the View Master only began to achieve great success during the ’50s as a toy when images of Walt Disney characters were used in the slides. The brown and ivory Bakelite model was replaced in years later with the red plastic model.
1952 Mr. Potato Head
The original, as we all know, were facial features that got plugged into a real potato. This toy swept the nation and in 1964 the plastic spud was introduced: no more mashing mom’s taters before they were cooked or rotting veggies with faces.
1953 Whiffle Ball
1954 Pistol Set
With or without holsters, a toy pistol set was one of the most popular toys for boys during the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s. This commercial below is for the Shootin’ Shell, which fired safety shells, with “stick ’em caps.” This Mattel model was one of dozens or hundreds on the market, ranging from air bladder guns to noise makers to guns that fired cap rolls.
1955 Betsy Wetsy
Introduced in the 1940s, this dolls was at its height of success in the 1950s.
Everyone’s favorite childhood activity was invented by accident. Read about it here.
1957 Silly Putty
Marketed to kids in the early 1950s, the ration of silicone during the Korean War meant that it took a few years for production to reach numbers and for the trend to catch on. 1957 was the first year that a Silly Putty TV commercial aired on The Howdy Doody Show. Like Play-Doh, Silly Puuty was an accidental invention. Read about it here.
One of the most popular toys ever designed, Barbie changed the game for doll manufacturers and gave little girls a chance to experiment with fashion.
The ’60s were an exciting time for kids. New toys were being developed all the time and TV showed us what was on offer like never before. We had new electronic devices, brighter colors, and a huge number of characters to choose from. The kinds of toys available were becoming more diverse, as evidenced by the pocket-sized Hot Wheels and the plug-in Lite Brite.
Invented in the 1930s, it wasn’t until plastics were made consistently available that Legos took off in popularity. It’s hard today to imagine a child’s bedroom without these ubiquitous building blocks.
1962 Lincoln Logs
1963 Duncan Yo-yos
Launched in 1929, this brand of yo-yo got a resurgence after a series of advertising spots on TV like the one below.
1964 G.I. Joe
1965 Tonka Truck
Introduced in 1955, it was the dump truck model that debuted in 1965 which became the one of the best-selling toys of the 20th century.
1966 Sno-Cone Machine
1967 Little People
1968 Lite Brite
1969 Hot Wheels
During the ’70s there was an ever-expanding array of toy and game designs, thanks in large part to the development of new technologies, some of which could now be used in your own home! Still, there was a home-made quality to many of the toys, like Holly Hobbie and Shrinky Dinks.
1970 NERF Ball
The “Non-Expanding Recreational Foam” product that we’ve grown so accustomed to made its first appearance in 1970. No longer would a bad throw mean a sibling’s bloody nose. At last there was a ball you could throw inside!
1972 Dawn Dolls
1973 Shrinky Dinks
1974 Holly Hobbie
This character started out as a drawing for American Greetings, inspired by the traditional quilt character of Sunbonnet Sue. Once the doll was made, Holly Hobbie toys became some of the most popular for American girls. You can see her image on a ring below, but there were endless merchandising options with the beloved character. Everything from Easy Bake Ovens to alarm clocks to piggy banks could be bought with her patchwork image on them.
1976 Stretch Armstrong
1977 Paddington Bear
1978 Hungry Hungry Hippos
This was the game that changed how kids spend their time. While it was pricey and not every home had one, the video game console would become the way many kids and teens (and adults) spend their Saturday afternoons.
And one more for good measure!
1980 Rubik’s Cube