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By: Allie Townsend, TIME & Theodore Tan

Experience play that is ageless. Play that is full of life and spirit. From the old-fashioned to the contemporary, these playtoys capture the hearts and imaginations of children of all ages. Children use them to discover their identity, utilize their creativity, help their bodies to grow stronger, master the principle of cause and effect, explore relationships and improve their skills preparatory to adulthood.  Here are the 23 most influential toys that have reinforced lessons from our youth.

23) Jackstones – The game is said to have originated in ancient Rome, Greece, Egypt and dates back thousands of years ago in China, when the only playthings little boys and girls could use were materials found near their homes.  They collected small stones, animal bones and seashells and turned them into a game.  They tossed them in the air in a way similar to today’s version of the game.  An older adaptation uses five stone cubes made of clay, wood, ivory, bone, and other substances.  The game is usually played by two people.  Traditionally Jackstones are metal objects (bearing six tips at right angles to one another), four of which are usually rounded, with two opposite tips more pointed to ensure that the jacks are relatively easy to pick up. Required is a small rubber ball and a number of jacks which are scattered loosely into a play area where players take turn bouncing the ball off the ground, then picking up the jacks and catching the ball before it bounces for a second time. The Chinese martial arts is said to have influenced this ancient game when youngsters as early as four years old were trained to defend their villages from rogues and bandits.  The techniques used to improve the coordination and dexterity of the child’s hands in combat could still be seen in today’s children game of Jackstones. (T. Tan)

22) Children’s Tea Set – Children’s tea sets is a must for every child,” says the notable British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.  “ Tea set for children expands their minds into a world of imagination which is paramount to a child’s creative development.”  A tea set for a little girl’s tea party – where she can invite her friends, dolls or teddy bear – is just the ticket for a real or pretend children’s tea party. So keep your child buzzzzy practicing her good manners and how to be a good little hostess.  “Sit down with her (yes, you too Daddy) and share a spot of tea with your little princess for it will be a moment of a lifetime.” claims an advertising flier on tea sets sale at MACY’S in New York in the fall of 1948. (T. Tan)

21) The All-American Yo-Yo – Though its history can be traced back to nearly 500 B.C., the yo-yo didn’t find mainstream success until the late 1920s, when a young U.S. immigrant named Pedro Flores ignited an international craze. Born in the Philippines, Flores saw the toy’s potential in the U.S. after remembering its Filipino popularity. (It had received the name yoyo there hundreds of years before.) While working as a bellboy, Flores founded the Yo-yo Manufacturing Company in 1928. After selling handmade yo-yos to children around Los Angeles, he was able to secure financing to open a factory. Within a year, the company was producing 300,000 yo-yos a day, and Flores’ “Wonder Toy” achieved craze status in the U.S., with yo-yo contests popping up all over the country. The All-American Boy Retro Toy collectible Yoyos  (A. Townsend, TIME)

20) The Radio Flyer Little Red Wagon A 16-year-old Italian boy named Antonio Pasin was one of the millions who immigrated to America from Europe at the start of the 20th century. A skilled carpenter, Pasin headed to Chicago and began building little red wagons out of stamped metal. By 1923, he had saved enough money to create the Liberty Coaster Company, and he began mass-producing the wagon for just under $3. He named it the Radio Flyer in homage to two of his favorite inventions of the time: the radio and the airplane. The Original Little Red Wagon™ has become such a classic that the shape has been trademarked. It has been in continuous production for over 70 years, an American toy industry record. The Original Radio Flyer Little Red Wagon  (A. Townsend, TIME)

19) My First Magic Kit –  During a magic show which you probably saw for the very first time when you were five year old, you were thrilled at being chosen as the volunteer for the Miser’s Dream, a trick where the magician pulls tons of coins off your ear.  And you thought they were real.  Now you laugh a little at the idea of a boy standing in front of a mirror digging around in his ears for pocket change. Nevertheless, for any of us who saw a magic perform at that age, we knew exactly what it meant.  MAGIC – the five letter word that makes rabbits disappear, cats fly and girls sawed in half – illusions that happen in quick successions you feel your brain is going to explode trying to figure out how they are done.  And your most memorable birthday gift was your first magic kit and the prospect of being a star in your own show. Like you, there are dozens junior Houdinis born in every nook and cranny of urban America inspired by that same juvenile sense of awe. Magic Show Kit. (T. Tan)

18) Paper dolls are figures cut out of paper, with separate clothes that are usually held onto the dolls by folding tabs. They have been inexpensive children’s toys for almost two hundred years. Today, many artists are turning paper dolls into an art form.  Paper dolls have been used for advertising, appeared in magazines and newspapers and covered a variety of subjects and time periods. They have become highly sought-after collectibles especially as vintage paper dolls become rarer due to the limited lifespan of paper objects. Paper dolls are still being created today. Some flat plastic figures are similar to paper dolls, like Colorform figures and Flatsy Dolls. Paper dolls have regained popularity with young children featuring popular characters and celebrities.  Online and virtual paper dolls like KiSS, Stardolls and Doll makers also have a popular following, with users able to drag and drop images of clothes onto images of dolls or actual people. (T. Tan)

17) Chemistry Set A pioneer in educational toys, the A.C. Gilbert Co. released its chemistry set in 1923. Marketed solely to boys, the kit was designed to teach basic chemistry skills, but by today’s standards, it was nothing short of a homeland-security breach. (Experiment No. 1: Explosives.) Still, it received the highly regarded Good Housekeeping seal of approval, and Gilbert went on to sell millions of sets over the next 30 years. Eventually, even girls were acknowledged by the manufacturers — but only as aspiring assistants. Gilbert’s Lab Technician Set for Girls was released in the 1950s, cloaked in reassuring pink hues. It would be another 10 years until the gender barrier in kiddie chemistry was brought down and boys and girls were finally allowed to play scientist together. (A. Townsend, TIME)

16) The Classic Ride On Pedal Fire Truck The famous “sad face” pedal cars of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s inspired this metal pedal sedan. It was nick-named “sad-face” because of the front end, similar to a 1949 Oldsmobile, a 1949 Packard or a 1949 Buick — they look like an “upside-down” smile.  Flashing light, ringing bell, real ladders, pedals to make it go faster, and chrome, chrome and more chrome! Originally constructed to last for generations as an heirloom ride on vehicle, this flashy kid’s pedal car was made of heavy gauge steel to withstand years of active play. Pedal cars were first produced in the 1920s by five well known manufacturers: American National, Gendron, Steelcraft, Garton, and Toledo wheel. Deluxe pedal cars were bought by the wealthy in the 1920’s and 1930’s, making this American classic well remembered as a proverbial birthday or Christmas gift. No wonder, riding this fire truck is bringing infinite euphoria to any kid who has never stopped in amazement to watch a fire truck zoom by (or adult… admit it, some of you still do that.)  And since pedal cars of the 20’s, the 30’s and the 40’s play a great part of the American heritage, it’s only fitting that they are moved from sidewalks into our living rooms, boardroom, lobbies, cafes for decorating and display purposes.  They are nice to admire under the Christmas tree, in the dining room or in the hall. Wherever you place this classic piece of Americana, it will always attract the attention and become a focal point of conversation. The American Retro Classic Pedal Firetruck is available at fatbraintoys.com (T.Tan)

15) Legos In 1949, Danish carpenter Ole Christiansen created a set of interlocking red and white blocks, the first of what would go on to become Legos. It wasn’t until 1958 that the Lego company (its name derived from the Danish words for “play well”) patented the small bricks. The genius was in the simplicity of the unassuming blocks, which allowed children to create freely without limits and in nearly endless combinations. (Just six blocks could be combined in 102,981,500 different ways.) Popularity boomed, and to date, Lego has produced more than 320 billion single LEGO bricks — roughly 52 for each person on the planet. (A.Townsend, TIME)

14) The TEDCO Gyroscope. Wind the string, give it a pull, let your gravity-defying gyroscope go! Get set for an audience – the tricks quickly begin! When the gyroscope’s wheel is spun you can expect amazed onlookers. It’s ability to balance while spinning on a piece of string or hover sideways is counter-intuitive, and that’s what makes it so much fun!  Originally produced in 1917 and highly popular in the 1940s & 1950s, these gyroscope toys are critically acclaimed to be fun and educational.  The first functional marine gyrocompass was patented in 1907 by German inventor Herman Anschutz- Kaempfe. The American Elmer Sperry followed with his own design later that year, and other nations soon realized the military importance of the invention—in an age in which naval prowess was the most significant measure of military power—and created their own gyroscope industries.  In 1917, the Chandler Company of Indianapolis, Indiana, created the “Chandler gyroscope”, a toy gyroscope with a pull string and pedestal. Chandler continued to produce the toy until the company was purchased by TEDCO Inc. in 1982.  Gyroscopes are now used in aircraft position orientation, satellites, and many robotic applications of science. As toys, they are excellent devices for developing fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. The Original TEDCO Nostalgic Twin Pack Gyroscope can be ordered online at http://www.fatbraintoys.com) (T.Tan)

13) The Viewmaster We owe our love of handheld three-dimensional color slides to a photographer with a wild idea. In 1938, cameraman William Gruber was taking photographs of the Oregon Caves National Monument through two cameras strapped together. The idea? To produce new 3-D color slides for stereoscopes common in most 19th century drawing rooms. A chance encounter at the caves with Harold Graves, president of Sawyer’s Photographic Services, led the two to strike a deal. Together, they would produce the View-Master, a new way of viewing tourist attractions in America. The famous red device made its big debut at the 1939 New York World’s Fair and was sold through specialty photography stores. In 1951, Sawyer’s purchased Tru-Vue, the main competitor of View-Master. In addition to eliminating the main rival, the takeover also gave Sawyer’s Tru-Vue’s licensing rights to Walt Disney Studios.  Sawyer’s capitalized on the opportunity and produced numerous disks featuring Disney characters. The takeover would pay off further in 1955, with disks of the newly opened Disneyland. In 1966, Sawyer’s was acquired by the  General Aniline & Film (GAF) Corporation, and became a wholly owned subsidiary.  Under GAF’s ownership, View-Master disks began to feature fewer scenic and more child-friendly subjects, such as toys and cartoons. Several now classic television series were also featured on View-Master disks, such as Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, Star Trek, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Here’s Lucy, and The Beverly Hillbillies. From that point on, the View-Master became a beloved classic.  (A.Townsend, TIME & T.Tan)

12) The Etch A Sketch – There are rewards to turning knobs, drawing on your artistic or playful side and then turning it over to giving your classic Etch a Sketch a good clearing shake.  Spell your name, design buildings, create a landscape, make a self-portrait, pass it around the table and check the end result, keep it in the car for trips… The time you spend with Etch A Sketch provides you a refreshing outlet for fun. No age limits here. With simplistic, timeless design, no matter what your age – you still look cool carrying an Etch a Sketch.  The gadget was introduced near the peak of the Baby Boom, and is one of the best known toys of that generation. In 2003, the Toy Industry Association named Etch A Sketch to its Century of Toys List, a roll call commemorating the 100 most memorable and most creative toys of the 20th century. It remains popular to this day. The Etch A Sketch toy was invented in France in the late 1950s by André Cassagnes, in his basement. He called it “L’Ecran Magique”, the magic screen. In 1959, he took his drawing toy to the International Toy Fair in Nuremburg, Germany. The Ohio Art Company saw it but paid no interest in the toy. The second time Ohio Art saw the toy, they decided to gamble on the product. The Ohio Art Company launched the toy in the United States in time for the 1960 holiday season with the new name “Etch A Sketch”. The gamble paid off. It sold over 100 million units making it one of the popular household toys in America. (T.TAN)

11) Hula Hoop – The hoop gained international popularity in the late 1950s when a plastic version was successfully marketed by California’s Wham-O-toy company. In 1957, Richard Kneer and Arthur “Spud” Melin, starting with the idea of Australian bamboo “exercise hoops”, manufactured 42-inch hoops with Marlex plastic. With give-aways and national marketing and retailing, a fad was started in July, 1958; twenty-five million plastic hoops were sold in less than four months, and in two years sales reached more than 100 million units. Carlon Products Corporation was one of the first manufacturers of the hula hoop. During the 1950’s when the hula hoop craze swept the country, Carlon was producing more than 50,000 hula hoops per day. An early duration record for the hula hoop was set by 11-year-olds Paulette Robinson, Charles Beard and Patsy Jo Grigby in Jackson, Mississippi lasting 11 hours and 34 minutes (August, 1960). The event was sponsored by radio station WOKJ. 8-year-old Mary Jane Freeze, won a hooping endurance contest on 19 August 1976, by lasting 10 hours and 47 minutes. The current record is held by Bric Sorenson of the United States, who went 90 hours between April 2, and April 6, 1987.  Today, thanks to America’s physical-fitness and health consciousness program, the hula hoop is now widely used in calisthenics and aerobics classes.(T.Tan)

10) Barbie Doll – Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler created history’s most famous teenager after watching her daughter Barbara play with her paper dolls. In 1959, Handler decided to create a three-dimensional, grownup fashion doll for young girls to play with. She named the doll Barbie after her daughter; sales soared, making Barbie (and her vast collection of accessories) the best-selling fashion doll of all time. As the 1960s unfolded, criticism mounted of Barbie’s unrealistic body shape. And in recent years, talking Barbies have gotten flak for saying things like, “Math class is tough.” But as of late, Barbie has cleaned up her act, with a more realistic body shape, more modest clothing options and bolder career options, like doctor and computer engineer.  It is estimated that over a billion Barbie dolls have been sold worldwide in over 150 countries, with Mattel claiming that three Barbie dolls are sold every second. Barbie has become a cultural icon and has been given honors that are rare in the toy world. In 1974, a section of Times Square in New York City was renamed Barbie Boulevard for a week. In 1985, the artist Andy Warhol created a painting of Barbie. In 2009, Barbie celebrated her 50th birthday. The celebrations included a runway show in New York for the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. The event showcased fashions contributed by fifty well-known haute couturiers including Diane von Furstenberg, Vera Wang, Calvin Klein, Bob Mackie, and Christian Louboutin. (A.Townsend, TIME, & T.Tan)

9) The Kaleidoscope – The kaleidoscope was invented in 1814 by Sir David Brewster when he was conducting experiments on light polarization and was not patented until 2 years later. His initial design was a tube with pairs of mirrors at one end, pairs of translucent disks at the other, and beads between the two. Initially intended as a science tool, the kaleidoscope was later copied as a toy. Brewster later believed he would make money from this popular invention; however, a fault in the wording of his patent allowed others to copy his invention.  Since its invention in 1816, the Kaleidoscope as a toy is popular classic toy with kids and adults alike. Fascination with a myriad of colors and shapes moving in symphony just never grows old. Peek through this Classic Tin Kaleidoscope for a beautiful display of colors and patterns. Simply rotate the end and watch the explosions of color inside the tube change as you twist it. (T.Tan)

8 ) Pound Puppy – After 20 years on an assembly line in Ohio, Mike Bowling knew that to get his plush-pet idea off the ground, he needed to produce a variety of animals that were easily manufactured. Instead of a unique, complicated design for each toy, he opted for standard features that varied only in color. Pound Puppies were officially created in 1984, and though they were eventually purchased by Tonka, Bowling’s fledgling puppies had some appeal problems early on. Still, once the toys hit store shelves, they were a smash. Eventually, feline counterparts, Pound Pur-r-ries, were introduced and sold to (er, “adopted by”) children whose heartstrings were pulled by the sight of the poor creatures sadly hanging their heads from a cardboard doghouse. How could any child resist? (A.Townsend, TIME)

7) Matchbox Car – is a die cast toy brand introduced by Lesney Products in 1953 and currently owned by Mattel, Inc. The term Matchbox was given as the name to the original models as they were packed in boxes similar in style and size of a box of matches. The series became well known internationally that the Matchbox name was once widely used by the general publicas a generic trademark for all die cast toy cars. In the same year, Lesney released a miniature model of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation coach, the company’s first best seller. A few months later, company co-owner Jack Odell created an even smaller version of the coach for his daughter to take with her to school, as she was allowed to bring in only toys that could be tucked inside a matchbox. An entire series of tiny cars followed. Then to keep up with competition from Hot Wheels, Matchbox racing tracks were released in the 1970s, which resulted in the production of more tiny cars revered for their speed; they’re now hot collectors’ items. The buyout by Mattel in 1997 was greeted with considerable trepidation by the Matchbox collectors’ community. The rivalry between the Hot Wheels and Matchbox brands is not only a battle fought by the companies; collectors of each of the brands feel strongly about the qualities of their brand of choice. For the typical Matchbox collector, Hot Wheels are inferior in scaling and model choice, making Hot Wheels less desirable.  As with any other item dealing with transport, sport, or similar themes, it did not take long before Matchbox models became collectible items, with rabid followings, collectors’ meets, etc. Matchbox collecting has proven to be a truly international phenomenon in a scale unseen with the other major collectible brands. (A.Townsend, TIME & T.Tan)

6) Rubik’s Cube – Hungarian inventor Ernö Rubik created his first 3-D color-coded puzzle cube in the mid-1970s, but it wasn’t until the following decade that Rubik became a household name. After IDEAL imported the toy to the U.S. in 1980, it skyrocketed in popularity. Millions of kids and adults became obsessed with unscrambling the Rubik’s Cube’s colored squares. Because sides could be rotated on any axis, restoring the cube to its original color separation was incredibly difficult. International competitions are held each year for ultimate bragging rights of the quickest hands. The world’s most famous puzzle is the still the best selling puzzle of all time! Billions of combinations, only one solution. The Rubik’s Cube continues to challenge young and old alike. While it has 43 quintillion combinations, it can be solved in incredibly few moves. The unique turning action and simple color concept make the Cube the world’s #1 puzzle. (A.Townsend, TIME)

5) Star Wars Action Figures – The popularity of George Lucas’ Star Wars franchise surprised merchandisers, who were totally unprepared to supply the fanatic followers of the movie series. After Star Wars’ release in 1977, toymaker Kenner scrambled to throw together a line of toys. Puzzles and games were released to some success, but it was the first four action figures that really changed it all. Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Chewbacca and R2-D2 were miniaturized and sold to fans by the buckets. Eventually Han Solo, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader, C-3PO and others joined the group — and the ranks of the hottest toys on the market. Over 90 unique action figures were produced and sold from 1977 to 1985. Between 1977 and 1984, 300 million Star Wars action figures were sold; Kenner’s success motivated creators of other action-adventure movies to market their own action figure line. (A.Townsend, TIME)

4) Cabbage Patch Kids – Georgia native Xavier Roberts was a 21-year-old art-school student paying his way through college when he designed a doll with an unusual (and disproportionally shaped) head in 1976. At first calling them Little People dolls, Roberts created them using a traditional German fabric-sculpture art and eventually started his own company. After a TV appearance on the television show Real People in 1980, the dolls’ sales spiked, sending America’s kids into a “Gimme!” frenzy. Fearful of disappointing their young ones, parents camped outside toy stores during the Christmas season of 1983, determined to bag one of the coveted moppets. By New Year’s Day, more than 3 million Cabbage Patch Kids had been sold; the madness eventually inspired the 1996 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Jingle All the Way. The doll brand went on to become one of the most popular toy fads of the 80s and one of the longest-running doll franchises in America.(A.Townsend, TIME)

3) The Transformersis a line of toys produced by the American toy company Hasbro. The Transformers toyline was created from toy molds mostly produced by Japanese company Takara Tomy  (formerly Takara) in the toylines Diaclones and Microman. Other toy molds from other companies such as Bandai was used as well. In 1984, Hasbro bought the distribution rights to the molds and rebranded them as the Transformers for distribution in North America. Hasbro would go on to buy the entire toy line from Takara shortly after giving them sole ownership of the Transformers toy-line, branding rights, and copyrights, while in exchange, Takara was given the rights to produce the toys and the rights to distribute them in the Japanese market. The premise behind the Transformers toyline is that an individual toy’s parts can be shifted about to change it from a vehicle, a device, or an animal, to a robot action figure and back again. The taglines “More Than Meets The Eye” and “Robots In Disguise” reflect this ability. A live-action remake, directed by Michael Bay under the sponsorship of Steven Spielberg premiered on June 12, 2007 and opened in the North America on July 2, 2007. (T.Tan)

2) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle originated in an American comic book published by Mirage Studios in 1984 in Dover, New Hampshire. The concept arose from a humorous drawing sketched out by Kevin Eastman during a casual evening of brainstorming with his friend Peter Laird. Using money from a tax refund together with a loan from Eastman’s uncle, the young artists self-published a single issue comic intended to parody four of the most popular comics of the early 1980s: Marvel Comics’ Daredevil and New Mutants, Dave Sim’s Cerebus’ and Frank Miller’s Ronin. Much of the Turtles’ mainstream success began when a licensing agent, Mark Freedman, sought out Eastman and Laird to propose wider merchandising opportunities for the offbeat property. Development initiated with a creative team of companies and individuals: Jerry Sachs, ad man of Sachs-Finley Agency, brought together the animators at Murakami-Wolf-Swenson, headed by award-winning animator Fred Wolf. With the release of the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie in 1990, the demand for merchandise related to four oversize reptilian superheroes hit a palpable extreme. An action-figure line became instant classics in the toy world, with fringe products like Rock Turtles and Sewer Sports All-Stars proving that if it had a turtle on it, it would sell — no questions asked. (A.Townsend, TIME & T.Tan)

1) Furby – The main reason for the astonishing popularity of this furry animatronic creature is its apparent “intelligence” as reflected in its ability to develop language skills. Furbies communicate with one another via an infrared port located between their eyes. Furbies start out speaking entirely Furbish, a language with short words, simple syllables and various other sounds. They are programmed, however, to speak less and less Furbish and more and more English as they “grow”. There was a common misconception that they repeated words that were said around them. This belief most likely stemmed from the notion that Furby utters certain pre-programmed words or phrases more often by petting it whenever it said these words. As a result of this myth, several  intelligence agencies banned them from their offices. Dave Hampton and Caleb Chung spent nine months creating the Furby (in addition to nine months spent designing the toy). Early on, Tiger Electronics showed an interest in their interactive creatures, and Roger Schiffman bought the rights to it. Furby debut at the American International Toy Fair in 1998. Furbies originally retailed for about US$35, and upon release, Furbies flew off the shelves in toyshops. Catapulting demand for these toys during the 1998 holiday season drove the resale price over $100, and sometimes as high as several hundred dollars. Furbies sold for over $300 in newspapers and in auctions. In a sure display of the demand for the toy, parental battles, arguments, and fights increased rapidly as supplies dwindled. When retail supplies ran out, parents turned to the Internet where Furbies could be purchased for two, three, or more multiples of their retail price. During one 12-month period, a staggering 27 million Furby toys were sold. (T. Tan)


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