Are you stuck trying to figure out what to give your children this holiday season?
Relax. Give them what they ask for, as long as it is age-appropriate, within your budget, and represents positive rather than negative values (e.g. don’t give video games or those toy guns which glorify violence). Or you can go a step farther by opting to give your children generational toys, toys that have passed the test of time.
The Toy Industry Association (TIA) has named most if not all of these toys to its Century of Toys List, a roll call commemorating the 100 most memorable and most creative toys of the 20th century. Fortunately these toys are still procurable, thanks to their manufacturers who believe that their products have brought great jubilation to both young and old alike. Here are 21 of the most popular classic toys and their stories that have made them legends in their own rights.
21) Monopoly (Classic Edition) is a board game published by Parker Brothers, a subsidiary of Hasbro. The objective of the game is based after the economic concept of monopoly, the domination of a market by a single entity. The Monopoly game board consists of 40 spaces containing 28 properties (22 colored streets, 4 railroads and two utilities), 3 Chance spaces, 3 Community Chest spaces, a Luxury Tax space, etc. In 1904, an American woman named Elizabeth (Lizzie) J. Magie Phillips created a game through which she hoped to be able to explain the single tax theory of Henry George and to illustrate the negative aspects of concentrating land in private monopolies). Ten years later, Charles Darrow presented his own version of Ms. Phillips’ Landlord’s Game, which he aptly called Monopoly, to Parker Brothers executives as well as to Milton Bradley. However, both manufacturers rejected the game. Attempting to produce the game on his own, Darrow hired a printer to make 5,000 sets for Wanamakers Department Store in Philadelphia in time for the 1934 holiday season. Once all 5,000 games had sold out, Parker Brothers re-approached Charles Darrow and struck a deal.
20) Original TEDCO Nostalgia Twin Pack 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. 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.
19) Children’s Tea Set – 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.” so claims an advertising flier for MACY’S in New York in the fall of 1948.
18) The All American Yoyo – 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.
17) Lego 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.
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 its front-end similarity to a 1949 Oldsmobile, a 1949 Packard or a 1949 Buick — like an “upside-down” smile. Originally constructed to last for generations, this flashy heirloom ride-on vehicle is 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 Wheels, making this piece of classic Americana well remembered as a proverbial birthday or Christmas treat to kids. No wonder, riding this fire truck will always bring infinite euphoria to any child who never stops in amazement watching 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, some owners have opted to move them from sidewalks into their living rooms, boardrooms, lobbies, cafes, galleries where people admire them as fascinating conversational pieces.
15) The Viewmaster We owe our love of handheld three-dimensional color slides to a photographer with a wild idea. When Harold Graves, president of Sawyer’s Photographic Services, went to the Oregon Caves National Monument in 1938, he saw fellow camera buff William Gruber using two cameras strapped together. Gruber explained that he planned to update the stereoscopes common in 19th-century drawing rooms by producing three-dimensional color slides and a new hand-held viewer. By the next morning, the two had made a deal to produce View-Master. They introduced their creation at the 1939 New York World’s Fair and then began selling it through specialty photography stores. Following the lead of its predecessor, the first reels presented views of scenic attractions around the country. In 1951, however, View-Master acquired its main competitor, film-strip production company Tru-Vue, and with it the stereo licensing rights to all Disney characters. Graves and Gruber hit the jackpot. View-Master began offering three-dimensional images of the brand new Disneyland amusement park and stills from Disney movies and television programs. Once sales exploded, View-Master offered slide reels of virtually every major kids’ show and motion picture. A number of different manufacturers have produced View-Master, including Tyco Toys and Fisher-Price.
14) 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. 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)
13) The Lionel Trains along with their orange and blue logos are classic American icons. For generations of American, Lionel is and will always be about train. Founded as an electrical novelties company in 1900, Lionel specialized in various products throughout its existence, but toy trains and model railroads were its main claim to fame. Lionel trains, produced from 1901 to 1969, drew admiration from model railroaders around the world for the durability and the authenticity of their detail. During its peak years, in the 1950s, the company sold $25 million worth of trains per year. Lionel’s first train, the Electric Express, was intended as a storefront display. Delivered in 1901, it ran on a brass track and was powered by a battery and a motor which its founder Joshua Lionel Cowen originally aimed to use in an electric fan. But Cowen hoped to capitalize on the public’s fascination with railroads and electricity to capture the public’s attention and direct it to promote the store. Members of the public started approaching store owners about buying the trains instead, prompting Lionel to begin making toy trains for the general public. Lionel ended up selling 12 of its original prototype. Today, Lionel Trains are legendary – an important part of American history and the legacy of finding a train set under a Christmas tree. Lionel remains the most enduring brand name associated with model trains in the United States.
12) 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. 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.
11) 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 with kids and adults alike. Fascination with a myriad of colors and shapes moving in symphony is just never outgrown. 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.
10) Raggedy Ann – One day in 1915, as the story goes, Johnny Gruelle’s daughter Marcella brought him an old rag doll. He drew a face on the worn fabric and called the doll Raggedy Ann. Gruelle, a cartoonist and illustrator, wrote a children’s book about Raggedy Ann in 1918. Publisher P. F. Volland arranged to sell Raggedy Ann dolls along with the books, and the tie-in between Gruelle’s Raggedy Ann Stories and the dolls proved a marketing hit. In 1920, Gruelle introduced the Raggedy Andy Stories. In them, when humans weren’t looking, Raggedy Ann and Andy came to life and embarked on many adventures. Gruelle averaged one new book each year for twenty years. The books and dolls have remained popular for the past century. Raggedy Ann entered the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2002. Her brother Raggedy Andy joined her in 2007. The dolls are reunited in this place of honor—where they belong, together of course, for always.
9) 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. 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.
8 ) 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.
7) 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 figures.
6) 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.
5) The Transformers is 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 were 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. To date, sales of Transformer toylines in Asia and the Americas have far exceeded the gross receipt of the movie worldwide including its sequel.
4) 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.
3) 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 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 us toddlers who were immensely mesmerized by the act of magic performed 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 head 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.
2) Kites – According to tradition, kites made of silk and bamboo first appeared in China some 3,000 years ago, but the earliest written account of kite flying is about 200 BC. A Chinese general used a kite to determine the distance his troops needed to tunnel under a city’s walls. Kite flying spread throughout Asia and became a national pastime in several countries. From Asia, kites continued to migrate to the rest of the world. In the English language, kites share their name with a graceful and colorful hawk. Though the aerodynamics of kites remain the same, the materials, shapes, and uses of kites have multiplied throughout the centuries. Ancient Chinese kites have given way to kites of paper, polyester, and rip-stop nylon. Flat kites with diamond or geometric shapes share the skies with intricate box kites and other three-dimensional forms and inflatable spar-less airfoils. Over the years, kites have advanced science, meteorology, building construction, and photography. Modern enthusiasts use kites for sports like hang-gliding and competitive kite fighting, and in traditional and national festivals. Other people use kites just for fun. Nothing sends the human spirit soaring so well as a colorful kite aloft in a gentle breeze.
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.