With all the thousands of hot new toys coming out every year, a lot of people have been wondering what the most popular toy in the world is. Is it dolls and action figures based on TV shows and movies? Maybe Dora the Explorer dolls or remote-control Wall-e robots? Surely the Nintendo Wii must be the most popular—right?
Actually, many parents would be surprised to learn that some of the most popular toys today have been around since they were kids. From Tonka Trucks to Play-Doh, the toys that were popular then remain so today, topping holiday wish-lists and generating millions of dollars in revenue.
Barbie Still Rules
No toy demonstrates this than the ever-popular Barbie doll, which was rated girls’ #1 most asked for toy last holiday season. Yet these dolls have been around since 1959, when a woman named Ruth Handler decided her daughter would have more fun with three-dimensional dolls than the paper dolls she was used to. Within a year, Barbie dolls became the highest-selling fashion doll in history.
And Barbie has really grown up over the years. She’s changed jobs hundreds of times, going from simply being a fashion model to a soccer player, dentist, paleontologist, firefighter, presidential candidate, and even fighter pilot. Today, Barbie dolls are sold in 140 countries and about two dolls are sold every second. Barbie dolls are so pervasive in American culture that 90% of American girls have owned at least one.
After seeing the enormous success that Barbie dolls enjoyed, toy creator Stan Weston came up with an idea for a similar toy marketed to boys. In 1963, GI Joe was born—the world’s first and still most popular action figure. Quickly becoming extremely popular both in the United States and elsewhere, GI Joes expanded into comic books, an animated TV series, video games, and more.
And who could forget lovable crazes like Cabbage Patch Kids? They became the must have toy of the mid-80’s, and sales peaked in 1985 at $600 million. But that figure pales in comparison to the mind-boggling sales of Ty Warner’s Beanie Babies. In the 90’s these adorable little animals managed to become both the hottest toy in America and a valuable collectors items, with single dolls selling for tens of thousands of dollars. All of this helped build a toy empire worth over $6 billion.
And LEGO is Solid
But the reigning champion of toys is one that has lasted much longer, delighting both kids and parents for over half a century. The British Association of Toy Retailers determined a “Toy of the Century,” and the winner was…drum roll please…LEGOs! Since the famous interlocking blocks were first manufactured in 1949, over 20,000,000,000 have been made per year—that’s more than 600 per second!
In addition to classic themes like the Wild West, space, and the arctic, LEGO has offered specialty sets based on Star Wars, Batman, Spongebob, and much more. Even today, Indiana Jones LEGOs are being offered in coordination with the release of the new movie.
In addition to strict standards of manufacturing and design, LEGOs have done plenty to stay ahead of the curve. In 2001, LEGO released its Bionicle line, marketed to a slightly older crowd, and many LEGO sets now come with complex parts such as motors, gears, lights, sensors, and cameras. Most impressively, the new LEGO Mindstorms sets are designed to be integrated with a personal computer and carry out complex tasks—sets like these are often used in advanced robotics competitions.
So although many toys today may enjoy brief bouts of popularity, it takes a lot to stand up to toy behemoths such as these.