What Toys Were Popular In The 1950s?


This year classic toy designs are enjoying quite a renaissance. Parents are turning away from toys that they perceive as unsafe, or risqué, as well as expensive electronic toys, like Nintendo’s Wii game console. Especially popular right now are toys from the fifties. But it would be a stretch to call this a revival for these toys—many of them never went out style at all! Here are some of the most popular and beloved, both then and now.

Try an Ebay search for a huge selection of vintage toys. (Hint: try “1950s toys”)

Mr. Potato Head—Did you know that the Mr. Potato Head toy originally only came with the face pieces? Children were actually supposed to use a real potato! Even so, the toy enjoyed incredible success. Released in 1952, Mr. Potato Head was the first toy ever advertised on television, which lead to profits topping $4 million—that’s $30 billion by today’s standards! Still sells incredibly cheap to this very day.

The Hula Hoop—Though it’s one of the defining objects of the 1950’s, the exact origins of the Hula Hoop are unknown. They were used in various forms in ancient Greece, Egypt, and Australia, but were reinvented by the toy company Wham-o in 1957. The design was switched to plastic, and the company sold over 100 million within a year.

Frisbee—The very next year, Wham-O Toys hit it big again with the Frisbee, although this toy’s history is better documented. The Frisbee flying disc started in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where the Frisbie Pie Company delivered pies to several college campuses nearby. The students started tossing the empty pie tins around, and the Frisbee was born! Wham-O made the Frisbee plastic and more aerodynamic, coined the name, and made a fortune marketing the discs, which are still a staple at colleges everywhere. You can find a classic Frisbee for under $3 nowadays.

Silly Putty—Like a lot of great toys, Silly Putty was invented entirely by accident. The fortuitous mistake happened during WWII, as scientists did research into synthetic rubbers. One inventor developed a bouncing substance that would go on to become Silly Putty. Since then, this gooey putty has been used in stress-reduction and physical therapy, was used by Apollo astronauts to secure their tools in zero-gravity, and has found a number of unique household uses. Some got into the hands of toy store owner Ruth Fallgater, who marketed it in plastic eggs. The inexpensive toy became enormously popular worldwide and remains a toy classic, easily found at a reasonable price.

Play-Doh—This squishy toy was actually invented as a wallpaper cleaner. The inventor’s sister, however, started letting her kindergarten students use it in crafts as an alternative to harder and messier clay. Play-Doh, now owned by Hasbro, has sold over 900 million pounds, and the exact formula remains a secret to this day, though you can get a hold of a sample for yourself for less than $10.

Scrabble—Board games were also quite popular in the fifties. Scrabble was designed by architect Alfred Butts, who worked on several versions of the game before selling the idea, which was refined into the Scrabble we know and love. The game’s big break happened when the president of Macy’s, Jack Strauss, played the game on vacation. When he returned and found that the game was not sold in his stores, he placed a large order, and Scrabble quickly received national attention. Despite the controversy with new rules, the game still sells great and for less than you’d think.

Barbie Dolls—Of course, at the end of the fifties, the Barbie Doll came out, revolutionizing girls’ play time forever. Barbies became the highest selling fashion dolls in history within a year, and the dolls now sell more than two per second across the world. You can find everything Barbie at Amazon’s main Barbie page.

Also check out our post about the world’s most popular toys.


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    Cheryl Cole-3-24-ll

  2. I went to elementary school in Ma. in the 50’s and I remember playing a game in school that had minitture milk bottles, (plastic0 and little trucks. Does anyone remember this game or the name of it? Also trying to find a set of reading cards from the same time, that the student advanced by color. Certain colors were harder than others. I believe purple was up there. Anyone know the name of that system?

    Thanks for any help locating these items or at least the names of these items! Carroll

  3. carol, its not anyones fault that parents dont spend as much time with thier kids as they should. im 18, and my mom never really spent alot of time with me n my sisters, she was always working. some people actually dont have the option to spend all the time with kids, they are too busy trying to provide for us..

  4. Bill,
    I have a Jan Murray’s Treasure Hunt board game.
    I believe it is in good condition, and appears to have all the pieces. If you are interested, I can take pics and we can discuss pricing. Please send me an email.


  5. Sorry Bill, I looked around and couldn’t find anything that pointed me in the right direction. Good luck on your hunt! The title of the game never felt so relevant I bet.

  6. I am looking for the board game edition of “Treasure Hunt” that starred Jan Murray. If you don’t have it, please direct me to a site that does. “Treasure Hunt” was the 1st board that I owned. Thaks for your help!

  7. I think that is so sad with so many parents working now and NO time for their kids. I’m just so glad that my husband and I have chosen to do things the OLD Fashioned way with me at home. My 2 kids both love it and we ALL do family things on the weekend. My kids are allowed to have some Wii and movies but everything is MONITORED daily to make certain if they have any questions or comments, we are there to answer them. There are NO violent video games in the house at all and the computer is in the kitchen where we can ALWAYS keep an eye on what sights they are on. Today more than ever before we as Parents have got to do the job PROPERLY.

  8. Ah yes , Playdough , Frisbee and Mr Potato Head several nostalgic pieces of my past. Reminds me of a time when our childhood entertainment were simple and even educational.

    Nowadays kids are engrossed with console and online video games that tend to suck up hours of their days , its a little sad acutally.

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