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.