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They’re the timeless toys that childhood memories are made of. Which one do you remember playing with? We’ve run through the decades to bring you the toys that have stood the test of time and where you can buy the original versions and their modern counterparts.
One of the biggest collectable fads of all time started in 1983 when the first line of Cabbage Patch Kids hit the shelves. Originally called “Little People”, the idea behind these dolls was that you adopted them, as each came packaged with a birth certificate and adoption paper. Today, the dolls have evolved as a brand with talking Cabbage Patch Kids, porcelain versions and a line of US presidential candidate kids available.
A perennial favourite that will no doubt remain on the top of the wish list for years to come, the Rubik’s Cube (originally called Magic Cube) was created in 1974 but wasn’t licenced for sale until 1980. Named after its Hungarian inventor, Ernö Rubik, it’s a puzzle that never ceases to amaze and amuse. Hours could be spent trying to solve it.
One of the oldest toys to survive to this day, the View-Master first made its entrance in 1939. It’s a special-format stereoscope that allows you to insert “reels” containing 3D pairs of small colour photographs on film. When viewed through the unit, the images would be seen in 3D. The View-Master is commonplace now, but it was fantastic back then.
No girl’s childhood would have been complete without Barbie. Creator Ruth Handler was inspired by her daughter, Barbara, playing with paper dolls and wanted to provide her with something a little more lasting. So Handler created the ultimate girl’s doll: Barbie. In its first year on shelves in 1959, it sold over 350,000 units. It’s estimated a billion Barbies have been purchased to date.
Top of every kid’s list in 2015 is a Star Wars action figure on the back of the new Star Wars movie, Episode VII. In other news, Star Wars action figures have been ruling toy stores since 1978. Between then and 1985 (following the hype of the first three movies) over 300 million Star Wars action figures were sold.
Still going gangbusters to this day (psst – everything is awesome) LEGO provides the building blocks of the past and of the future. There’s no stopping this toy, which has been around since 1953 and gone from being connectable building blocks to complex, branded, action figure toys. It even has its own movie. Awesome!
One of the more recent toys to hit the big time is the LeapPad. Developed in 1999, it’s a tablet computer and educational toy for children. In 2002, it became the bestselling toy in specialty stores in the US and has since developed to include LeapFrog learning books and cartridge add-ons. The latest in the line is the LeapPad Platinum.
Like Cabbage Patch Kids, Beanie Babies are a collectable that sparked a sensation worldwide. These stuffed toys were launched in November 1991 in the shape of nine cute and cuddly animals, but they didn’t enter factory production until 1994. Each Beanie runs on a limited quantity, increasing their collectability. In 1999, the company behind Beanie Babies, Ty, announced it would be ceasing production. However, a public vote kept the Beanie Babies on the market, and they are still produced today.
Mr Potato Head was invented in 1949 by George Lerner as a potato with grapes for eyes and carrots for a nose. By 1952, a toy version of Mr Potato Head was created. It was originally a “funny face kit” with body parts such as eyes, arms and legs that could be attached to vegetables, but it was upgraded to include a plastic potato body following complaints about rotting vegetables. Mr Potato Head was the first toy to have a commercial on television, and it made $4 million in its first year on store shelves.
Invented by a former NASA engineer (no joke), the Super Soaker is the ultimate water gun and a backyard favourite on searing hot days. It first went on sale in 1989 under the name “Power Drencher”, and it sold over 250 million units over 20 years. Were you one of the early adopters?
The Nerf “gun” is similar to the Super Soaker, but it releases foam bullets at breakneck speed instead of cold water, making it more appropriate during colder months. It was first released in 1992 and now has five sub-lines to its name including N-Strike, Dart Tag, Vortex, Zombie Strike and Rebelle.
Perhaps the world’s most beloved action toy, G.I. Joe is an action figure that needs no introduction. The “great American hero” entered our lives in 1964 representing four branches of the US armed forces. By 2014, over 400 million units had been sold. In 2003, it entered the National Toy Hall of Fame in New York. What a trooper.
While in a bar lending his ear to his friends’ complaints about their pets, advertising executive Gary Dahl came up with the perfect pet: a rock. The idea spiralled into a pet rock toy, which was marketed as a “real” pet and presented in a cardboard box with a hilarious instruction manual,The Care and Training of Your Pet Rock. In less than a year, Dahl became a millionaire… by selling rocks.
Although mostly popular in the USA, the Easy-Bake Oven was no less a trailblazer of its time. Using a simple incandescent light bulb as a heating element, it allowed kids to cook real food. Created in 1963, the oven came with packets of cake mix and small pans. Kids would combine the mix with water, pour it into the pans and bake them in the toy.
What was originally intended to be a synthetic rubber compound for use in World War II by the American Armed Forces slowly became a simply but amusing toy. After years of unsuccessfully pitching the product (then called Nutty Putty) to manufacturers, creator James Wright, finally convinced toy owner Ruth Fallgatter to sell it via her mail order catalogue. By 1950, it was renamed Silly Putty and packaged into the plastic eggshell containers it’s renowned for today.
The popular franchise has been keeping little ones enthralled in action play since the 1980s. Made of autobots that transform between cars and robots by twisting and turning certain parts, the brand has a TV series, a series of movies and more toys than you can poke a stick at.
Another favourite boy toy is the Hot Wheels brand of scale die-cast cars. These collectable beauties have been on the market since 1968, and over four billion cars across 800 different models have been sold so far. Playsets and ancillary items are also available.
Virtual artworks were created within minutes with the turn of two knobs using the Etch A Sketch. This battery-free plaything has been on Christmas wish lists since 1960, and millions of units have been sold.
*To be fair, the Etch A Sketch hasn’t changed much since its inception. On the upside, there’s this cool new gadget that does everything the Etch A Sketch does… and more.
When the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was released in the mid to late 1980s, it seemed like it was on every kid’s wish list. This 8-bit home video game console helped introduce the world to hot titles such as Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda. It has been so influential in the history of video gaming that IGN named it the single greatest video game console in 2009. Sadly, the NES was discontinued in 1995 (North America and Europe) and 2003 (Japan). Its name lives on in the Nintendo DS
Last but not least, a game that celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2015… Monopoly. The name is synonymous with the words “family board game”. There have been versions featuring chocolate, real money, Harry Potter and The Simpsons. It has been translated into 47 languages and has sold over 275 million copies, making it one of the world’s bestselling board games.
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