It all started with a potato. Mr. Potato Head to be exact. In 1949 Mr. Potato Head ushered in the modern age of playthings by being the first TV commercial for a toy. History has never looked back. Below we've compiled a list of the fifteen best-selling toys in history and their TV commercials. Enjoy!
Barbie - 1959
Barbie launched in March 1959 by Mattel. American businesswoman Ruth Handler is credited with the doll's creation using a German doll called Bild Lilli as her inspiration.
Mattel has sold over a billion Barbie dolls, making it the company's largest and most profitable line. Barbie is the figurehead of a brand of Mattel dolls and accessories, including other family members and collectible dolls. For over fifty years Barbie has been a pop-culture icon and has been the subject of numerous controversies, often involving parodies.
Duncan Yo-Yo - 1932
In 1928, Pedro Flores, a Filipino immigrant to the United States, opened the Yo-yo Manufacturing Company in Santa Barbara, California. Within a year it employed 600 workers and produced 300,000 units daily.
Shortly thereafter, an entrepreneur named Donald F. Duncan recognized the potential of this new fad and purchased the Flores yo-yo Corporation and Yo-yo name in 1932.
In 1946, the Duncan Toys Company opened a yo-yo factory in Luck, Wisconsin. The Duncan yo-yo was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1999.
Easy Bake Oven - 1963
The Easy-Bake Oven is a working toy oven that Kenner introduced in 1963, and which Hasbro still manufactured as of late May 2017. The original toy used a pair of ordinary incandescent light bulbs as a heat source; current versions use a true heating element. Kenner sold 500,000 Easy-Bake Ovens in the first year of production. By 1997, more than 16 million Easy-Bake Ovens (in 11 models) had been sold.
Radio Flyer Wagon - 1917
Antonio Pasin started building wooden toy wagons in Chicago in 1917, selling them to area shops. As his business grew he named it the Liberty Coaster Company, named in honor of the Statue of Liberty. The demands for these original wooden wagons dubbed the "Liberty Coaster," quickly outpaced production. Incorporating the mass manufacturing techniques of the auto industry, Pasin began making metal wagons out of stamped steel in 1927. BTW, the photo is a postcard from the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. Also, their TV commercial is amazing.
Silly Putty - 1943
In 1949, toy store owner Ruth Fallgatter came across the putty. She contacted marketing consultant Peter C. L. Hodgson. The two decided to market the bouncing putty by selling it in a clear case. Although it sold well, Fallgatter did not pursue it further. However, Hodgson saw its potential.
Hodgson borrowed $147 to buy a batch of the putty to pack 1 oz portions into plastic eggs for $1, calling it Silly Putty. Initially, sales were poor, but after a New Yorker article mentioned it, Hodgson sold over 250,000 eggs of Silly Putty in three days. It was primarily targeted towards adults, but by 1955 the majority of its customers were children.
Transformers - 1984
The Transformers is a line of mecha toys produced by the Japanese company Takara and American toy company Hasbro. Initially a line of transforming mecha toys rebranded from Takara's Diaclone and Microman toylines, it spawned the Transformers media franchise.
GI Joe - 1964
Hasbro marketed the first G.I. Joe as a lifelike “action soldier,” consciously eschewing the word doll despite the fact that the original G.I. Joe was 12 inches (30 cm) tall, was poseable, and featured interchangeable outfits and accessories—all traits consistent with Mattel’s popular Barbie doll. G.I. Joe was at first a great commercial success, but sales declined as support for the Vietnam War waned. In 1969 Hasbro responded by reimagining “America’s Movable Fighting Man” as “G.I. Joe Adventure Teams.”
Hot Wheels - 1968
Hot Wheels is a brand of die-cast toy cars introduced by American toy maker Mattel in 1968. It was the primary competitor of Matchbox until 1997, when Mattel bought Tyco Toys, then-owner of Matchbox.
Etch-a-Sketch - 1960
The Etch-A-Sketch was introduced near the peak of the Baby Boom on 12 July 1960 for $2.99 (equivalent to $25 in 2018). It went on to sell 600,000 units that year and is one of the best-known toys of that era. In 1998, it was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame. The Toy Industry Association named Etch-A-Sketch to its Century of Toys List, a roll call commemorating the 100 most memorable and most creative toys of the 20th century. The Etch A Sketch has since sold over 100 million units worldwide.
Lego - 1958
Whether you built the tallest tower or the most complicated machinery, most children will play with Lego at some point in their lives. And from what we've gathered - adults love any excuse to get back to it!
Lego came to us from Denmark and gets its name from the words "leg godt" meaning "play well". Founded in 1932 it has been passed on from generation to generation for over 80 years. The modern Lego brick design was patented on 28 January 1958.
Mr. Potato Head - 1949
Mr. Potato Head was invented and developed by George Lerner in 1949, and first manufactured and distributed by Hasbro in 1952. Mr. Potato Head was the first toy advertised on television and has remained in production since its debut. The toy was originally produced as separate plastic parts with pushpins that could be stuck into a real potato or other vegetables. However, due to complaints regarding rotting vegetables and new government safety regulations, Hasbro began including a plastic potato body within the toy set in 1964.
Hula Hoop - 1958
The Hula Hoop is considered the first major fad toy in the sense that when sales were good, they were unheard-of-good, but once the public tired of the product, they plummeted. During that period (1958), the company sold more than 100 million Hula Hoops for $1.98 each. Now they’re back up to a respectable level.
Star Wars - 1977
The license for Star Wars action figures was offered in 1976 to the Mego Corporation, which was the leading company in action figures in the 1970s. Mego refused the offer and the license was subsequently picked up by Kenner.
Star Wars was the first film to successfully market toys based on the movie. In fact, they were so successful that George Lucas independently used the funds to finance the next two movie chapters, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
Rubik's Cube - 1974
The Rubik's cube was invented in 1974 by Erno Rubik, a Hungarian architect, who wanted a working model to help explain three-dimensional geometry. After designing the “magic cube” as he called it (twice the weight of the current toy), he realized he could not actually solve the puzzle.
Super Soaker - 1993
Former NASA engineer Lonnie Johnson invented the Super Soaker in 1993. The gun was a reinvention of the classic water gun and was the summer-fun equivalent of bringing a bazooka to a gunfight. The Super Soaker shot distances of up to 50 feet and completely changed the face of backyard water warfare. It has gone on to sell 250 million units with the number continuing to rise every year.