It was hard to come up with a way to describe this era. Many of these are old, but just don’t have the same chops as the classic. They’re not retro either, though to some of older folks we might think they are. So let’s call it vintage - something that gets better with age. here we chose toys that were the beginning of bigger things to come whether it be new ways of thinking about play, or setting your house on fire.
Marx Playsets - c. 1950
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Marx produced toy playsets that included figures, buildings, and related accessories such as animals, trees, wagons, and furniture. Each playset was created around a theme, such as a farm, an airport, a gas station, or a military base. One of the earliest and most popular themes was the American wild west; Civil War sets were introduced later and also were big sellers. The popularity of these playsets among children resulted in a "Golden Era of Playsets" that continued into the 1970s.
Chemistry Sets - 1920
In the 1920s, Alfred Carlton Gilbert, the inventor who struck big with the Erector Set in 1913, caught on to the trend and expanded his toy business to include selling science. With two major makers competing for customers, the chemistry set was poised for takeoff. The Porter Chemical Company and A. C. Gilbert spent decades vying for customers with ads in kids’ and science magazines, marketing their kits as a path to a future career in chemistry.
Tin Robot - 1943
Metal House was founded as Marumiya in 1943; the company has produced some well-known tin toys. Especially familiar to collectors of battery-operated tin toy robots, the firm originally operated as a subcontractor producing toys for some of the most prolific Japanese toy companies such as Horikawa, Nomura, and Yonezawa during the post World War II heyday of tin toys. even the Louis Marx toy company got in on the craze in the 1950s producing such fantastic American-made robots like Big Loo and The Great Garloo.
Walkie Talkie - 1940
The first device to be widely nicknamed a "walkie-talkie" was developed by the US military during World War II, the backpacked Motorola SCR-300. It was created by an engineering team in 1940 at the Galvin Manufacturing Company (forerunner of Motorola).
Wood Burning Set - c. 1950
Rapco Toys, a company known for often crossing the line of safety in the name of fun, created craft and metal toys from the 1930s until the 1980s. Early craft toys emphasized family participation and were targeted to all ages. Rapco's woodburning set was one of the banned toys when the Toy Safety Act was introduced in 1971.
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.
Already $12,000 in debt, 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. Initially, it was primarily targeted towards adults. However, by 1955, the majority of its customers were children. In 1957, Hodgson produced the first commercial for Silly Putty, which aired during the Howdy Doody Show.
Silly Putty is the fifth best selling toy in history.
Ballerina Jewelry Box - c. 1950
For little girls, dancers and non-dancers, ballerina music boxes are a staple of a childhood dresser. Many children covet one of the pretty pink ballerina boxes that they see at their friends' houses. If you know a little dancer or a little girl who likes pretty and pink, a musical ballet box may be a great gift.
Colorforms - 1951
The Colorforms concept was developed by Harry and Patricia Kislevitz in 1951, firmly rooted in the Modernist design ethos and reflecting the Color Field abstract style prevalent at the time. Sets initially featured basic geometric shapes and bright primary colors on black or white backgrounds. Eventually, the Colorforms line evolved to include full-color illustrated playsets, games and puzzles, interactive books and creative activity sets. The licensing of media properties related to contemporary pop culture became integral to the product's success. Since its inception, more than a billion Colorforms playsets have been produced and sold.
Chatty Cathy - 1959
Chatty Cathy was a pull string "talking" doll manufactured by the Mattel toy company from 1959 to 1965. The doll was first released in stores and appeared in television commercials beginning in 1960, with a suggested retail price of $18.00, but catalog advertisements usually priced the doll under $10.00. Chatty Cathy was on the market for six years and was the second most popular doll of the 1960s after Barbie (also made by Mattel).
Table Top Hockey - 1932
Table hockey was invented in 1932, by Canadian Donald H. Munro Sr. Don. Like many Canadians during the depression, he was short of cash for Christmas presents for his wife and three young children. That year, the family all pitched in and made the first table hockey game. This mechanical game was built out of scrap wood and metal and included used coat hanger wire, butcher's twine, and clock springs. Unlike current games, the game looked more like an early pinball game, with one key difference: this was a two-player game. The players controlled levers for the goalie and flippers for the players. A traveling salesman noticed the game and encouraged Don to take it to the local department store. Don did and the first game went in on a consignment deal. By the time Mr. Munro got home, the game was sold and more orders were placed.
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.
The Yo-yo is the second best selling toy in history.
Slot Cars - 1957
Though they were invented in 1957 by Minimodels of England, the slot car craze was largely a US phenomenon dominated by Aurora Plastics Corp. In 1963 after a million and a half cars had been produced and sold, Aurora replaced the trouble-prone vibrator cars currently on the market with an innovative "pancake" motor, creating what is probably the best-selling slot car in history, the Aurora Thunderjet-500. The Thunderjets and their improved versions, the AFX, sold in the tens of millions, completely dominating the HO slot car market for almost a decade until challenged by the Tyco cars in the early 1970s.
Fisher-Price - 1931
Founded in 1930, early Fisher-Price toys were made of heavy steel parts and ponderosa pine, which resisted splintering and held up well to heavy use. The details and charm were added with colorful lithographic labels. Margaret Evans-Price, one of the founders, was the first Art Director and designed push-pull toys for the opening line, based on characters from her children's books.
Wooly Willy - 1955
Priced at US$0.29, Wooly Willy was successfully launched on the market in 1955. A buyer for G. C. Murphy dime store chain initially purchased six dozen of the toy and expected not to sell them for a year. The buyer called Herzog just two days later and ordered a dozen thousand for nationwide distribution. F. W. Woolworth Company also distributed the toy. More than 75 million Wooly Willies have been sold.
Satellite Jump Shoes - 1954
Rapco Toys, a company known for often crossing the line of safety in the name of fun, created Satellite Jump Shoes in the late 1950s. After consumer complaints of injuries, the shoes were updated with more ankle support, but it really didn't help much. These jump shoes have waxed and waned in popularity through the 20th century and made a comeback in the 1990s as Moon Shoes.
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.
The Hula Hoop is the twelfth best selling toy in history.