Toys of Christmas Past
Image by brizzle born and bred
Did you know that toys and games have been part of childhood for thousands of years? As early as 4000 B.C. (before Christ), games became a source of entertainment. At that time, people of Babylon played a game that preceded the present day game of chess.
4000 BC – A Babylonian game, which is the ancestor of modern draughts begins to be played
3000 BC – First Game resembling modern Backgammon is played in Sumeria.
2000 BC – Stone marbles first used in Egypt.
1000 BC – Kites appear in China. Stone Yo-Yos begin to be used in Greece
600 BC – An ancestor of chess called ‘Chaturanga’ is played in India.
1759 – Roller skates are invented by Joseph Merlin.
Victorian Era – Victorian children had fewer toys than you have today. Poor Children – Poor families made their own, such as cloth-peg dolls and paper windmills. Children would save their pocket money to buy marbles, a spinning top, skipping ropes, kites or cheap wooden toys.
Rich Children had rocking horses with real horse hair manes, and dolls houses full of beautifully-carved miniature furniture. Other popular toys for rich children included china or wax dolls for the girls and clockwork train sets for the boys. Girls played with dolls and tea sets whilst boys played with toy soldiers and marbles.
During Victorian times, people became fascinated by toys that made pictures move. One of the earliest and simplest of these was the thaumatrope. This is a disc with a picture on either side that is attached to two pieces of string or a stick. When you spin the disc quickly, the two pictures appear to combine into one.
1901 – Meccano goes on sale in the UK. Invented by Frank Hornby in Liverpool, it captures the spirit of the age with a challenging construction toy. One of the century’s leading toy makers and creator of Hornby train sets (1920, and see 1925) and Dinky Toys, Hornby died in 1936.
1902 – In the USA, the Teddy Bear is created by a Russian emigrants Morris MiTchtom who had seen a report of US President Teddy Roosevelt who declined to shoot a bear cub while out hunting. Clifford Berryman’s celebrated newspaper cartoon captured this moment and Mitchcom launched his range of "Teddy" bears in his Brooklyn shop. German toymaker, Margarete Steiff began making jointed toy animals including bears, and they were also able to cash in on the teddy bear craze in the USA, which spread worldwide.
1903 – Edwin Binney & Harold Smith patent the first ‘Crayola’ crayons.
1908 – Plasticine goes on sale.
1909 – Kewpie Doll-devised by Rosi O’Neill patented in 1935
1910 – Daisy Air Rifles go on sale.
1914 – Tinker Toys – interlocking construction toy.
1914 – Frank Hornby manufactures ‘0 Gauge’ Clockwork model trains
1925 – The first electric ‘Hornby’ train appears..Hornby produce the first electric train sets in the world.
1928 – Mickey Mouse is created by Walt Disney. The licensed toy is born. Dolls from 1930
1929 – Duncan Yo-Yo’s are first launched in Los Angeles when Frank Duncan saw waiters from the Philippines playing with their tradit-ional Yo-Yo. It can be traced back to Ancient Greece – in the Philippines it was a weapon (like a boomerang) for hunting and war until later it became a sporting item then later a plaything. In 1930 Frank Duncan brought over demonstrators to Europe to play the music halls – and the craze took off.
1930 – Charlotte Cla in the USA starts making Micky Mouse dolls based on the first Disney cartoon first screened in 1928.
1932 – US architect, Alfred Butt begins work on what will become the board game, Scrabble. He calls it Lexico. (See 1940) In Denmark, Ole Kirk Christiansen started his Lego toy company. Lego means ‘play well’ in Danish. (leg godt). Later he discovered Lego in Latin means ‘to put together’.
1934 – Corgi starts to manufacture toy cars and other models. In 1965 their model Aston Martin from the first James Bond film became the very first BATR Toy of the Year.
1935 – Monopoly arrives in the UK. Invented in the USA by Charles Darrow in 1933, patent filed 31st August 1935 while on sale in America. It was made under licence in the UK by Waddingtons. Darrow died in 1967.
1935 – Minibrix made by the Premo Rubber Co. using the studs and cavity device which paved the way for plastic interlocking bricks pioneered by Hilary Page in the 1940s.
1943 – Richard James, researching a suspension device develops the Slinky. It goes on sale in 1945.
1948 – Criss Cross Words invented by Alfred Butt (originally Lexico) fails to sell well and is sold to James Brunot who changes the name to Scrabble. Sales average just 8,000, but from 1953 – 55 it suddenly takes off – sales reach 4.5million sets.
1949 – Leeds-based Waddington’s produces mystery board-game, Cluedo. This year (1999) it celebrated its 50th birthday.
1949 – Ole Christiansen, invents Lego bricks. Just six bricks will fit together in 102,981,500 ways !
1950 – Disney’s latest release, Cinderella, spawns toy products. Meanwhile, Disney was telling the toy industry to gear up for their next full-length cartoon, Alice in Wonderland, out in 1951. Popular Toys: a wind-up Cinderella dancing doll (with Prince) and Palitoy’s Archie Andrew Ventro Doll…Minibrix, ‘the world’s finest toys’ from Dean & Son, Flying Saucer from Cascelloid, Electric Contact Quiz – ‘lights up your party – mysterious, unique, amusing’ – claims the makers, Spears. Other events: First Toy Fair in Harrogate. First meeting of the NATR – the toy retailers association.
1951 – best selling toys: Alice (from Alice in Wonderland film), Talking Eggs from Selcol with a crank-handle to make Humpty Dumpty squeak (6/9d) – about 32p…Muffin the Mule push-along toy by Kohnstam…Kiddicraft’s ‘Sensible’ range of cot and pram toys designed by Hilary Page.
1951 – A Muffin The Mule push-along toy is the best seller this year.
1952 – Mr Potato Head is launched. Jack O’dell creates the first Matchbox car.
1952 – Popular toys: Crazy Ball from Louis Marx…Negro dolls from Pedigree called Mary Lou and Dixie…Flop: Loopo, a game with a ball and small hand-held loop promoted as ‘the sensation of the year’…Lines Brothers, Britain’s largest toymaker celebrated its 70th birthday…
1953 – A ‘Little Princess’ doll designed by Norman Hartnell is launched to celebrate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
1953 – Pedigree launch dolls with ‘flesh-like’ vinyl plastic heads with ‘hair that grows out of their heads!’ using a "Angela, the doll with magic flesh" – it also has ‘sleeping’ eyes and lashes. Another pedigree doll out this Coronation year, is Little Princess dressed by Norman Hartnell…retailers read for the first time that out-of-town shopping centres are being tried out in the USA…Dean’s Rag Books are 50 years old…New Toys: Flower pot Men based on the TV series. Wembley – the football board game, Keywords (from Waddingtons) which has some similarities to Scrabble. Novelty Toys: Atom Bomber with A-bombs with automatic releases, and Slinky, the toy that slithers down steps – still a big seller to this day.
1954 – Sooty appears on TV and turns out to be an actual Chad Valley glove puppet…sales soar. The British Toy & Hobby Association hold their first Toy Fair in Brighton. New Toys: Dan Dare Rota Spinner for the beach…and at Christmas: Matchbox vehicles, Painting By Numbers. Scrabble arrives.
1955 – Scrabble sold in the UK by Spears begins to grow in popularity. Scoop from Waddingtons challenges.
1956 – New Game: Beat the Clock (Spears) based on the game on TV’s Sunday Night at the Palladium…Flops: New Footy Table Soccer as recommended by Stanley Matthews, and Newcrikit , recommended by Freddie Trueman…the Corgi Model Club formed…Triang T-T Gauge trains launched…Radio comedian (and chairman of Chad Valley) Kenneth Horne is seen on TV trying out the new Rise’n’Shine shaving kit and beauty shop – the first seen on TV…and the launch of the sputnik inspires the Bleep Bleep satellite toy.
1956 – A Mr B. Francis puts small electric motors in his scale models of cars and ‘Scalectrix’ is born.
1957 – Combex brings out the Sooty toothbrush flute…and following the Disney film’s release, a rash of Davy Crockett hats and toys.
1958 – New: The Hula – Hoop arrives! 20 million sold in the first year. Scalextric electric model racing first introduced…but whatever happened to Pictorama which can create 14 million different combinations of pictures? It’s the 50th birthday for Plasticine…and Frisbees (invented 1957 at the Frisbee Pie Factory) compete for attention.
1959 – Barbie is created by Ruth Handler, and is named after her daughter Barbara.
1959 – Stanley Matthews endorses Frido playballs. Selling well: Matchbox’s Scammel Breakdown truck, Board Games: Careers, and Wack-O (based on Jimmy Edward’s TV series)
1960 – For the first time, the Brighton Toy Fair allows imported toys to be shown. The craze that swept France, Loopyloop is predicted to sweep Britain…it doesn’t…Lego is seen at the Toy Fair for the first time…plastic kits dominate the market and toy market (at retail) is worth £85m through 11,000 outlets.
1961 – A mini-boom in costume dolls…Airfix launch their Betta Bilda sets at 10 shillings each (50p)…Fuzzyfelt bring out Noddy finger puppets, Scalextrics slot car racing sets, and trains are amongst this year’s top sellers.
1962 – Tipped as the craze of the year, Airtoy’s Spinning Satellite…it isn’t. Dinky launch Ford Fairlane, Corgi offer a model Silverstone with pit stops, Chad Valley launches the Give-a-show projector…Barbie and boy friend Ken impress US market…the Pogo stick is fun again…and Dinky’s First Engine is the first ever with flashing lights.
1963 – The board game, Diplomacy arrives…Matchbox offer cars with doors that open…and there is ‘the greatest money spinner ever from Frido’ – Disky Discs and goal posts to play ‘1-dimensional football’.
1964 – The latest craze: Booma Boomerang, Corgi is 30 years old and celebrates by introducing Corgi Classics…Diana Dors promotes the Trolls.
1965 – Dr Who and the Daleks on TV and toys available this Christmas…the James Bond Aston Martin Car is the big seller and will be the first ever Toy of the Year (to be announced as it will be in future in January of the following year at the NATR Dinner). Waddington’s launch Spyring board game, and the Noise Abatement Society complains about the V-rroom roar maker fitted to bicycles…the Gonks arrive to challenge Trolls…Denys Fisher launch the Spirograph. Craze that never was – Nik Nok – cup and ball game.
1965 – The James Bond Aston Martin from Corgi is the most popular toys this year. A version of the toy is still on sale today.
1966 – Action Man, the first ‘Doll For Boys’ is launched and is a massive success. Toy of the year this year will be Action Man – causing a sensation as the first doll for boys…for girls there is Tiny Tears. To rival Action man, Pedigree launch Tommy Gunn. Another craze that never was: Ippy Op – ball come skipping rope…but party game, Twister is a success.
1967 – Spiro-Graph is toy of the year. Rolf Harris Stylophone (Musical toy with a strangely annoying pitch. Apparently invented by accident the Stylophone enjoys cult popularity among musicians and has been used by bands as diverse as David Bowie and Blur.
1968 – Sindy is top doll and will win Toy of the Year. Ride-a-Roo ball is launched, as are Joe 90 products, Beatles’s Yellow Submarine, and the Go Car game which includes a breathalyser test as a hazard. Other new products: a multi-cube game called Instant Insanity and Glow-Globs, modelling compound that glows in the dark, and paintwheels.
1969 – Hot Wheels cars will win Toy of the Year. The Newton’s Cradle (Klikkies) sells well…but Tic Tac Tosser has a shorter life.
1970 – Sindy wins Toy of the Year for a second time…the NATR launches their Toy Token scheme…"The computer is becoming such an important part of our lives that a mini-computer for kids is in the office"…Super markets begin selling toys, and Matchbox makes 900 redundant.
1971 – Space Hoppers, inflatable orange bouncers with horns for handles. Klackers, a modernised version of conkers that made a very annoying ‘Klick Klack’ sound and lead to dozens of imitations. Katie Kopycat writing doll wins Toy of the Year. The giant Lines Brothers collapses, the arrival of Space Hopper, Craze of the year Clackers or Klik Klaks – first seen on Spanish beaches. Fun Bubbles sell over 7 million in first year.
1972 – Plasticraft modelling kits win Toy of the Year.
1973 – The first Game of the Year – Invicta’s Mastermind…a shortage of plastic causes problems…children’s pocket money averages 9p. New dolls: Disco Girl, Chelsea Girl, Daisy. Toy guns concern when gunmen using toy guns are shot dead by police outside India House.
1973 – Mastermind, a game that had nothing to do with the TV show and everything to do with cracking the code of your opponents coloured plastic pegs.
1974 – Magna Doodle. The magnetic drawing toy which was invented in Japan by pen engineers trying to create a clean mess free chalk.
1975 – Wombles. Womblemania hit the UK and Womble toys where everywhere.
1976 – Raw Power. A handle that you added to your bike and ‘revved’ to create the sound of an engine.
1977 – Slime, a bright green PVA based blob that came in little plastic pots and ruined many a households soft furnishings! Othello, the strategy game of Black & White counters. Holly Hobbie, dolls based on the popular character. Skateboards, 1977 saw the high point of the 1970’s skate craze and featured thin ‘surfboard’ style boards.
1978 – Star Wars, after the release of the movie the previous year the toys soon followed and became one of the most successful movie licenced properties of all time, the toys dominated toy shops until the middle 1980’s when their popularity waned. Simon, the electronic game where you followed a sequence of lights and sounds before you threw it across the room in sheer frustration!
1979 – Space Lego, the humble building brick went where no man had gone before. Stop Boris, a game where you stopped Boris, a creepy spider, with a light gun.
1980 – Rubiks Cube, invented by Hungarian designer Erno Rubik over 100 million of these tricky little puzzles were sold between 1980 and 1982.
1981 – Lego Train. Lego launches their first electric ‘train set’ which featured strangely enough blue rails!
1982 – BMX Bikes, everybody went BMX crazy, BMX is short for Bicycle Motocross. ZX Spectrum, the first ‘affordable’ home gaming computer arrived in UK households.
1983 – My Little Pony, based on an Animated TV series there was an entire world of small plastic horses and accessories to collect. My Little Pony went on to become one of the most successful girls toy concepts of all time. Boys did not miss out this year as they got He Man & The Masters Of The Universe which followed the same based on animation format and became one of the most successful boys toy concepts of all time.
1984 – Care Bears. Following the successful ‘toys from an animated series’ format from the previous year the Care Bears arrived from Care-a-Lot. Shortly before Christmas Cabbage Patch Kids, created by artist Xavier Roberts also arrived and created chaos in toy shops across the land as parent competed to buy one of the sought after dolls. The Board game Trivial Pursuit was the best selling board game in 1984 and dolls based on popular Pop Stars Michael Jackson and Boy George was also big hits.
1985 – Transformers, robots in disguise. These ‘action figures’, which transformed from vehicle to robot and back, again confounded parents and delighted children. Optimus Prime was THE toy to have in 1985 and lead to huge shortages of product.
1986 – In this World Cup year the playground graze was Panini Football stickers. If you managed to complete an album you were a playground hero.
1987 – Sylvanian Families, a range of cute and cuddly animals with play-sets and vehicles. Rubiks Magic, a follow up to the Rubiks Cube.
1988 – Ghostbusters, based on the popular movie and animated series, children across the land strapped on ‘proton packs’ and set out to capture ghosts. Slimer, one of the lead characters was also a firm favourite in toy shops, along with the vehicle Ecto-1.
1989 – Another hit movie, another toy shop success. The Tim Burton movie ‘Batman’ breathed new life into an old favourite and Batmania swept the UK.
1990 – Donatello, Michelangelo, Leonardo and Raphael, the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles arrived in toy shops and where an immediate hit. Originating in the US from a comic book the original word ‘Ninja’ in the title was replaced with ‘Hero’ in the UK for fears that it would violent connotations with parents.
1991 – Nintendo launched Game Boy in the UK.
1992 – Thunderbirds enjoyed a re-birth this year and dads of a certain age across the land re-lived there childhoods with their children. Shortages of the most popular toy, Tracey Island were so severe that Blue Peter ran an episode where the showed you how to make your own….
1993 – Power Rangers, the TV show arrived on our screens and children’s TV has not been the same since. Toys based on the show sold out immediately.
1994 – Magic Eye Pictures were all the rage and toys and puzzles featuring these pictures within pictures prompted even more people to ask ‘can you see it?’
1995 – POGS, small cardboard disks stormed into playgrounds and became a huge craze. Star Wars toys start production again after a short hiatus, 1970’s kids are now adults and collect the toys out of nostalgia but a new generation of kids also embraces the saga.
1996 – Toy Story, the animated film from Pixar was a huge hit in the cinema and toys from the movie were more than elusive. Parents went to desperate measures to secure a Buzz Lightyear doll. The rights to produce toys from the film went to a small independent Canadian toy company who simply could not cope with the demand. Why? Because all of the major toy manufacturers turned down the chance to make Toy Story merchandise, as they felt that the movie would never catch on. Corinthian figures, small figurines of football stars with oversized heads were the hot collectible and equally popular with adults and child collectors.
1997 – The year of T, Teletubbies, Tamagotchi and TY Beanie Babies are toy shop best sellers.
1998 – The humble Yo Yo returns as the craze of the year, after last being seen in the 1950’s and the 1970’s. The ProYo II is the Yo Yo of choice. Just before Christmas the interactive pet, Furby arrives in toy shops.
1999 – A board game based on the hit TV quiz show ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ is the best selling board game. Toys and games based on Pokemon the Nintendo game prove to be quite popular. The firm favourite are the trading cards hundreds of millions of which are sold, swapped and traded across the globe.
2000 – Robotic Pets and Aluminium Folding Scooters are this year crazes. They are also accompanied by another familiar face, The Thunderbirds return again and Tracey Island is another Christmas best seller.
2001 – Bob The Builder toys are big hits, Folding Scooters continue to be the must have accessory for both kids and style guru’s alike. Closely followed by Pogo Sticks which enjoyed a resurgence of interest this year.
2002 – Bratz Dolls, steal some of Barbie’s position as top fashion doll, a place she has held since she was born in 1959. Beyblades, customizable spinning tops and Micropets, miniature robotic pets are the favourite crazes
2003 – Beyblades continue to be the playground craze closely followed by Yucky Yo Balls, fluid filled stretchy balls on an elastic string. However Yucky Yo Balls are swiftly banned by the government over safety fears. This is the first time that the government has banned a toy in over 10 years.
2004 – Toy of the Year ‘Terrain Twister’ radio controlled vehicle.
2005 – Fisher-Price top-selling Dora’s Talking House"
2006 – The overall winner of the title Toy Of The Year 2006 was awarded to the Dr Who Cyberman Voice Changer Mask. This Voice Changer is a replica Cyberhead that will give you a robotic voice. It features speech, sound effects and lights! It has 3 play buttons, one that plays Cyberman phrases, one that changes your voice into that of the Cybermen and one with Cyber weapon sound effects.
2007 – The Toy of the Year Award was given to Blanket Time Iggle Piggle Dancing Soft Toy, from the massively popular ‘In The Night Garden’. Boys Toy of the year was chosen as the Ben 10 Omnitrix FX, which is like a wrist watch which transform Ben into different alien superheroes.
2008 – Toy of the Year Ben 10 Action figures 10" and 15" – Pre School Toy of the Year Kidizoom camera, Vtech – Collectable toy of the Year Go Go Crazy Bones – Construction toy of the year is Lego – Girls range toy of the year is Sylvanian families. – Boys range of the year is Ben 10, Bandai – Girls toy of the year is FurReal Biscuit my lovin’ pup.
2009 – Last year the toy of the year award as voted by the Toy Retailer Association went to the Ben 10 series. The year before it went to a set of toys from In the Night Garden. The theme seems to be a toy connected to a popular children’s television character and this will probably be the same pattern for the best selling toy of 2009/2010. Young children love toys that are familiar, toys that they identify with the television characters that they see. In 2008 the pre school toy of the year was again, In the Night Garden and toys such as Star Wars and toys featuring Thomas the Tank engine (pre school toys of the year in 2005) regularly win toy awards.
Hasbro is the largest toy manufacturer in the world.
The 20th century saw the invention of dozens of much-loved toys as well. Still-popular board games like Tripoley, Sorry and Monopoly have been around since the 1930s, and Crayola Crayons are more than 100 years old! Twister, made by a division of Hasbro, sold more than 3 million games within a year of its release in 1966. It has sold more than 22 million since then.
Toys aren’t always a hit the year, or even the decade, they’re created. Unemployed architect Alfred Mosher Butts invented the game of Scrabble, which he first called "Lexiko" and later "Criss-Cross Words," in the 1930s. Entrepreneur James Brunot acquired the game in 1947, but it wasn’t until 1953, when the president of Macy’s — now owned by retail giant Federated Department Stores — discovered the game on vacation that things really took off. More than 100 million sets have since been sold worldwide.
The fortunes of other playthings are more cyclical. Troll dolls, which hit big during the 1960s, had all but disappeared by the 1980s until troll nostalgia ushered in a second boom in the early 1990s. As Generation Xers grow older, toys like Cabbage Patch Kids, now made by Mattel, and Koosh balls could stage a comeback as well.
And there’s serious money to be had. Mr. Potato Head, made in 1952 by Hasbro’s Playskool unit, was the first toy advertised on television, and it grossed more than million in its first year (that’s billion in 2005 dollars). Play-doh, which was originally designed for cleaning wallpaper, made inventor Joseph McVicker a millionaire by his 27th birthday. And Mattel sells an astounding 1.5 million Barbie dolls each week — that’s two dolls per second.