Everything Old Is New Again: Top Toys Then and Now

Dec 26, 2016 • By • 137 Views

By Tricia Drevets

We won’t know the official results until January, but preliminary sales reports show that the top toys sold for this year’s holiday season offered no real surprises.

Hatchimals, Spin Master’s fuzzy interactive hatching toy that is kind of an updated Tamagotchi, was released in early fall and quickly became a sought after item. As Christmas neared, many outlets sold out at large retailers such as Target, Walmart and ToysRUs, and sellers on Ebay were able to command top prices. Sales of gaming stations and Star Wars toys also held their own.

However, lost among the headlines of political chaos and celebrity news this December, has been an interesting trend.

Old is new again when it comes to toys. Now, don’t get me wrong. Kids are not giving up their electronics. However, as families look for ways to spend time together that involves no plug-ins, sales of traditional games have gone up.

According to the NPD Group, an international market research company that interviews 12 million consumers a year and follows data from 165,000 stores, sales of non-electronic games and puzzles are up 16 percent this year.

These games include everything from adult strategy games, to family board games, to preschool games. Top sellers are Hasbro’s Pie Face Game and Mattel’s classic UNO card game.

I don’t know about you, but I find this news quite comforting.  I like to think of families settling down together this week in between Christmas and New Year’s Day to play a game together – rather than sitting with each person looking at his or her own electronic device.

Playing board games together teaches children valuable social skills, such as taking turns and cooperation. Depending on the game, kids also learn logic and math skills that can range from simple counting to making change.

As I contemplated toys and toy trends, I decide to research what have been the top toys of the past. My search took me a bit down memory lane from my both my own childhood as well as my children’s younger years. Here is a top 10 list of some of the most popular toys of all time in order from oldest to newest.

What the list confirms is that simple toys that spark imagination seem to be the best – another comforting thought this holiday season.

1.The Yo-Yo. A toy that has been around for centuries in one form or another, the modern yo-yo took off in 1928 when Pedro Flores launched the Yo-yo Manufacturing Company in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Donald F. Duncan bought the business one year later, and the now famous “Duncan Yo-Yo” was born.

2.Silly Putty. You gotta love those “mistake” inventions. In 1943, as he was working on formulations for a synthetic rubber compound for combat use in WWII, General Electric engineer James Wright created one of the most popular toys of all time.

After his family loved playing with the putty, Wright spent years trying to market. He was unsuccessful until a toy storeowner, Ruth Fallgatter, included it in her mail order catalog. Soon everyone knew about the fun bouncy, stretchy putty that comes in a plastic egg.

3. LEGO. With a name derived from the Danish words for “play well,” Lego began as simple red and white interlocking bricks that were created by Danish carpenter Ole Christiansen in 1949.

Today, the amazingly popular product line includes everything from over-sized toddler bricks to popular themed sets with tie-ins to movies. Worldwide, tens of millions of dollars of LEGO products are sold each week.

4. Barbie. Love her or hate her, Barbie is one of the best-selling toys in history.  Introduced in 1959 as a teenage fashion doll, Barbie was an immediate success and more than one billion dolls have sold since then.

This year has been a big year for 50-something Barbie, as Mattel added three new body types to the Barbie collection (curvy, tall and petite) and has added some skin tone variations.

5. GI Joe. Do boys play with dolls? You bet. Hasbro introduced this moveable 11.5-inch military action figure in 1964, and within just one year, he comprised more than three-fourths of the company’s sales.

The military theme changed over the years, and Joe became something of a superhero action figure. In the United Kingdom, the toy was licensed to Palitoy and became known as Action Man. Although the toy line is officially discontinued, new GI Joes are released nearly every year, but they are available only at conventions or through collector's clubs.

6. Hot Wheels. With their realistic details, small design and under a dollar price tags, these miniature cars became hot items for kids. Based upon the Matchbox line of toy cars, which Mattel later purchased, Mattel launched its Hot Wheels line in 1968 with a shiny blue Camaro.

The collectible die-cast cars have been perfect stocking stuffers ever since with more than four billion cars, featuring 11,000 variations.

7. NERF. Developed first by Parker Brothers and then purchased by Hasbro in the early 1970s, the NERF line of soft foam toys continue to be big sellers for boys and girls of a wide age range.

The line, which began with just a single foam ball, now includes footballs, basketballs, soccer balls, dart guns and water guns.

8. Transformers. The Japanese company Takara Tomy and the American company Hasbro produce these popular shape-shifting robot toys. Launched in the 1980s, the toys have earned nearly $4 billion in profits. Their popularity is tied in with the five action films that share their name.

9. Cabbage Patch Kids.These pudgy round-faced dolls spurred one of the biggest Christmas toy rushes of all time. Back in 1983, parents spent all night in store lines and even went head-to-head over them when Christmas supplies were low.

10. Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). You knew we couldn’t get out of here without at least one electronic entry.

Remember the Commodore and Atari video consoles of the early 1980s? They made some early inroads, but the future of video gaming really took off in with the introduction of the NES in the mid-80s.

With its compact size, it popular Mario and Zelda games and its original hefty price tag of $199.99 , the NES tuned the video game industry on its head and became the best-selling video game console of all time.  

However you are spending this last week of 2016, be sure to find time to take out a game, a puzzle or a book and spend time with those you love. Happy Holidays!

About the Author

Tricia Drevets Tricia Drevets

Tricia Drevets is a freelance writer and educator who specializes in business and communication topics.

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