The classics almost never go out of style, and while some toys of the 50s and 60s unfortunately did, many of the best ones have endured through the past decades and some are still used today. For boys, the toys of the 50s were dominated by spacemen and cowboys (Commando Cody and Tom Corbett, Space Cadet), and for girls, one of the most revolutionary toys ever seen came into the market: Barbie. We’ll take you through a list of the best toys of the 50s and 60s and how they’ve changed over the years.
Army Men first originated in Europe in the late 1800s, but whether you found them in a box or a bag, they were immensely popular in America from the early 1900s all the way to the 1980s when GI Joe took over. They were popular in times of war but also times of peace, and styles ranged from Egyptian and Roman soldiers all the way to modern looks. Movies like Toy Story and Small Soldiers brought the Army Men back into the spotlight as desirable toys.
Barbie was a goldmine when it came to girls. Almost every woman can remember at one point or another playing with a Barbie, and that’s because the toy permeated American culture at such a deep level. Originally known as “Barbie Millicent Roberts,” the name was shortened to a much simpler “Barbie,” and from its introduction in 1959 the creation of accessories and outfits lead to a further increase in the toy’s popularity.
Coonskin hero Davy Crockett died in the 1800s, but that didn’t stop kids from worshipping him in the 1950s when Walt Disney brought him to the television screen. From the very popular TV show, a bevy of merchandise sprung up and children were obsessed. While Crockett was one of biggest things on television, the corresponding toys were also one of the biggest in the market and included action figures, outfits, and accessories to recreate one of Crockett’s famous battles.
The Frisbee saw its first incarnation in 1948 in California where Pipco produced a slew of them, then known as Saucers. How-to-Saucer demonstrations were organized as nobody knew how to use them. Soon, the Saucer was sold at Disneyland for a dollar. Amidst legal troubles the Saucer became the Frisbee, and during the 60s it was one of the number one money makers for the company.
Lego was spawned in 1932 in Denmark, and the pieces were made from wooden at first. By the 60s the toys had already transitioned to plastic, and became wildly successful in Europe. Lego immediately garnered the same success in America when it finally made its way stateside. Countless iterations and imitation products were born from Lego, and the original is still hugely popular to this day.
Designed to be a one-person game, Labyrinth is best summed up as a floating wooden maze in a box. Although it infuriated many, it was a challenging and fun game that was easy to play since it didn’t require other players. In various forms the game still exists today, although enjoys a lesser degree of popularity.
Mr. Potato Head
Besides being just a toy, Mr. Potato Head was a personality. The toy of a thousand faces captured the eye of many children and was first created by Hasbro in the early 1950s. Eventually Mrs. Potato Head came onto the scene and the two were eventually sold in packages as well. While the demand for the toy is less so today, the character still enjoys popularity in the movie series Toy Story.
Mickey Mouse is perhaps one of the most iconic characters of the century, initiating a huge uptick in merchandising and essentially making billions for Disney. Created by Walt Disney, the character first appeared in a comic strip in 1928 and was later converted into merchandise in the early 1930s. The toys enjoyed considerable success through the 50s and 60s, and Mickey is still one of the most well-known characters in the world to this day.
Some claim rudimentary “marbles” were found in Egyptian pyramids or on North American Indian mounds, but the modern reincarnation of glass-made marbles began in the early 1900s and are suspected by many to have begun in Germany. Swirls were added to the glass design in the 1920s, and the toys began to be manufactured by American companies en masse. They were a common toy item for many children who used them in games, but you won’t find too many marbles in use today.
The Pogo Stick was initially patented in 1919 by inventor George Hansburg, and once the toy started selling in stores it became a craze. For non-dancers of the time, at least they had the pogo stick to jump on. It was used in performances as well as for recreation, and its popularity continued for much of the early and mid 1900s. In 1970, the company was sold, but more recently pogo sticks have enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance. There are also some off-shoots that are directly inspired by the pogo.
Raggedy Ann was first introduced with the Raggedy Ann Stories books in 1918, published by Johnny Gruelle. He was supposedly inspired to create the character by his daughter Marcella, who passed away at a young age. Gruelle denied the rumors that the doll was a tribute to her death. The first doll accompanied the book in 1918, but toy companies later mass-produced the toy, especially in the 1960s when it was common for most girls to have their very own Raggedy Ann doll. Less popular as toys and more so as collectibles, the doll still has a large fan base across America.
Pez dispensers first saw the light of day in 1948, and although simple in design (since they simply store candy bricks), they captured many children’s attention and many parents’ dollars. Once a child had one, they were drawn to add to their collection with more dispensers. Pez featured many different characters as dispensers, ranging from comic books heroes, film stars, and more. Even in our modern day, Pez dispensers are widely collected and adored.
The rules of Silly Putty were simple: don’t eat it, light it on fire, or drop it from a high elevation. Besides that, almost anything was possible with putty. Commonly used to create shapes or soak up th print from the newspaper, Silly Putty was accidentally created in 1940 but only came to market as the toy many love in 1961. Silly Putty is still sold in stores and remains a simple but timeless toy.
In 1947, Tonka Trucks powered onto the scene and became little boys’ latest fascination. Holding them, smashing them — boys everywhere were enthralled with the trucks. They were purchased by Hasbro in 1991 and are still manufactured and sold to fill many a boy’s toy chest or add to his collection.
Although it has one of the simplest names and basic product designs for a toy, it’s also one of the most popular toys ever known on the planet. What a child could do with it depended completely on their imagination, but the common use was letting it “slink” down a staircase. It was created in 1945 but gained immense popularity in 1965 when the Slinky commercial came out along with a catchy jingle. It maintains its place as a beloved toy, even in our modern age.
The oldest yo-yos were first discovered in Greece, dating all the way back to 500 B.C. They were used commonly as children’s toys through the 1600s, 1700s, and 1800s, but in the 1900s some key changes were made to the device, and tricks became the goal of many yo-yo enthusiasts. The yo-yo enjoyed competitive use with an entire World Championship built around it. It’s still well-known and sold in toy stores today.
Some things are so simple that the fascination can’t always be understood from an outsider’s perspective, but beginning in 1958, the Hula Hoop was a craze among the nation. At one point the company Wham-O sold 25 million hoops in a period of four months. The hype soon wore off, but the toys are still commonly used as a physical activity for children either in gym class or recreationally.
Anthony Pratt dreamed up the board game Clue in 1947, and it was a parlor game often used at parties. Clue is known for its famous characters like Colonel Mustard, and the game has even inspired on-screen adaptations as well as written literature. Although it’s been updated since the 40s, it’s still a commonly played game by many in North America.
The first colors of Crayons were yellow and green, and they began selling in 1903. At first the box came with eight crayons and only cost a nickel. Since then, the range of hues (as well as the price) has significantly increased, and coloring with these crayons remains extremely popular, even among adults.
Checkers has been around for centuries, but it became what we now know it as in the 1700s when it swept across the world. Different-sized boards are used in various countries, and some claim that’s why the game hasn’t acquired the same fame as Chess. It still enjoyed much popularity in the 50s and 60s right up to today.