This Is Why We Can Have Nice Things – A history of toys

Here we’re going to give you a whistle stop tour of toys throughout the ages. Find the bit that interests you below, or read the whole thing for a dose of fascinating history.

What are toys?

A toy is an item that children play with. But you knew that right? As long as there have been children there have been toys.

Toys these days tend to be more electronic. Back in the Victorian era and before, it wasn’t uncommon to make toys from string, rocks, tin, lead or whatever else you could get your hands on.

Here we’ve taken a deep dive into history to bring you the story of toys. Keep reading to find the era that makes you feel most nostalgic and let us know if we gave you feels in the comments.

Where did toys come from?

No one knows where the word ‘toy’ came from, although most historians think it was used from the 14th century onward. As long as there have been children there have been toys. At least that’s what archaeological evidence suggests.

We know that children didn’t always have a lot of time to play. Depending on what era and civilisation they grew up in they may have had to work full time from a young age. Leaving little time for playing games.

Archaeologists can disagree over what a toy is or looks like. For example, In Ancient Egypt wooden dolls were found in tombs. Because these were engraved with fertility symbols it’s unlikely they were playthings, but this is still disputed.

A Bronze Age toy thought to be the oldest in Europe

Most agree that that oldest toy in the world is around 4000 years old and is a stone doll’s head that was buried with miniature kitchenware. The doll had curly hair and was buried on ground that wasn’t considered sacred, suggesting it really was a toy. This article can tell you a little more about prehistoric toys.

Toys and Psychology

There are many reasons toys have evolved alongside society. They are a means of alleviating boredom, a way to teach children about the world around them and their role in society and often in earlier years denoted the status or wealth of a family.

Toys allow children to imitate the actions of adults, teaching them, essentially, how to grow up. Even our pets have toys. In today’s world it’s thought that toys are a way of reinforcing gender norms.

Traditionally girls are encouraged to play with dolls and boys are encouraged to play with tools, science, cars, trucks etc. Psychologists suggest that the types of toys children are exposed to at a young age largely determines their self image through puberty and beyond.

Toys have become a huge industry.

Most manufacturers will make claims for the psychological benefits of their toy. Having said that, there isn’t much strong research to suggest which particular toys actually give children any psychological advantage. Instead it’s thought the way a child interacts with a toy is what determines its psychological benefit.

The field of Psychiatry is vast, but there’s no doubt that toys have played a huge part in the development of children everywhere in every era.

Ancient Toys

Here we’ll take a look at some of the oldest toys ever found. We’ll also spot some unusual classics that have actually survived the ages and are still played today.

Toys of Ancient Mesopotamia

Most of what we know about Mesopotamia has been discovered by archaeologistsThe ancient Mesopotamian civilisation is arguably the oldest ever discovered.

Evidence shows that the Mesopotamians were keen on games and sport, particularly on festival days. Hunting, boxing and wrestling were popular forms of entertainment.

The Mesopotamians played board games similar to Backgammon. Boards were made of clay and stone and die were made from bone, stone and sometimes glass.

One prevalent board game was called a game of 20 squares. Some consisted of elaborate boards while others were more simple in design.

A viking board game

Typical Mesopotamian children’s toys likely included sling shots, bows and arrows, spinning tops, puc and mallet, hoop and balls. They also used used small replica furniture and vehicles for role playing games.  

Toys of the Indus Valley

The Indus valley, sometimes called the Harappan civilisation, was a bronze age settlement considered to be the most widespread of all the most ancient civilisations and arguably the most advanced.

The settlement had houses made of baked bricks, elaborate water and drainage systems and were advanced in the use of metals as tools and adornments.

Children’s toys were mainly made from baked clay and often took the form of animals and toy carts. Archaeologists have found toys that made use of string to create moving parts as well as classic pull toys. Whistles were also common, usually found in the shape of birds.  

Ancient Harappan toys

Toys of Ancient Greece

In Ancient Greece toys were a little more detailed. A lot of what we know about early childhood in Ancient Greece comes from pictures on pottery.

Archaeologists have discovered dolls made from rags, wood, wax and clay, some of them even had movable parts.

Spinning tops, marbles and knuckle-bones were all popular children’s games, it’s even thought that children may have had yo yo’s made from terracotta. For adults there were gambling games. It’s thought this is why so many dice have been found at excavation sites.

Roman Toys

Toys in the Roman era were pretty similar to those found in Ancient Greece. Adults continued to play gambling games, the die used in these periods are far more similar to the six sided versions we’d recognize today.

The Romans had rattles for babies and young children. One such rattle was called a Crepundia. It was usually made with a string of leather and threaded with various colourful dangly and rattly charms and tied around a baby’s neck for them to play with.

Chariots and pull toys were largely made for boys from wood and clay. The Romans also used footballs made from pig’s bladders or reeds and linen. Yo yo’s, slingshots, hobby horses and the stick and hoop are just a few other examples of toys that have been found during excavations at Roman sites.

An interesting article by Jerri Finzi tells us:

“When Greek and Roman girls, “came of age” (at 12-14 years old) it was customary for them to sacrifice the toys of their childhood to the gods. On the eve of their wedding, young girls around fourteen would offer their dolls in a temple as a rite of passage into adulthood.”

Jerry Finzi – Grand Voyage Italy

We have far more information about toys and games in Rome and Ancient Greece than we do about earlier civilisations like Mesopotamia. Mosaics, paintings on pottery, inscriptions on wax tablets and early writings of historians like Horace and Pliny the Younger give us much deeper insights into daily life for the Romans.

Viking Toys

In viking times being a warrior was important, so young men were taught to fight from a young age using wooden swords and axes. There were simple board games for children, but for adults the games were more similar to chess or draughts.

Hnefatafl was the most popular board game. This game can still be bought today, though it is made with more modern materials than its ancient counterpart!

A replica Hnefatafl game board.
A replica Hnefatafl game board. Image Source

It’s thought that the Viking period focused more on toys that taught children practical skills for daily living and fighting. 

Antique Toys

Moving into the antique era things get a little more refined. The notion of leisure time became more developed from the Victorian period onward and so toys and games developed to fill that leisure time.

Often in ancient cultures children were expected to start contributing to chores and jobs from a very young age. In the antique era children remained children for a little while longer, especially in the upper and middle classes.

It wasn’t until the 50’s that the term teenager arrived along with the introduction of toys and games for that specific market.

Toys of the Industrial Revolution

Before the industrial revolution, opulent toys made of real fur, leather and expensive fabrics could only be afforded by the upper classes. For the lower classes it was more common for toys to be passed down through the family.

Poor Victorian children often played with dolls or wooden carvings made by their parents. A bundle of rags could suffice as a ball and ropes could be used for skipping. It was uncommon for children to have more than one or two toys, even in the wealthiest classes.

A replica Hnefatafl game board.
A replica Victorian skipping rope. Image Source

Children from poor families often started work at the age of 5 and so there was little time for play. Child mortality was high in the Victorian period as there were no immunisations for common diseases like smallpox.

Our incomplete knowledge of sanitation caused many issues. This article on the dangers of Victorian bottle feeding, for example, highlights just some of these.

A replica Hnefatafl game board.
Victorian children outside a workhouse. Image Source

Upper class children were educated at school or at home. Generally the boys would be educated and trained to go into the profession their father dictated. Common professions for middle and upper class children included factory ownership or upper management, priesthood, Doctor, Lawyer, Banker and shop owner.

As the industrial revolution began to progress, the landscape of children’s toys changed. Until this point everything was the result of manual labour. If you wanted a fancy rocking horse it would have been made by hand, thus making it more expensive.

The introduction of the factory and the assembly line made manufacture of goods much faster, less resource intensive and therefore cheaper. Toys made of tin became very popular as this was a cheap metal to buy and an easy one to work with.

Victorian Toys

The Victorian era began just as the industrial revolution was coming into full swing so toys varied greatly in this period.

Skipping ropes were used among rich and poor alike, though the decoration of your rope and its handles was usually determined by your family’s wealth.

Complicated toys began to emerge. For instance automatons were  toys that had moving parts, usually powered by a krank. These were mostly the reserve of the wealthy classes. As the industrial revolution progressed some automatons were powered by steam and became increasingly complex.

This article on Victorian automatons has some great examples. or you can see one working in the video below:

Tin toys like soldiers, cars, and whistles  were, at first, the reserve of the wealthy classes but became significantly cheaper as the years progressed. Often tin toys would have sharp edges or be painted with lead paint. Much less was understood about safety and chemicals in this time.

A Victorian tin whistle.

Marbles made from real marble were often played by rich children. Poor children also played but made their marbles from clay.

Victorian children playing marbles.
Victorian children playing marbles. Image Source

Hoop and sticks were classic toys of this era, especially in school playgrounds. These have evolved today into the hula hoop.

Children playing with hoops and sticks.
Children playing with hoops and sticks. Image Source

Zoetropes were a very early form of animation. A spinning metal carousel with slits cut into it which, when spun, would show a short animation based on the images on the paper inside.

It’s a difficult one to explain! This video shows you what a Zoetrope looks like and how it works:

Peg dolls were often found in the homes of the poorer classes.

They were easy and inexpensive to make. Peg dolls are still a well loved children’s craft today.

Richer children had porcelain dolls that were often designed to look like the ladies of the time. They had hand painted details and opulent clothing. Some of these are still in existence today.

A Victorian peg doll.

Hobby or rocking horses were very common. Early versions of motor cars existed at the time but only the very rich could afford them. Most people still traveled by horse and cart so owning a hobby or rocking horse was similar to today’s children playing with toy cars.

Victorian Hobby Horse
A Victorian hobby horse. Image Source

Whip and top was an outdoor game that remained a constant  in the decades to come too. Made of wood and string, the idea was to use the string to keep the top spinning. Check out this video to see how it works:

Spinning tops were similar to a whip and top but could be played indoors. Richer children may have had spinning tops made of tin plate. Poorer children would have wooden ones. Sometimes they would carve and decorate these themselves.

A Victorian spinning top.
A Victorian spinning top. Image Source

Yo yo’s  are another toy that would remain popular for decades. We even saw evidence of Yo Yo’s in Ancient Greece. Today they are mostly made of plastic, sometimes they can even use fancy lights. Back in Victorian times though they would mostly be made of wood.

A wooden Victorian yoyo.
A wooden Victorian yoyo. Image Source

Quoits also called ring toss is another classic game that survived the ages. It simply involved tossing a ring over a peg. Loved by adults and children alike this was a great outdoor game for Victorians.

A replica Quoits toy.
A replica Quoits toy. Image Source

Toy theatres were a great interactive toy for children. In Rich families elaborate toy theatres were made from wood and fabrics.

Poorer children were able to make toy theaters from paper or other household items that were lying around. Much the same way a child might play pretend with TV these days. – Try this kit to print and make your own authentic 19th Century theater.

Diablo was a game played mostly by the middle and upper classes. In this game a wooden spool is balanced on a string that’s held by two handles. It’s a difficult game to master but brightly coloured plastic versions of these are available today in toy shops all over the world.

A replica Quoits toy.
A Victorian diablo. Image Source

Children’s books have existed throughout history, but in the Victorian era, children’s books were more frequently produced.

The invention of electric lighting in some homes made it easier to read after dark and books became cheaper as printing capabilities improved. Many of these books have been preserved. You can read Victorian children’s books and find out more about their themes on this site.

Christie's Old Organ
A Victorian children’s book. Image Source

Towards the end of the Victorian Era when the industrial revolution had properly taken hold, toy manufacture was booming. Two major new toys emerged that are still known and loved today.

Meccano was designed by Frank Hornby in 1899. It was originally called ‘Manufacturing made easy’ but a few years after its release the name was changed to Meccano.

mechanics made easy toy
An early Meccano set, back when it was called Mechanics Made Easy. Image Source

The Steiff bear was created. A stuffed toy bear with movable joints that later became known as the Teddy bear in association with Theodore Roosevelt.

a rare old teddybear
An antique teddybear. Image Source

World War I Toys

13 years after the Victorian reign ended, the First World War broke out. Before this many of the toys children played with had been imported from German manufacturers. The war put a stop to British trade with Germany. This encouraged British toy-makers to develop their own line of toys.

Where the industrial revolution had created mass produced toys, the war limited them. Factories were now given over to the manufacture of ammunition and necessary war equipment.

Rations and frugal living meant there wasn’t enough money to buy toys and few factories were innovating in this area. Children instead amused themselves with outdoor games like hopscotch, skipping and hide and seek.

A group of industrial revolution children playing
Children playing during the Industrial Revolution. Image Source

The toys that did emerge after the outbreak of war tended to reflect the theme of the day. Toy armies, soldiers and war vessels were immensely popular boys toys.

The war resulted in the suspension of trade between Germany and the UK. This meat there was also a decline in the availability of the Steiff bear in the UK.

A UK manufacturer would go on to produce a cheaper alternative teddy bear to the Steiff which continued to be produced right through to the 50’s when the company went bust.

By the 50’s the soft toy market was in full swing and evolved way past the humble teddy bear to include animals of all shapes and sizes.

Vintage Toys

a group of vintage toys
Here are just a few of the vintage toys we’ll be looking at.

As the UK moved out of the Victorian era toys continued to be mainly the provisions of the upper classes. Changes in education legislation and better sanitary conditions would have a lasting positive impact on the children of the coming decades.

School became compulsory, immunisations and better healthcare saw children living longer and more healthy lives. Leisure time continued to grow among even the poorest of classes and the notion of childhood and teenage years emerged.

New advances in industry and synthetic materials began to make manufacture of toys cheaper and. As we move into the 40’s and beyond, it’s surprising how many toys were actually invented by accident by scientists and industrial innovators.

Here we’ll take a tour of children’s toys from the 1920’s right through to the 1970’s.

Toys of the 1920’s

The war ended in Victory and morale was flying high. A new prosperous Britain emerged. Women’s fashions changed drastically because they were now more confident, independent and empowered having worked throughout the war.

Cars were not yet mass produced but they were more affordable and so more of them appeared on the roads. Not surprisingly this led to the development of the toy car.

1920's toy car
A 1920’s die cast toy car. Image Source

In 1921 the Education Act in the UK raised school leaving age to 14 and made primary education free to everyone. Children were now expected to attend a full day of school, mostly putting an end to the child labour practices of the previous decades.

The increased amount of leisure time and advancements in modern transport like planes, trains and steamboats massively influenced new types of toy. Most notably model trains and train sets which are still highly collectable today.

1920's toy train
A toy train from the 1920’s. Image Source

The prosperity was not to last. Unemployment rose rapidly in the mid 1920’s and in America the depression started to take hold. Though there were many shortages in materials, toys continued to be manufactured.

Innovations in synthetic fibres had lead to cheaper materials and technology for developing them. For the first time brightly coloured fabrics were produced which were developed into children’s dolls and their clothes.

Toys of the 1930’s

Following the end of WWI In the 1930’s financial insecurity and austerity reigned. America was going through the great depression and Britain had very high levels of unemployment. Trade with Germany resumed and new toys were produced.

One of the most popular toys that made an appearance was Monopoly. It has a complicated history, but after it was released families picked it up in their droves. Over the coming decades, toy manufacturers all over the world would try to create the next Monopoly.

Original monopoly
A 1930’s Monopoly game. Image Source

The economic issues widened the class gap even further. Poor children were still playing with handed down toys and games they could create like hopscotch, jump rope, noughts and crosses etc.

By the 1930’s toy manufacturers were advertising their products on radio and in in the cinema. It was the first time they discovered how powerful it was to link toys to popular characters. The first of these for children was ‘Steamboat Willie’ also known as Mickey Mouse.

In 1928 Steamboat Willie was released as the first talking cartoon. In 1930 an American company produced the first Mickey Mouse toy and convinced Disney to market it. 

The first version of the Mickey Mouse doll.
The first version of the Mickey Mouse doll. Image Source

With radio and film media becoming more mainstream than ever, more character toys began to make an appearance. Children wanted toys featuring their favourite characters. Toy makers quite happily obliged.

In the 30’s we started to see a move away from practical toys. The children of the middle and upper classes had traditionally been encouraged to play with toys that taught them real world skills.

For boys new male fantasy figures emerged. They were strong, independent powerful men like Dick Tracey, Buck Rogers and Popeye.

Before the 1900’s education had been made compulsory up to the age of 11. However, for poor families it was still far more tempting to send your child to work than to school.

From the 1900’s onward new legislation was passed that made compulsory school education mandatory up to the age of 18. The new laws also provided more stable funding for existing schools allowing more schools to open up.

By the 1930’s most children received some kind of education and this was reflected in the toys they were playing with.

World War II Toys

As rumours of war spread in the late 1930’s, children’s toys once again took on a military feel. Toy soldiers, tinplate tanks and aeroplanes were made for boys and dollies, tea sets and miniature home appliances were all the rage for the girls.

During the war toys were created to help keep children occupied through long hours spent in air raid shelters.

Woolworths had expanded rapidly during the 1930’s and for the first time they stocked toys and games all year round and aimed to keep the price at 6 pence. After the outbreak of war buyers for the store did everything they could to keep the toys at pre-war prices.

War time woolworths
Wartime toys in Woolworths. Image Source

Toy manufacture gave way to munitions and other essential wartime products just as in the first world war new and innovative toys didn’t begin to emerge until after the war. Raw materials were rationed for factories producing essential wartime products, this saw some companies ending in ruin.

Some manufacturers tried to continue producing toys throughout the war, but this became increasingly difficult. Teddy bears got slimmer, had shorter muzzles and odd shapes because the stuffing for them was hard to come by.

From 1942 onward metal was banned in the use of children’s toys as the metal was needed for the war effort.

Pre-war certain innovations had been made in plastics. An early version of this (bakelite) began to take the place of tinplate. The material was hailed as a wonder material, it was cheap and easy to work with and allowed more detailed and exciting toys to be developed.

Bakelite wouldn’t become commonplace until after the war when it’s production and manufacture was stepped up.

Despite the 6d toys being sold in Woolworths the poorest families still had to go without. Toys were made from paper and card, wood and anything else parents and children could get their hands on.

These insightful contributions from two people who were children in wartime give us a great feel for the toys and games of the era:

Derek Evans was 8/9 during the war. He talks about the toys he played with in war time.

Mavis Kimberly talks about wartime games in Lincoln.

Toys of the 1940’s

By the 1940’s toys were getting a little more complex. They were still massively based around war. Boys were playing with toy guns, tanks and soldiers and girls were still learning how to be mum through play.

Following the end of the war attentions turned to sports. Subbuteo was formed in 1947, a tabletop football game that was cheap to produce and set up.

An early Subbuteo game
A 1940’s Subbuteo Set – Image Source

In 1949 Cluedo was released – there was still a race to find the newest monopoly game.

1940's Clue game
An Early Cluedo Set – Image Source

Bubble blowing has been around since ancient times, but it wasn’t until the 1940’s that bubbles were mass produced in brightly coloured plastic bottles. This website is devoted to the history of bubble blowing if you’d like to find out  more.

Scrabble was released in the early 40’s the invention of Alfred Mosher Butts. Many think of this as a simple board game but a look at how Scrabble was invented reveals a game built on painstaking research and complex algorithms. To begin with it was called Anagrams and  wasn’t very popular, but in the early 1950’s it became a must have game.

Early scrabble
An early version of Scrabble, back when it was called Anagrams – Image Source

Erector sets were produced in America. Much like Meccano these were model building sets. They were available in the 30’s in very plain boxes, but it wasn’t until 1940 that the iconic red box was made.

1940's Erector Set
A 1940’s Erector Set – Image Source

Toy trains and train sets had become collectable as early as the industrial revolution. It wasn’t until the 1940’s that they were produced to such an extent that almost every boy had one.

Silly Putty was invented by accident in 1943. Initially it was meant to be a rubber substitute. Towards the end of the 1940’s it was being marketed as an adult toy but by the start of the 1950’s it became another must have children’s toy.

Silly Putty
A 1940’s Silly Putty advert. Image Source.

In 1932 the Lego Group was formed. At the time they were manufacturing wooden toys.  By 1939 a British company called Kiddicraft had patented an ‘interlocking brick toy’ made from plastic which was manufactured in 1946.

The Lego Group, inspired by Kiddicraft and other companies who had also started experimenting with plastic bricks, Lego set about producing their own building toy. Lego as we know it was introduced to the UK in 1947 and was an instant hit.

1940's Lego
An original Lego set from the 1950’s. Image Source.

Another toy invented by accident in the 1940’s was the Slinky. To begin with sales were slow but after a Christmas demonstration at a Gimbels store in California in 1945, and a catchy advert jingle, sales took off.

An early Slinky
A vintage slinky. Image Source.

Toys of the 1950’s

In the 1950s war was truly over but rationing still existed. It was difficult to buy certain foods and money was still tight.  It wasn’t until 1954 that the rations were lifted and with that, everyone wanted to put the war behind them.

War themed toys were discouraged and instead attention was turned to discovery, space and science fiction.  

1953 saw mass uptake of the television set in homes all over the country. Many families purchased a set to watch the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

A family watching the Queen’s’ Coronation.

A family watching the Queen's' Coronation.

TV swiftly took over radio as the primary source of entertainment. Along with this came new opportunities to advertise and create character toys from newly emerging children’s TV programmes.

An American Hula Hoop advert from the 1950’s.

An American Hula Hoop advert from the 1950's.

Muffin the Mule was the first character to make an impact on the toy market around 1946 when Muffin toys were bought in their droves. Here you can see original Muffin the Mule recordings that were aired in the 1950’s.

In 1955 the British Toy Maker’s Guild was founded with a view to bringing excellence back to toys. They were largely responsible for regulations around the use of lead paint in toys and pushed for new legislation to make toys safer for children.

We’ve seen that hoop and stick toys were everywhere even in ancient times, but it wasn’t until the 1950’s that the bright plastic Hula Hoop as we know it today was born.  

1960s Pogo Stick

1960s Pogo Stick

The history of the Pogo Stick is complicated. There are disagreements over when, how and who invented it. One thing is certain. By the 1950’s Pogo Sticks were able to be mass produced and were available in the UK. Whereas previously they had enjoyed success among wealthy Americans in the 1920’s.

Corgi and Dinky cars

Corgi and Dinky cars

Matchbox, Corgi and Dinky cars all emerged in the 1950’s. In fact, the early die-cast models were continually improved upon and by the end of the decade Britain was at the forefront of the die-cast models market. By the end of the 1950’s Matchbox was the biggest selling brand of small die-cast models in the world.

A 1950’s Scalextric Set

A 1950's Scalextric Set.

Scalextric was invented in the mid 1950’s by Fred B Francis. Originally his company made die cast and clockwork cars. When sales began to fall, Francis began exploring innovative ways to re-invent his product and so Scalextric was born. 

A 1980’s View-master

A 1980's View-master

View-master was actually first made in the 1930’s as a military aid. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that it became a children’s toy. This was largely due to View-master buying a company that had rights to use Disney characters in its reels. In the 1950’s children all over America were clamouring after view-masters, the fad wouldn’t hit the UK until the 1980’s.

1950’s Play Doh

Play Doh was originally invented as a wallpaper cleaner. It was discovered that the substance could be used as a modelling material and that it was substantially easier for children to manipulate than clay. New primary colours were made and over the years play doh continued to reign supreme as a safe and imaginative children’s toy.

1950's Play Doh.1950's Play Doh.

Meanwhile a cultural phenomenon began right at the end of this era. The Barbie doll was unveiled in New York on 9th March 1959. The dolls had a rough start due to claims of copyright and some parents reacted badly to the dolls’ large breasts, but before long they became the iconic dolls we still know and love today.

first barbie toy

first barbie toy

Check out this wonderful blog post for a first hand account of childhood in the 1950’s.

You can also see some genuine 1950’s American toy adverts here and some great pictures of 1950’s Woolworths and their toy aisles here.

Toys of the 1960’s

In the 1960’s children’s toys changed significantly. The baby boomer generation were the first to grow up with television and their toys were strongly influenced by it. Dr Who and the Daleks, Stingray, Lost in Space, Star Trek and Thunderbirds were all aired in the 60’s.

Toys and TV were largely influenced by the space race and the general air of discovery that was prevalent in the 60’s. Character toys were released in their droves and everyone wanted to own their favourites.

During this era brightly coloured and unusual toys came to the forefront, many of which are still considered classics today.

In 1963 the new Sindy doll was advertised on television. The doll’s creators wanted to create a more wholesome alternative to Barbie that they felt was more appealing to the British audience.

Sindy wore all the vogue British fashions of the era. As Sindy grew in popularity new friends were introduced including her boyfriend Paul and her sister Patch. The dolls would remain a teenage favourite right through to the end of the 80’s.

The first Sindy from 1963.The first Sindy from 1963.

When GI Joe was released in America in 1964, the Hasbro company held it’s breath. They didn’t want this to be seen as a doll for boys, instead, it was an action figure.

Their concerns were unfounded and GI Joe became an almost instant success.  Hasbro licensed GI Joe to Paletoy to allow them to create a British version and in 1966 Action Man was launched and remains a much loved children’s toy to this day.

A 1960’s Action Man

A 1960's Action Man

With all the bright colours and psychedelic patterns that were everywhere in the 60’s it wasn’t surprising that Spirograph was instantly adored by children everywhere. Denys Fisher who invented the toy was actually inspired by a Victorian idea for creating patterns using cogs and wheels.

A 1960’s Spirograph set.

A 1960's Spirograph set.

French electrician Andre Cassagnes unveiled his magical toy in 1959. It was a new way to draw using electrical charges and aluminium powder.

It would be many years until his design was finally picked up by a toy manufacturer who paid a large sum of money for the licence. Before long the Etch a Sketch was delighting adults and children all over the world.

A 1960’s advert for Etch a Sketch

A 1960's advert for Etch a Sketch.

In 1965 Reyn Guyner came up with a game that was initially known as Pretzel. When the game couldn’t be trademarked under that name it was called Twister instead.

Twister sparked

Twister sparked controversy at the time as toy shops refused to stock the game feeling it wasn’t family friendly and put people in compromising positions.

Twister was featured on the Tonight Show in 1966 in a last ditch attempt by the manufacturer’s (MB) PR team to build hype around the game. It was a roaring success and to this day Twister remains a firm party favorite.

twister-square1960's Twister The iconic Space Hopper.

In the early 1960’s designer Aquilino Cosani invented the space hopper. At first it wasn’t the iconic orange goofy design you might remember.

The design was never licensed so many types of space hopper were available throughout the world. It wasn’t until 1972 that the iconic space hopper (that the 60’s is most remembered for) took the UK by storm.

The iconic Space Hopper.

The iconic Space Hopper.

The Batman TV show from the 1960’s.

Comics and associated comic toys had been made from as early as the 1920’s. But when the Batman TV series was aired in 1966 toy sales and demand for Batman toys skyrocketed and toy makers were again happy to oblige.

The Batman TV show from the 1960's.

7 Iconic Children’s TV Shows from the 1960’s

A lot of toys in the 60’s featured characters from TV shows. Browse the videos below to get a feel for 1960’s children’s TV:

Torchy the Battery Boy


The Herbs

The Clangers

Mary Mungo and Midge


Magic Roundabout

Toys of the 1970’s

Toy manufacture was in full swing in the 1970’s. New and different toys were being developed all the time while the old classics of the 60’s continued to dominate toy shop shelves.

Legislation was tightened to make toys even safer. Ensuring the sharp tin edges and toxic paints were a thing of the past.

The biggest differences for children were that TV continued to develop new programmes for a new growing market of children and now with the notion of teenagers in full swing programming for them became a lot more commonplace too.

Innovations in electronics and the production of them led to the launch of the Atari and Magnavox Odyssey gaming consoles and when the game Pong was released video games began to capture the imaginations of children everywhere.

The most iconic toys of the 70’s

Children from the 60’s right through to the 90’s will remember Troll dolls. Small pot bellied plastic dolls with brightly coloured fluffy hair. The history of the Troll doll is sweet and tragic in equal measure.  

The dolls were a Danish invention by Thomas Dam in 1959, they became famous in 1960’s America and by the late 1960’s early 1970’s they were everywhere in the UK.

A 1970's troll doll
The first plastic version of Troll dolls. Image Source.

While Pogoball  was actually invented in 1969 by two Belgian men. It was later bought by Hasbro who mass produced it and made it popular in the 80’s.

An 80's pogo ball
A pogo ball toy. Image Source.

No list of 70’s toys would be complete without the Waterful Ring Toss. If you pressed the button on the ring toss base it shot a jet of water on the inside of the tank.

The idea was to keep shooting the jet of water until you could get the coloured hoops on the pegs. It was made by TOMY toys and was loved by children everywhere right through to the 1990’s.

Though the ring toss is the one everyone remembers, you could also get different Waterful games like football.

Waterful Ring Toss
The legendary Waterful Ring Toss. Image Source.

Another 1970’s success for Tomy Toys was Fashion Plates. They were sought after by girls everywhere who dreamed of being fashion designers.

The idea was that you mixed and matched plastic plates to create an outfit. You then put paper over the plates and rubbed with a crayon until the outline was transferred and then you could colour in your fabulous design.

These were must have’s throughout the 70’s and the 80’s and though the design has changed a little they can still be bought today.

80s fashion plates
A 1970’s Fashion Plates toy. Image Source.

In 1962 the first chatter phone was invented by Ernest Thorell who noticed his daughter often dragged a metal phone around with her while playing. This gave him the idea to add wheels and a pull cord to a toy phone.

Initially it was made from wood. It was manufactured and sold by Fisher price and remains a childhood icon from the 70’s to the modern day.

An 80's phone toy
A vintage Chatter Phone. Image Source.

The Rubiks Cube was invented in 1974 by a Hungarian Architect called Erno Rubik. For him it represented the human condition, the duality of order and chaos.

Initially he used it as a teaching aid, but when he saw the reaction of his students and friends he realised the cube had great potential. He began marketing it in 1977 where it became a hit in Hungary.

Rubik’s Cubes have a complicated history, it wasn’t until the 1980’s that the toy achieved global popularity.

A rubiks cube
The original Rubiks Cube. Image Source.

9 Iconic Children’s Toys TV shows from the 1970’s

A lot of toys in the 70’s featured characters from TV shows. Children’s TV became more diverse with programming aimed at different age groups. Browse the videos below to get a feel for 1970’s TV.




Sesame street

Paddington Bear

MR Benn


Tiswas – Saturday morning TV

Grange hill

Did you enjoy our whirlwind tour of the history of toys? Let us know in the comments.

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Good Luck and Good Night from Kat

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