By: Jeremy Alden
Toys are a staple of childhood, and for some, the years beyond. We all have our own memories of our favorite toys growing up. Perhaps some of these toys were uncommon, like toys bought for us from a store while on vacation. The chances are though, that you had at least one toy that someone else in your school grade also had.
There are a bunch of toys that have made their mark on history, innovative creations that have shaped play forever. Have you ever wondered about what are the most popular toys in the world? Well, we’re here to tell you!
How Have Toys Changed Over Time?
Toys can be simple or complicated, but one thing is for sure: they have a tremendous amount of history behind them. The chances are that the toys our children play with will be massively different from the toys that our grandparents played with.
Toys have been around for as long as people have, and every civilization has made toys for children to play with. There are certain toys that have been around for centuries, like dolls, but they have changed in appearance as time has gone on.
At one point in time, toys were actually considered to be a pretty big luxury. Many children did not have a lot of toys to play with before the 20th Century, and these children would often occupy their time helping around the house or playing with friends.
The way that toys have been made has changed throughout the years too. For instance, certain ancient cultures would make toys out of things like animal carcasses to make balls that you could kick around. Then more advanced materials such as wood and plastic started to develop.
There are some toys that have been particularly important through the years though. For instance, during the late 1800s, popular toys included hoops and balls. The popular kaleidoscope was then invented in 1817.
Then, when we move onto the early 1900s, we start to see more advanced toys for the time. This included toys such as dolls, toy horses, pedal cars, and a range of different kinds of playground equipment. Little girls would play with wooden or porcelain dolls in the 19th Century, and they would usually have little dollhouses. Boys would have different toys such as marbles and toy soldiers, and some would even have toy trains.
The 20th Century then saw a big increase in the different kinds of toys produced. For instance, plasticine was created in 1897, a plaything that remains popular even today. Train sets would begin to become even more popular in the 1920s, and children would start playing with more things like teddy bears and other soft toys.
World War 2 had a big impact on the toy industry, as a lot of toy factories were then changed to create things for war. At the end of the 20th Century though, plastic and metal toys started becoming more common on the market.
The very influential LEGO started to become popular during the 1950s, a toy that would allow people to create their own buildings with bricks you could slot together. Barbie dolls and action men then started to become more popular in the late 1950s.
Technology has advanced a lot since then, especially with the rise of things such as video games. Toymakers have played around with toys that use electronics, such as electronic keyboards for young children, phones that can speak back to you when you put them next to your ear, and dolls that are able to move of their own accord.
An example of this was the popular robot puppy that could move on its own, Tekno the Robotic Puppy from 2013. Other popular toys include gaming consoles such as the popular Nintendo DS and the Nintendo Wii.
Top 10 Most Popular Toys in the World
So, what are the most popular toys in the world? Here’s a breakdown of the top 10!
10. View Master
Today, virtual reality is something that’s pretty much common knowledge. Back in the 1980s however, it was a little more foreign.
If you wanted to get a fix of the cinema without even leaving your own home, then the View-Master was the way to go. This little thing looked a lot like virtual reality goggles do today, but with a big twist.
The View-Master features a clunky red design and a circle of the film on top. It was designed to be like a slide viewer, and people would take small circular side disks that would have photos of cartoon characters on them.
The concept of the View-Master was actually designed long before it made its way onto the market. It dates as far back as the 1930s in Portland, Oregon. The idea was brought into reality by William B. Gruber and Harold J. Graves, and it was originally created to be an educational tool that later evolved into something else entirely. It was even used for artillery spotting and aircraft identification back in the second world war.
After this, in 1951 Sawyer took hold of the Tru-Vu stereo Film Company. This means that the company would have the rights to Disney characters and Stereochrome. This is essentially the View Master’s first debut into the world of children’s toys. The toy became a smash hit, especially during the 80s. Many of these toys would even come free with a comic, or with a copy of a TV-based newspaper.
The View-Master would show a whole bunch of different things. Some discs were designed for viewing educational content about wildlife, The Seven Wonders of the World, and some even detailed the anatomy of the human body. For children, popular cartoon characters including Doctor Who, Star Trek, and Popeye would all grace the lenses of the View-Master. Some of them even featured text so that people would have more of a story to read.
The View-Master lives on even today, but in an entirely different way. The View-Master was reimagined back in February 2015 by Mattel and Google, but with a big twist. The View-Master was renamed the View-Master Virtual Reality Viewer, and it would link up with smartphones to see a whole new digital reality. The screen of the smartphone will be put into the back of the goggled, and then film reels get scanned through an augmented reality interface.
This means that you can see things such as 360-degree panoramas, models in 3D and you can even use it to play games!
9. Cabbage Patch Dolls
Cabbage Patch Kids were a huge hit back in the 80s. Kids during 1983 were going wild for these cabbage-faced little dolls. Some stores during the Christmas period were even totally sold out, and by the end of 1983 more than 3 million Cabbage Patch Kids had made their way into the arms of loving boys and girls.
These dolls were around 16 inches tall, and they had a plastic head, a body made of fabric, and hair that was made from yarn. They were unique looking dolls, though many would say that they were a little strange. One of the main gimmicks behind these dolls was that customers would ‘adopt’ them by buying, with each doll having a little birth certificate with the doll’s name and middle name on it. This didn’t help with those people who thought they were strange, as you can imagine.
These dolls have quite a history behind them, too. The official story says that a little boy called Xavier Roberts played in the woods and then followed something called a Bunnybee into a waterfall, which led him to a place behind the waterfall where there were many cabbages in a field. The Bunnybees then spread magic dust onto the cabbages and they started moving. Within the blink of an eye, he saw that the cabbages had turned into small kids and babies! He then agreed to help to find homes for these cabbage children.
Of course, this is the story that children are told and is the marketing that was used to get children to buy the dolls. The real story is slightly different, with a lot less fantasy involved.
According to the official narrative, Xavier Roberts was a 21-year-old art student that invented the doll in 1976. He started creating the dolls in 1978 with a group of his friends, and they began a company called Original Appalachian Artworks, Inc. These dolls were all handmade and would originally sell for more than $100. By the time that 1981 rolled around magazines were raving about these little dolls. Children were even sent birthday cards 1 year after they bought the dolls, making it feel like a real adoption process to little ones.
The Cabbage Patch Dolls have a rather sinister history behind them, however. While the narrative that the public is fed states that Xavier Roberts was the true creator of Cabbage Patch Dolls, this isn’t entirely true. In fact, the concept of cabbage patch dolls actually came from Martha Nelson Thomas, an American folk artist. She ended up suing Roberts as a result.
Cabbage Patch Kids were popular across the world, including the continents of Europe, South America, and Asia, with a particularly strong international presence in Mexico, Japan, and South Africa.
Cabbage Patch Kids are still around today, and some of the older models are even selling for hundreds of dollars on online retailers such as eBay. Today, the dolls are owned by Wicked Cool Toys, who have brought up new ideas such as Little Sprouts. These are miniature collectible dolls. They’ve also started making Adoptimals which are little pets that can interact with the Cabbage Patch Kids.
Even in 2020, we’re quite sure that you’ve heard of the Transformers. These are by far some of the most popular toys on the market to date and have been a staple of American childhood since the 80s. That line ‘Transformers, robots in disguise’ is iconic, even now.
Transformers were said to be cars or other vehicles that could turn into robots, hence the robots in disguise line. The toys were introduced to America in 1984 by Hasbro, Inc and they were extremely popular action figures. One of the most interesting things about these toys is that you could literally turn them from one thing and then into another, giving children hours of play just with one single toy.
The concept of the Transformers did not begin in 1984, however. In fact, it began with the Diaclone toy line that was created by Takara Toys back in 1980. These toys were remarkably like the Transformers as we know them in several ways, mainly in the fact that they were cars that could turn into robots and vice versa.
The Transformers’ history doesn’t just end there, though. Hasbro gave these toys a backstory and the robots all had their own character profiles, allowing children to relate and connect with them more. The Transformers were said to have come from a planet known as Cybertron, and there are both good and bad robots.
Their backstory is pretty intense, actually. The main Transformers consist of the Autobots which are primarily led by Optimus Prime. On the side of evil, you have the Decepticons which are fronted by Megatron. These robots are searching for new sources of energy outside of Cybertron to get more power to embark on their classic ‘good vs evil’ fight. This eventually led them to Earth, where the fierce battle would range on.
The Transformers have inspired comics, cartoons, and even several different live-action movies starring Megan Fox in 2007. The Transformers are still around today, and the latest movie, Bumblebee, is said by many to be the best movie yet.
These toys were immensely popular not only for their versatility but also for their striking colors. Some of the toys look almost like rainbows so they are certainly eye-catching!
7. Etch A Sketch
If you were a kid with an artistic streak, we’re sure that you had an Etch A Sketch, and if you didn’t you certainly wanted to have one.
The Etch A Sketch is a device with a thick, flat screen that is grey and is inside of a plastic frame. With it, you can draw using a special pen, and, just by swiping a lever, you can remove the drawing and start again completely fresh. It certainly saves a lot of paper! Some older models involved shaking the device to remove the image.
The Toy made its debut in stores in 1960, making it 60 years old as of 2020. Pretty neat, huh?
This toy was so popular that it even made its way into the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, N.Y in 1998. It’s even appeared in some modern media, such as in the Toy Story movies and in the Christmas film Elf. Sure, it doesn’t connect with Wi-Fi like a lot of modern devices too, but it’s still a very well-known toy that even some adults enjoy playing with now.
The Etch A Sketch was made somewhere between 1955 and 1956 by Andre Cassagnes who was working as an electrician at the time. It was a product born out of pure curiosity, as Cassagnes coined the idea of the Etch a Sketch as a result of his experience working with an electrostatic charge. Initially the Etch a Sketch was a box that had a little pulling system inside, and this would operate a special stylus to remove any aluminum powder from the screen. The operation is fairly similar even now.
The prototype was acquired by the Ohio Art Company, but when it was initially launched in Germany during 1959 it wasn’t incredibly successful. Which the company took hold of the Etch A Sketch, it launched into popularity. It was on commercials everywhere, and the animation on the commercial was particularly eye-catching to children looking to let out their imagination.
The Etch A Sketch is still around today, though it has come a long way since the prototype made by Cassagnes in the 50s. For instance, the Etch A Sketch has partnered with various big brands and TV shows, such as the Disney smash hit movie Frozen to create an Elsa and Olaf themed frame.
They’ve also spun off other products, such as the Doodle Sketch, and the Plug and Play Etch a Sketch which you could use to essentially draw on the screen of your TV. Today, there’s even an Etch a Sketch mobile app. This will allow you to be able to see those greyscale drawings on your screen.
6. Star Wars Action Figures
A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away…
Let’s face it, there are very few people on the planet that aren’t familiar with the iconic Star Wars franchise. It’s no wonder that Star Wars action figures are still extremely popular even today. These toys have been selling since 1977 and they have quite an extensive history.
Measuring 12 inches back in their time, these dolls were a big hit among children back when the original movie came out. They were originally released back in 1978 and were incredibly affordable. They were originally only able to move at their hips, shoulders, and neck. Some of them even came with telescoping lightsabers.
Pretty soon after the first movie released, the sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, made its way into movie theatres. As a result of this, many additional Star Wars action figures were released.
Later on, during the 1990s, these figures started to become popular again, but unfortunately, a whole new line was created of original trilogy dolls. We say unfortunately because they were given incredibly wide stances, which means that most of the dolls couldn’t fit on the new vehicles made for them. They also had particularly strange-looking facial features, particularly the Princess Leia figure. These were quickly scrapped when, in 1999, a stormtrooper figure with articulated joints was released.
New figures are even created today, with the release of the third Star Wars trilogy beginning with the Force Awakens. They still remain incredibly popular, with all new characters making their way onto shelves.
5. Chatty Cathy
Chatty Cathy is an iconic doll that was very popular in the early 1960s. Produced by the Mattel toy company between 1959 and 1965, this lively doll was able to talk, which is why her name is Chatty Cathy.
To make her talk, you would simply need to pull a ring that’s positioned on her upper back and she would begin to talk. In total, she would say 11 different phrases, perhaps the most well-known phrase is ‘I Love You’ and ‘Where are we going?’ She is known as the first successful talking doll. She was the ideal companion for a spot of afternoon tea, especially when she was joined by a bunch of stuffed teddy bears! The voice for Chatty Cathy was none other than June Foray, who also voiced Rocket J. Squirrel on The Bullwinkle Show. Eventually, this role was taken over by Maureen McCormick, who was TV’s Marcia Brady.
Chatty Cathy had several different looks, from alternating hair colors and styles to different eye colors and different skin tones. Oh, and how could we forget, a bunch of great cute outfits to choose from.
After a while, Cathy got some friends! Charmin Chatty was created, along with the male and female Chatty Babies. During the 1960s there was even a singing Chatty Cathy Doll that would play a range of different tunes that parents of the time we’re sure to be hearing for many hours.
Chatty Cathy still lives on today. During the 1990s Mattel set a new line of Chatty Cathys onto the world. She’s even made her way into modern media. There’s a character in Toy Story 4 known as Gabby Gabby, who is believed to be based upon the original Chatty Cathy dolls. Though, with that being said, if this is meant to be a reflection of Chatty Cathy in a modern lens, it may not be the most flattering as she’s the main antagonist of the story.
4. Rubik's Cube
The Rubik’s Cube is the quintessential puzzle game and has certainly stood the test of time. This little cube features a bunch of different colored squares, one color for each side of the square. The goal is to get all of the jumbled-up colors to line up, so for instance one side red, one green, one blue, etc. It is the most popular puzzle in the world.
The Rubik’s Cube is so difficult to solve even now, that things such as YouTube tutorials and even mobile applications have been created in a bid to try and solve this cube of confusion.
The Rubik’s cube was created in 1974 by a Hungarian architect named Erno Rubik. The Rubik’s cube came into existence as he wanted a way to be able to demonstrate 3D movement to his students. He initially made the cube out of wood and paper, and it was kept together with normal household objects such as rubber band, and glue. He named his invention the Magic Cube.
By the end of 2018, more than 350 million Rubik’s Cubes were sold. You may wonder why when you first look at this incredibly simple cube. It’s actually pretty tricky and will require you to move the cube in a specific pattern in order to get all the cubs back to their original colors. People have sold manuals and books on how to do this process.
There are people around the world that have broken Guinness Book of World Records statistics by completing the Rubik’s Cube in a certain amount of time.
There’s also a way to cheat on the Rubik’s Cube, which may NOT get you into the book of records. Often Rubik’s cubes come with little stickers on the cubes which people could peel off and switch with another cube to make them all match up. Though this kind of takes the fun out of it, it was certainly a way to show off to unsuspecting friends who still hadn’t managed to complete it!
Barbie and her friends have been taking the market by storm for at least 50 years now. Barbie has made her stamp on the market during her debut in the New York Toy Fair in 1959. The very first barbie doll’s birthday was March 9, 1959, and she debuted in a classic black and white striped bathing suit. Made by Ruth Handler based on her daughter Barbara, Barbie has been known as one of the most popular toys for little girls for many years now.
She was also inspired by icons of the time, such as Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe. In its first year along, there were over 300,000 Barbie Dolls sold. If you have an original Barbie Doll, you may even be able to rake in a pretty penny for it online.
There are a lot of reasons why Barbie became so popular. Barbie provided inspiration for little girls everywhere and sent out the message that they can be anything and anyone that they want to be. She’s had many jobs through the years and has crossed from the realm of normality to fantasy so many times. She’s been an astronaut, a rockstar, a doctor, a paleontologist, a computer engineer, and more. She provides girls with an opportunity to tell so many stories.
Later on, another doll was introduced to the Barbie Lineup - the Ken Doll. Ken Carson was (and still is!) Barbie’s long-term boyfriend. He was named after the son of Ruth Handler.
During the ’60s there were also a lot of criticisms about Barbie, with some people saying she was too much of a sex symbol. As a result, the brand decided to release some of Barbie’s friends, including Midge Hadley and her sister Skipper Roberts. There were even celebrity Barbies released, based on Twiggy, Cher, JK Rowling, and more.
In 1980, there was an African American Barbie released, in addition to a Latina barbie.
Even today in 2020, Barbie continues to make waves in the land of toys and even beyond. She has been changed and reimagined to fit in with modern standards, with dolls being made to reflect the bodies and experiences of different girls throughout the world. She even has a YouTube channel where people can watch her give important life lessons, such as about self-love.
Barbie has inspired many movies through the years, many based on stories in common media such as Rapunzel, whereas others are more unique to the Barbie franchise like Mariposa.
We’ll say one thing - if anyone can teach you how to be a salesperson, it’s the folks at Barbie!
2. GI Joe
Much like Barbie, GI Joe is a staple toy. Originating from Hasbro in 1964, GI Joe reflected cultural ideals at the time. There weren’t many male toy figures during this time period, although the Ken doll did exist, he was more appealing to girls at the time. So, the GI Joe toy was created, a 12-inch military figure that was designed for boys.
The name GI Joe was inspired by a film released in 1945, The Story of GI Joe. There were a range of different characters created, each one representing a different branch of the military. From there, the toy simply just got more and more popular.
He was redesigned in 1970, with hair that looked lifelike and eyes that moved. He also had a changed handgrip that allowed him to be able to hold things like ropes and weapons, making him the ideal action figure.
While GI Joe isn’t quite as popular today, he’s still on the shelves, providing inspiration to young boys - and girls - everywhere.
Toy trends have changed a lot over the years. Many years ago, something as simple as a skipping rope would have been a staple of the standard Western home, but now as technology is improving, we see more and more new toys enter the market.
But what toy is the most popular ever made?
The most popular toy ever made is going to depend on the year. As we’ve mentioned, what was popular in the 1980s may not be popular today in 2020. Perhaps the one toy that has had the most influence though is LEGO.
LEGO is ideal for the little architect and builder in the making, consisting of small bricks with plenty of color. You could stack them up and make houses and more - today, there are even LEGO Millennium Falcons inspired by the Star Wars series. The possibilities are endless.
These toys made their debut in 1932 in Billund, Denmark, and were created by a carpenter Ole Kirk Christiansen. The phrase LEGO was coined 2 years later.
LEGO comes in many different forms, including the standard bricks, larger base bricks that you could build onto, LEGO people and animals, and more. Now, you can buy LEGO sets, some of them even inspired by certain things in general media. There have been Harry Potter-themed LEGO Sets, Star Wars LEGO Sets, and more. There have also been 2 LEGO movies, with characters depicted in the classic LEGO style.
Bonus - Top 5 Nerf Toys
Another type of toy that is massively popular that we thought we should give an honorable mention to is Nerf Toys.
Nerf is a style of foam rubber, and it is usually used to make sports equipment and toys. Nerf guns, however, can provide kids and adults alike with hours of pain-free fun. Have you ever thought of shooting something at your brother because they’ve been annoying you? Well, you can do so without any repercussions with a good old-fashioned Nerf gun.
The Nerf was created in 1989 with the launch of the first Nerf Blaster, known as the Blast a Ball. There have been a number of different Nerf Toys created through the years, from the initial Nerf Ball to the Nerf guns that we know and love today. There’s even a Nerf Bow and Arrow!
Here are just a few of the best Nerf toys, in the event that you’re looking for a little bit of fun warfare!
5. Nerf Ball
As a kid, were you ever sick of your parents telling you that you couldn’t play with your balls indoors? Well, the Nerf Ball is marketed as the first indoor ball! This softball is made of foam, and measures around four inches and diameter.
Before the Nerf Ball made its way onto the market, it was known as a range of different names such as the falsie ball and the Muff Ball. In its very first year, more than 4.5 million Nerf Balls were sold. The ball was also in part successful due to its appearance in an advertising campaign with Kool-Aid.
The Nerf Ball came in a range of different color schemes too. The ball had a follow-up model called the Super Nerf Ball. Later on, more and more products were added to the Nerf line, providing hours of fun for kids around the globe.
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4. Nerf N-Strike Elite Rhino Fire Blaster
The Nerf N Strike Elite Rhino Fire Blaster was unleashed onto the market on November 14, 2014. It’s a battery-operated Nerf blaster that comes with two barrels you can use to alternate your fire. It’s certainly worth trying if you want a little bit of harmless fun with your friends.
It’s expensive, but it’s great fun both for adults and children; All you will need to operate it is six D-cell batteries. The gun comes with handles too and these are designed to aid you with making steady shots.
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3. Nerf N-Strike Elite Hail Fire Blaster
This semi-automatic Nerf gun is so much fun to play with, featuring a flywheel system blaster that even holds several clips at the same time. This impressive Nerf gun is able to throw darts a maximum distance of 75 feet. It also boasts a large capacity of 144 darts.
This is ideal if your kid is a big fan of Nerf guns. In fact, it’s ideal for you too!
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2. Nerf Bow and Arrow
Now for something a little bit different! Have you ever wanted to feel like Robin Hood? Well, with the Nerf Bow and Arrow, you can! This is shaped like a bow and arrow and fires standard Nerf darts. It’s ideal for kids that want to feel like medieval archers, or for someone looking to practice their archery skills ahead of hitting the range.
The bow and arrow have a decent amount of range too, so you can hit it at faraway targets or targets that are close by. This is sure to give you countless hours of fun.
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1.Nerf Super Soaker
Did someone say water fun? If you’re looking for a little bit of fun in the sun, but it’s just a little bit too hot outside, the Nerf Super Soaker may be just what you need. This is just as good as your standard Nerf gun, but with water to cool you down on those hot summer days. Not that we’d recommend aiming one of these at your girlfriend or your mom who’s just put their makeup on…
The gun is very easy to use and sits well in the hand thanks to its comfortable grip, and it’s pretty simple to refill the water when you need more. No more leaving yourself vulnerable to fill up the water tank, simply get it done in a flash!
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So those are just some of the most popular toys in the world. Toys have changed through time, but one thing will always remain true: they’re so much fun! Whether you’re a kid yourself or an adult looking for some nostalgia, we hope this article has given you at least a tiny glimpse into some of the most popular toys. Hopefully, the information will come in handy for your next pop quiz!
About the Author
Jeremy is the founder of Dart Dudes, the leading resource for parents looking to pick up a Nerf toy for a child. He grew up with his four brothers and two sisters where there was always a Nerf war taking place.
With a focus on safety, Jeremy has helped thousands of parents help chose the right Nerf toy for their kids or grandkids. He lives in California with his wife and family. Learn more about me. - You can email me firstname.lastname@example.org