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Timeless toys

February 17, 2017
Illustration by Muhammad Faizan
Illustration by Muhammad Faizan

Achild’s life is incomplete without toys, whether they are made of clay, clothes, plastic or rubber. Toys bring excitement in their lives and become their most precious possessions.

Growing up with their favourite toys create a special bond between for a child and later on in life the toy brings back all the golden memories associated with it, no matter how worn out the toy may be. And of course, many of you may still be playing with your favourites; it might be a teddy bear, a doll, Spiderman, Batman or Superman toy, or maybe the high-tech toys of today.

As people grow up, they give up playing with toys but whenever they come across it, the urge to pick them up and play takes over and they become kids again. We are exploring some of the best-selling toys of the past few decades to see what made them so special. Yes, there are many, many toys that have stood the test of time and are still making the headlines, so let’s see what they are.

The Yo-yo (1928)

Yo-yo is considered to be one of the best-selling toys in history. In fact, it is the second oldest toy in history (dating back to 2,500 years), while the oldest being the doll. In ancient Greece, the toy was made of wood, metal and terracotta. The first historical mention of the yo-yo, however, was from Greece in the year 500 BC.

Pedro Flores is often credited as the inventor of yo-yo, but he never personally claimed to have invented it. He opened the Yo-Yo Manufacturing Company in Santa Barbara, California, and just one year later, Donald F. Duncan purchased the business from Flores. It was then dubbed ‘Duncan Yo-Yo’.

Silly Putty (1943)

It is an accidental invention. During World War II, engineer James Wright was working for the US War Production Board, trying to create an inexpensive substitute for synthetic rubber. When he dropped boric acid into silicone oil, he got a substance that was more stretchy and bouncier than rubber, though it was of no use to the government and it didn’t make the headlines until a few years later.

Businessman Peter Hodgson found this material to be play-worthy for kids and he named it ‘Silly putty’ and started marketing it in packaging of plastic egg shells.

LEGO and Duplo (1932)

LEGO is the all-time favourite of not only kids, but their parents and grandparents who grew up playing with it. But hardly anyone knows that in 1932, a Danish genius named Ole Kirk with his 12-year-old son invented the first ever version of LEGO, an interlocking piece mechanism made of wood.

He started the business and in 1934 and dubbed it ‘Leg Godt’ (Danish)which means ‘play well’. Sometime later in 1947, when Ole came across British prototype called ‘Kiddicraft Self-Locking Building Bricks’ with pegs on top and hollow bottom; he was much impressed with such an easy play mechanism, thus he adopted the idea and started making his own version. In 1969, for younger kids, the larger Duplo blocks were introduced.

Hot Wheels (1968)

In 1960s, when there were toy cars made of plastic and rubber, Elliot Handler, a co-founder of Mattel incorporation, introduced the Hot Wheels — a line of die-cast cars.

Handler wanted the original, authentic look of the cars, like the vehicles he often saw on California’s highways. Therefore, he assigned Harry Bradley, a top auto designer from Chevrolet, to lead his designers’ team. A team of engineers and designers produced ‘muscle’ cars with thick, plastic mag wheels built for speed and minimal friction axles that featured ‘torsion-bar suspension,’ which gave the cars shock absorbency and bouncy wheels.

And kids fell in love with them.

Uno (1972)

Not many of you may have played Uno — an interesting four coloured card game invented in 1971 by Merle Robbins. The story behind the game is that one day Robbins had an argument with his son over the rules of another popular card game, Crazy Eights. So he decided to have the rules he wanted and created his own set of card.

His family enjoyed the game too much that they saved some money and manufactured the first 5000 UNO games which were sold instantly, and by 1981, the game was popular across the world.

Later, Merle sold the rights to the game to International Games for $50,000, plus royalties. The card game is now produced by Mattel and is still going strong.

Barbie (1959)

Ever since Barbie was introduced, girls have been head over heels in love with it. It is also the best selling toy in history. With over a billion dolls sold, Barbie has the staying power that other dolls can only dream of. And we can say that she’ll be around for a long time to come.

The person behind the creation of Barbie is Ruth Handler, wife of Elliot Handler and co founder of Mattel Incorporation. Inspired by her daughter Barbara, Ruth created the doll as an older, lifelike figure to help children focus on the future, on what they want to be when they grow up.

And according to Handler, “The whole philosophy of Barbie was that through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices.”

Barbie has more than 150 careers — including doctor, engineer, teacher, scientist and lawyer — since her debut in 1959, and always keeping an active lifestyle.

Super Soaker (1989)

Super Soaker water gun is a hit in summer when you want to have some fun with your friends. Water guns are not new something though. The earlier version of super soaker was iron squirt gun (1890s), but they got their modern look, swift mechanism and new built in 1989 when the first Super Soaker was released. This high-powered water gun took the 1990s by storm and over 175 different variations have been on the classic model.

Mr Potato Head (1949)

If you don’t possess one, then you must have seen Mr Potato Head in the movie Toy Story, appearing alongside Woody and Buzz. Yes, Mr Potato Head was created with a specific purpose in mind by George Learner — to make kids interested in eating vegetables. And yes, the toy actually made kids reach for a real potato.

Hula hoop (1958)

The hula hoop is not a modern invention, it has been around for centuries. The Greeks used its earliest form for exercising. The earliest version was made from metal, bamboo, wood, grasses and even vines. In 1300, hooping was introduced in Britain. And in 1800, when British sailors first witnessed hula dancing in the Hawaiian Islands, they realised that the body movements of hula dancing and hooping looked quite similar, thus it was named ‘hula hoop’.

The tube in the form of a toy was first marketed by Wham-O in 1958.

Etch-A-Sketch (1960)

In 1955, a 30-year-old electrician named Andre Cassagnes was installing a factory light switch plate and made some pencil markings on its translucent decal. After peeling the decal from the switch plate, he saw the image had transferred to the other side. This is where Cassagnes got the idea to make the children’s drawing toy. More than 175 million of the devices have been sold since 1960, the year it first went to market.

Slinky (1943)

The humble Slinky was invented by a naval engineer Richard T. James, who was working on a spring to keep ship equipment safe. He accidentally dropped some samples of his springs and found one of which seemed to walk as it fell. It was then that he and his wife came up with the idea of marketing it as a toy.

Magna doodle (1974)

It is said that Japanese engineers created the dustless chalkboard dubbed as Magna Doodle. They used dark magnetic dust behind a slate that was drawn up to the surface of a grey board by a plastic pen. An erasable arm swept the board clean, making it a perfect sketching platform.

Similar to Etch-a-sketch, Magna doodle also provided endless enjoyment for kids in the 80s and it is still popular today.


I have not seen kids playing with Frisbees these days, but sometime back, Frisbees were considered to be a popular toy that made a picnic more fun. It is said that in the late 1800s, the Frisbie Baking Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut, made pies that were sold to many New England colleges. These college students found a way to entertain themselves at snack time and tossed empty trays to the each other, providing endless hours of fun. Many students claimed to be the ‘one who was first to fling.’

But Yale College argued in 1820, that a Yale undergraduate named Elihu Frisbie grabbed a passing collection tray from the chapel and flung it out into the campus, thereby becoming the true inventor of the Frisbie and winning glory at Yale. It was from the word “Frisbie” that the common name for the toy was coined.

Later, Ed Headrick, an inventor at Wham-O, patented the modern Frisbee. Today, Frisbee is owned by Mattel Toy Manufacturers.

Rubik’s cube (1974)

The Rubik’s cube was never meant to be a toy, it was invented in 1974 by Erno Rubik, a Hungarian architect, who wanted a working model to help explain three-dimensional geometry. After designing the ‘magic cube’, as he called it (twice the weight of the current toy), he realised he could not actually solve the puzzle. The more he moved the coloured squares, the more mixed up they became.

“It was a code I myself had invented!” he wrote. “Yet I could not read it.” After a month, and using a method of rearranging the corners of each side first, he finally solved the puzzle.

It took a few years to be marketed as a toy and was shown at the Nuremberg Toy Fair in 1979 and spotted as a potential hit. It was licensed to the Ideal Toy Corp in 1980 and, by January 2009, more than 350 million units had been sold worldwide, making it the biggest-selling toy of all time.

Published in Dawn, Young World, February 11th, 2017