A doll or an action figure? A miniature train set or a toy that teaches 3-year-olds how to spell? These are the decisions parents must make every year when the festive season comes to town.
Here, One4all look at some of the much-loved toys of past generations and what they meant to those parents and children.
Mattel’s Barbie was an icon as soon as she was released and today, is still one of the most recognised toys and brands around the world. Invented in 1959 by Ruth Handler, the co-founder of Mattel, Barbie made her big debut at the American Toy Fair in New York City and was the first mass-produced doll with womanly features. The full name of the first doll was Barbie Millicent Roberts, she was from Willows, Wisconsin and worked as a teenage fashion model.
The first Barbie was modelled after a sexy pin-up doll named Lilli but over the years, she has transformed into thousands of variations. In 1965, Barbie first had bendable legs and eyes that open and shut. In 1967, a Twist ‘N’ Turn Barbie was released that had a movable body that twisted at the waist. In 1961, we were introduced to her boyfriend Ken and a year later her BFF Midge. In 1974, Barbie got a little sister Skipper and she was portrayed hitting puberty – with a flick of her arm, Skipper grew three-quarters of an inch, slimmed and grew breasts.
With their later models, Mattel hoped Barbie would ‘broaden girls’ vision of what’s possible’. No longer satisfied with just being a beautiful model, we’ve now seen Barbie as an astronaut, a firefighter, a doctor, a scientist, a game developer and President.
There has been some controversy over the Barbie doll’s figure when it was realised that if Barbie was a real person, her measurements would be an impossible 36-18-38. And so, in more recent times, the company has introduced dolls with more curvy bodies to represent a wider audience.
No company or single inventor can claim they invented the hula hoop but through their Wham-O Company, Richard Knerr and Arthur Melin became the first company to mass-market the plastic coloured toy.
In 1958, the hula hoop took over the toy world with its simplicity. The toy quickly spread to London, Paris, and Tokyo but the allure was short-lived there as the toy was blamed for injuries, burns and even a death. The hula hoop soon became banned in Japan for indecency (one should not shake their hips in public) and in Russia for being an example of ‘the emptiness of American culture’.
By spring of 1959, hula hoops began to fall from hips when the Diavolux and the yo-yo hit the shelves in toy stores.
By the mid 60’s, hula hoop sales were dropping significantly so Wham-O added several ball bearings inside the tube to make noise. This helped launch a second hooping craze, a National Hula Hoop Contest that ran from 1968 – 1981 and the 1980 World Hula Hoop Championship which was held in more than 2,000 cities with an estimated two million participants.
Cabbage Patch Kids
Cabbage Patch Kids dolls were first developed by Xavier Roberts as his ‘Little People’. His ‘Little People’ were not offered for sale but were ‘adopted’ each with their own individual name and birth certificate, and instead of paying a purchase price, buyers of Roberts’ ‘Little People’ would pay an adoption fee.
He developed the dolls based on the tale of a young boy who was led by a Bunnybee behind a waterfall into a magical Cabbage Patch, where he found Cabbage Patch babies being born. When he was asked to help, Roberts built Babyland General in Cleveland, Georgia where the Cabbage Patch Kids could live and play until he found good, loving homes for them.
Each Cabbage Patch Kids doll was unique. Different head moulds, eye shapes, hair colours and styles, and clothes made each doll look different than the rest and the fact that inside each Cabbage Patch Kids box came a ‘birth certificate’ with the doll’s first name and middle name made them even more individual.
Whether it was the adoption papers or the individualisation of each doll, during the 1983 Christmas season, parents frantically searched everywhere for the coveted Cabbage Patch Kids dolls. While many shops had extremely long waiting lists, others had a first-come-first-serve policy, which led to vicious fights between shoppers. Some shoppers were even willing to pay twice the regular price. By the end of the year, around 3 million dolls had been ‘adopted’.
The Rubik’s Cube
The Rubik’s Cube celebrated its 44th birthday this year and to this day, millions of people all over the world are yet to solve the fiendishly hard puzzle.
The Rubik’s Cube did not start out as a toy. In 1974, inventor Erno Rubik, a Hungarian architect, wanted a working model to help explain three-dimensional geometry. After designing his ‘magic cube’, he realised he could not actually solve it, as he once wrote ‘It was a code I myself had invented. Yet I could not read it’.
The cube, made up of nine coloured squares on each side, can be rearranged in more than 43 quintillion (43,252,003,274,489,856,000 to be exact) different ways.
The cube quickly became an international sensation. First targeted at adults, the cube was quickly adopted by children. In 1980 and 1981, the Rubik’s Cube received the UK Toy of the Year award and in the first 3 years of its release, it sold 100 million units. The cube today had sole over 3 times that figure, making it the best-selling toy of all time.
As of 2016, Mats Valk holds the world record for the fastest time, successfully rearranging the multi-coloured toy in just 4.74 seconds.