There are toys being sold today that have been around since the 19th century. There are a few toys that have been iconic enough to stand the test of time. Only a select few appeal to kids and kids at heart year after year, decade after decade. Some of these iconic toys emerged out of some very strange circumstances.
Keep reading to find out how your favorite retro toys came into being. Have you ever wondered why Candyland was created? Or what’s inside an Etch A Sketch? It’s aluminum, by the way. Keep reading for more unbelievable facts about your most-loved playthings.
Silly Putty Was Invented As A Replacement For Rubber During WWII
During World War II, Japan invaded rubber producing countries, limiting America’s access to the precious resource. Rubber products were rationed in the US, and the government started funding research into synthetic rubber substitutes.
A couple of researchers discovered that a certain chemical compound could be gooey, sticky, stretchy, and non-toxic. Although it didn’t have all the properties of a proper rubber replacement, it was a lot of fun to play with. In 1949, a toy store owner came across the putty, and the rest is history.
The Inspiration For Barrel Of Monkeys Came From A Bored Greeting Card Salesman
In 1961, a greeting card salesman was waiting to speak to a store owner. He was hoping to convince the store owner to sell his greeting cards. While he was waiting, he started playing with a bunch of snow tire replacement chain links.
This guy was having so much fun playing with the chain links that he didn’t even notice the time passing. He told the store owner that the links would make a great toy, and the owner put him in contact with a successful toy inventor.
The Slinky Was Accidentally Invented While A Naval Engineer Was Trying To Design Stabilizers For Sensitive Instruments
In 1943, a naval engineer was trying to create a device that would stabilize sensitive instruments aboard ships during rough weather. He accidentally knocked one of his spring-like devices off a shelf and watched it “walk” over to his bookshelf.
The engineer decided to develop his discovery into a toy. All of the children in his neighborhood were super interested in it. His wife named it a “Slinky” after finding the word in a dictionary.
Barbie’s Full Name Is Barbara Millicent Roberts
Barbie is named after an actual girl— Barbara Millicent Roberts. Barbara’s mother, Ruth Handler, was watching her daughter play with paper dolls when she realized she could create a more durable toy out of plastic.
Back in the 1950s, most dolls were baby dolls. Ruth realized that there was a gap in the market for an adult-bodied doll. She brought the idea to her husband, the co-founder of the Mattel toy company, and after some convincing, the Barbie doll was born.
Speaking Of Barbie…
The inventor of Hot Wheels, Elliot Handler, and the inventor of Barbies, Ruth Handler, were husband and wife. They were married for two decades before either toy was invented. Barbie and Ken were named after their children.
The next time you see two kids arguing over Barbies or Hot Wheels, remind them that the creators of those toys actually got along quite well, and they should learn from their example.
Play-Doh Was Originally Developed And Sold As Wallpaper Cleaner
Play-Doh was originally concocted by Noah McVicker, who was working at a soap-making plant. Kroger Grocery wanted a product that would clean coal residue from wallpaper. After World War II, people were switching from coal home heating to natural gas. This, in combination with the introduction of washable vinyl wallpaper, meant that nobody really needed a wallpaper putty anymore. Some school teachers were using the putty to make art projects with their students. McVicker decided to manufacture the putty as a children’s toy.
Play-Doh has become so iconic that its scent is actually trademarked. You can even get Play-Doh cologne, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Mr. Potato Head Was Originally Meant To Be Played With Real Potatoes
In the early 1940s, an American toy inventor named George Lerner came up with the idea of inserting small, pronged body and face parts into fruits and vegetables. He liked the idea of creating a “funny face man.”
Lerner would take potatoes from his mother’s garden and make dolls out of them for his younger sisters. This became the principal idea behind the Mr. Potato Head Kit. The kit didn’t initially come with the plastic potato body. You were supposed to use your own vegetables.
The Creators Of Silly String Almost Ruined Their Pitch Meeting
Silly String was accidentally invented while chemists were trying to create an instant, sprayable cast for broken arms and legs. That product actually worked, but in the process of developing it, they realized that sprayable sticky string would make a fun toy.
When the inventors were trying to sell their idea to Wham-O, one of them sprayed the can all over the investor. That guy got super angry and kicked them out of his office. The next day the Silly String team got a telegram asking for 24 cans to send to a test market.
The Rubik’s Cube Was Originally Meant To Be An Educational 3D Model
The Rubik’s Cube was invented by Hungarian architect Erno Rubik in 1974. It was supposed to be a working model to help students understand 3D geometry. Rubik realized that the more he moved the cube around, the more mixed up the colors became.
He realized he had invented some kind of code, but he had no idea how to solve it. After a month of arranging and rearranging the squares, he finally figured out how to solve the puzzle.
Candyland Was Created By An Adult Polio Patient For Sick Children In Her Hospital
In 1948, Eleanor Abbott was recovering from polio in San Diego, California. She designed the game for children staying in her hospital ward. The kids loved the game so much that they told Eleanor to submit it to the Milton Bradley Company.
Milton Bradley bought the game and first released it in 1949. It quickly became their best selling game. Nobody knows the name of the artist who made the original Candyland artwork, but in 1984, Hasbro bought Milton Bradley and redesigned the look of the game.
The Etch A Sketch Toy Almost Went Bankrupt, But Then Toy Story 2 Saved It
The company that makes the Etch a Sketch was on the verge of bankruptcy when it agreed to let its drawing toy be featured in Toy Story 2. The Etch A Sketch was only on screen for a total of twelve seconds, but that was enough for the toy to see a twenty percent sales bump. Basically, Toy Story saved the company.
Disney is apparently very powerful. If just a few seconds of Disney screen time can make or break an iconic toy, I wonder what it could do for my career.
Lego Bricks From 1958 Still Interlock With Lego Bricks Made Today
Each Lego piece needs to be manufactured to an exacting degree of precision. When two pieces are pressed together, they must fit firmly, yet be easily disassembled.
Lego’s iconic design has never been changed or updated. This company knew they hit perfection, and they weren’t going to mess with it. Now parents can pass their own Lego collections on to their children, who can use those blocks with any new sets they happen to purchase.
The First Troll Doll Was Created By A Danish Fisherman Who Couldn’t Afford A Christmas Gift For His Daughter
In 1959, a Danish fisherman and woodcutter carved a doll for his daughter when he couldn’t afford to buy her a Christmas present. All of the other kids in the Danish town of Gjøl saw the troll doll and wanted one.
This guy’s company started making the dolls out of plastic and selling them. They became super popular in Europe before they were introduced to the US market.
Raggedy Ann Was Created For A Girl Who Died From A Smallpox Vaccine
The Raggedy Ann doll is based on a rag doll that creator Johnny Gruelle’s mother made for him. Johnny saved the doll to give to his daughter, Marcella. Unfortunately, Marcella died when she was just thirteen years old from an infected smallpox vaccine.
Contrary to popular belief, Gruelle didn’t create the doll as a tribute to his daughter. He was already in the process of getting a patent for his toy when Marcella died.
The Easy-Bake Oven Came Out In 1963
In 1963, Kerner Products, a Cincinnati based company, introduced the Easy-Bake Oven. The original Kenner Easy-Bake Oven was heated by two 100-watt incandescent light bulbs. It came in two colors— pale yellow and turquoise. It was originally designed to look like a real working oven.
Later, in 1971, they released a new model that was available in green, yellow, and red. These early versions of the Easy-Bake Oven are now seen are collectible items.
The Hungry Hungry Hippos Have Names
The Milton Bradley Game Hungry Hungry Hippostook the world by storm when it was released in 1978. Did you know that the four hippos in the game actually have names? Originally they wereLizzie Hippo (purple), Henry Hippo (orange), Homer Hippo (green), and Harry Hippo (yellow).
In a later edition of the game the purple hippo, Lizzie, was replaced with a pink hippo named Happy. The newest edition of the game flipped the script completely. Everything has more of a pastel tone and the hippos names are Sweetie Potamus (blue), Bottomless Potamus (yellow), Veggie Potamus (green), and Picky Potamus (orange).
How Earring Magic Ken Became A Gay Icon
In an attempt to make their Ken doll more appealing to girls, Mattel made Earring Magic Ken. It sold super well, but then it was discontinued within a few weeks because of its popularity with gay men.
I’m not sure how Mattel didn’t see this one coming. I mean, look at him. I love the idea of a gay Ken doll, but that’s probably not what Mattel was going for back in 1993.
The Spirograph Toy Was Originally Created To Prevent Forgery
In 1827, an English engineer named Peter Hubert Desvignes created a “Speiregraph,” a device that made elaborate spiral drawings intended to prevent people from forging bank notes.
What we now know as the Spirograph was created sometime between 1881 and 1900 by mathematician Bruno Abakanowicz. He used it to calculate the area of a curved shape. It wasn’t until 1965 that another British engineer, Denys Fisher, decided to market the Spirograph as a children’s toy.
He-Man Was A Toy Before He Was A Character
When the CEO of Mattel learned that making Star Wars action figures would cost him $750,000 in licensing, he decided to release some toys that weren’t yet associated with any franchise.
The original He-Man design was inspired by Cro-Magnon men and Vikings. Originally, the designer who made He-Man designed an action figure called “Beast Man,” but that was rejected because Beast Man looked too much like Chewbacca.
Milton Bradley Was Accused Of Making And Adult-Themed Toy
Twister was originally designed by in 1964 by Reyn Guyer Sr. His son, Reyn Jr., came up with an idea for a game that uses people as playing pieces on a giant game board. The first version of the game was called “Kings Footsie.”
When Twister became a success, actress Eva Gabor played it on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. It was super successful, but also pretty controversial. Competitors accused the toy company that distributed the game, Milton Bradley, of selling “sex in a box.”