Every year, new and innovative toys make their debut, tapping into current trends in hopes of topping holiday gift guides and wish lists by the fall. Yet, there are some toys that are far from new, but still remain playtime favorites decades after they first appeared on toy store shelves or made their first appearance at a major toy fair. We’ve taken a look at some of the most popular classic toy brands and how they have evolved through the years.
Etch A Sketch
This red-framed, pencil-free drawing toy debuted in 1960, produced by The Ohio Art Co. Invented by French electrician Andre Cassanges, the original version was called “Telecran” or “L’Ecran” (or “screen” in English). It was the No. 1 holiday toy the year it debuted, and more than 100 million Etch A Sketches have been produced since. Spin Master acquired the Etch A Sketch brand in 2016.
Mr. Potato Head
While Mr. Potato Head has changed a lot over the years, the toy has been manufactured and sold by Hasbro since its launch in 1952. The original version of the toy featured body parts that kids could stick into a real potato (not included). In the early ‘60s, Hasbro started including a plastic potato body with the toy. Mr. Potato Head was also the first toy to be advertised on TV.
John Lloyd Wright, son of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, invented Lincoln Logs in 1916. Inspired by the foundation design of one of his father’s buildings — the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo — these construction sets are still made from real wood. Hasbro currently owns Lincoln Logs, but licenses the brand to Basic Fun!, which has produced Lincoln Logs since acquiring K’NEX (the previous licensor) in 2017.
This iconic doll debuted at Toy Fair New York in 1959, wearing her black-and-white, striped swimsuit. Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler invented Barbie, whose first careers included fashion editor, registered nurse, flight attendant, and executive career girl. Today, Barbie has had more than 200 careers.
Colorforms were first created by two art students, Harry and Patricia Kislevitz, in 1951. The product first launched through FAO Schwarz and was marketed for adults, but Colorforms soon became popular with kids. PlayMonster has been manufacturing Colorforms since 2019, when it acquired Kahootz Toys. This year, the brand celebrates its 70th anniversary.
Spin Master acquired Rubik’s Brand Ltd. this year, following decades of different toy manufacturers licensing its production rights. Ernő Rubik’s colorful cube first debuted in 1974 as the “Magic Cube,” but got a new name when Ideal Toys started distributing the toy globally in 1980. Today, one in every seven people around the world — adding up to more than 1 billion people — has played with a Rubik’s Cube.
Mattel launched this line in 1959 as “Fisher-Price Play Family.” The name later changed when consumers requested a catchier one. The original Little People were affixed to their toys, but kids kept trying to remove them in toy testing, which led to full-bodied Little People figures. The brand got a full makeover in the late ‘90s, creating the Little People style that is still available today.
Play-Doh was originally known as “Kutol Wall Cleaner,” a compound that removed coal residue from wallpaper. The cleaner was later rebranded as a children’s toy in the mid-‘50s, first sold at the Washington, D.C., Woodward & Lothrop Department store in red, blue, and yellow. Following multiple acquisitions over the years, Hasbro has manufactured Play-Doh for the longest period of time, since 1991.
Inventors Richard and Betty James debuted the Slinky in 1945, demonstrating the toy to Christmas shoppers at the Philadelphia Gimbels department store — and sold all 400 Slinkys they had in two hours. Poof Products bought the James’ company in the late ‘90s, becoming Poof-Slinky, which later became part of Alex Brands. Last year, Just Play acquired the Slinky brand.
Before it made toys, Tonka — which got its name from Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota — made gardening tools. Founded in 1946 and originally called Mound Metalcraft, the company started producing toys in its second year, after acquiring a competitor. The toys performed so well that Mound Metalcraft abandoned gardening tools that year and became Tonka Toys in the ‘50s. Hasbro acquired Tonka in 1991, but currently licenses the brand to Basic Fun!
This article was originally published in the February 2021 edition of the Toy Book. Click here to read the full issue!