enlightening overview of some of the high points in the development of
toys, games, and children's recreation .. from 6000 B.C. to the contemporary
6000 B.C. - An
ancestor of chess begins to be played. It evolves from an Indian game called
Chaturanga. In the 15th Century, modern chess pieces were finally standardized.
The queen and bishop pieces acquired the powers they hold today.
4000 B.C. - A
Babylonian board game was probably an ancestor of chess and checkers.
3000 B.C. - First
game resembling backgammon is played in Ancient Samaria. Egyptians, Greeks,
and Romans had played games similar to backgammon for thousands of years.
Stone marbles are first used in Egypt. Glass marbles were popularized in
the United States in the 1800s. 2000 B.C. - Egyptians begin to play a game
that resembles modern-day checkers. Egyptians made dolls from string, fabric
and paper. - The first iron skates are used in Scandinavia.
1000 B.C. - Kites
appear in China. They have probably been flown since before recorded history.
Stone yo-yos (Duncan) begin to be used in Greece.
969 - Playing
cards begin to be used in Asia.
1759 - Joseph
Merlin introduces roller skates.
1800s - Playgrounds
begin to appear in American cities. The idea stemmed from the efforts of
city reformers who were searching for more healthful play options for children
in urban areas, where parks and yards were scarce. The playgrounds started
off as “sand gardens,” inspired by those seen by an American social worker
while visiting Berlin. Financed by local businesses, city playgrounds soon
included swings and seesaws.
1840 - The first
American doll maker is granted a patent and dolls begin to be mass-produced
in America for the first time.
1843 - Salem,
Massachusetts native S.B. Ives develops “The Mansion of Happiness,” the
first board game in the United States.
1867 - A westernized
version of the Indian game Parcheesi (Milton Bradley) is introduced in
England under the name “Ludo.” Parcheesi remains the oldest continually
marketed American toy that dates back to 300 A.D.
1879 - Alphabet
Blocks (Uncle Goose) become favorites and help children learn their alphabet
the old-fashioned way.
Margarete Steiff notices
a pattern in a magazine for a toy elephant and makes a few to give as gifts.
She went on to sew a bear, a poodle and a donkey. Margarete’s stuffed animals
proved so popular that she was able to turn her hobby into a business.
Since then, Steiff bears, with their jointed arms and legs and trademark
metal button in their left ear, have been treasured the world over.
1884 - The wooden
Figure-8 Train Sets (BRIO) are introduced. More than 3.5 million trains,
cars, and trucks come off BRIO’s assembly line, the largest wooden toy
manufacturer in the world.
Three young brothers
begin making high-quality wooden toys in Osby, Sweden and the BRIO Corporation
gets its name from the Brothers Ivarson of Osby. Peter Reynolds began distributing
BRIO toys in the United States in 1977. BRIO makes good toys that are safe
and durable and encourage open-ended play.
1886 - The first
BB gun is created. Made for children, it scares many parents because it
is actually a working gun that can cause injury. The BB gun is a descendant
of the cap gun, which was invented soon after the Civil War, when some
shotgun manufacturers converted their factories to make toys. Penny pistols
and other authentic looking toy guns also began to appear in the 1880s.
1887 - The speaking
doll, which had first been invented by Johann Maezel in 1820, is improved
when Thomas Edison combines his phonograph technology with a doll, allowing
it to speak.
Late 1880s - Mah
Jongg was named for a Chinese word meaning “sparrow,” originates in the
Ningbo area of China. Games like Mah Jongg had been played as long ago
1889 - The Flexible
Flyer sled (Flexible Flyer) is introduced. It is a wonderful sled, largely
due to its extraordinary craftsmanship. The sled handles superbly as it
glides down the hill, due to its patented steering bar.
1890 - Australian
native Lawrence Hargrave invents the first three-dimensional kite.
1898 - Gund introduces
the first mass-produced musical toys and soft toys.
1900 - At just
22 years old, Joshua Lionel Cowen creates a battery-powered train engine
as an “animated advertisement” for products in a store’s display window.
To his surprise, customers are more interested in purchasing his toy train,
than the merchandise in the display. Lionel Trains (Lionel) began.
1902 - In America,
toy bears begin to be called “Teddy Bears” after President Theodore Roosevelt.
In only a few years, Teddy Bear-mania sweeps the world and by 1915, large-scale
toy bear manufacturing is in full swing.
1903 - Edwin Binney
and C. Harold Smith produce the first box of Crayola crayons. (Binney &
1913 - Former
Olympian (Gold, Pole Vault, 1908) and medical doctor A.C. Gilbert invents
the Erector Set, (BRIO) a motorized toy made of steel parts. Children use
the parts to build models of everything from ferris wheels to skyscrapers.
1914 - Charles
Pajeau develops a toy similar to the Erector Set, but designed for younger
children, called Tinker Toys (Playskool). Watching children poke sticks
into the holes of thread spools inspired Pajeau.
Eagle Rubber starts to
manufacture rubber toy balloons. Children like to play with this item for
a couple of reasons. The hopping itself is a fun way for children to improve
balance and coordination while developing their gross motor skills.
1915 - Johnny
Gruelle, a newspaper cartoonist, begins to sell Raggedy Ann dolls based
on one he had made for his daughter, Marcella. Visit the Johnny Gruelle
Reggedy Ann & Andy Museum
1916 - John Lloyd
Wright, the son of architect Frank Lloyd Wright invents Lincoln Logs (Playskool),
interlocking toy logs children use to build imaginative structures. Wright
was inspired by the way that his father designed the earthquake-proof Imperial
Hotel in Tokyo, Japan.
Louis Marx was a young
man with visions of mass marketing and mass production. He ventured out
to begin a toy company. Joined by his brother David a couple of years later,
Louis Marx & Company grew to become the world’s largest manufacturer
of toys in the middle of the century. It has evolved into a “classic” toy
staple of the 1990’s.
1922 - Jack Pressman
creates a play doctor’s bag when his children are afraid to visit the doctor.
His company becomes the largest manufacturer of classic games, selling
more than 25 million checker sets and 15 million chess and Chinese checker
sets to date.
1924 - His wife,
Daphne, and his young son, Christopher Robin, inspired A.A. Milne to write
the poems and stories of Winnie the Pooh (Applause).
1927 - A tough,
durable kind of plastic, polystyrene is invented. Although the first plastic,
celluloid, was invented in the 1860s, polystyrene is the first type strong
enough to really suit toy making.
1928 - Walt Disney
creates the Mickey Mouse (Disney) character. Two years later, Charlotte
Clark began making stuffed Mickey Mouse dolls, and Disney merchandising
1929 - The yo-yo
(Duncan) is popularized in the United States after entrepreneur Donald
Duncan sees the toy being demonstrated in Los Angeles. Duncan buys a small
yo-yo company for $25,000 and 30 years later, sales of Duncan yo-yos reach
$25 million dollars.
1930 - Stacking
Rings (Fisher-Price) is introduced and remains a classic toy today. The
five brightly colored rings on a stack allow babies to place them in any
order they wish. There are many different combinations that help improve
baby’s eye-hand coordination.
1931 - Alfred
M. Butts, an unemployed architect from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., invents a word
game called the Criss Cross Game. In 1948, Butts sells rights to the game
to entrepreneur James Brunot who trademarks the game under the name Scrabble
1932 - Ole Christiansen,
a Danish toy maker begins to manufacture toy blocks with a new twist. Christiansen
creates a plastic brick that can be locked together in different configurations.
The Lego, (Lego) which comes from the Danish word meaning “play well,”
was born. The continuing popularity of the Lego brick probably stems from
its ability to stimulate a child’s imagination- just six bricks fit together
in 102,981,500 different ways.
1934 - Hasbro
is introduced as a fun and easy way to bring friends and family together.
The object of the game is to be the first player to get all four of the
pawns in your starting color into that color’s home. The newest edition
on CD-ROM, produced by Hasbro Interactive, has pawns that slip and slide
around the board, taunting and teasing the other pawns along the way.
1935 - Monopoly
(Parker Brothers) is introduced with its real estate based on Atlantic
City’s street names. During the first year on the market, Monopoly was
the best-selling game in America. And over its sixty-five-year history,
an estimated five hundred million people have played the game.
1939 - William
Gruber, a piano tuner from Portland, Oregon, has the idea of mass-producing
color 3-D images in a viewer. Introduced before television becomes widespread,
View Master (Tyco) is an immediate hit.
Early 1940s -
Affordable, detailed model airplanes begin to be mass-produced. Originally
designed to help manufacturers sell airplanes to the military, they begin
to make practical toys with the introduction of plastic. Before plastic,
models were made with balsa wood provided in kits. Otherwise, consumers
had to cut their own wood pieces to fit a provided pattern.
1942 - Little
Golden Books (Golden Books) delights children and parents of all ages.
1943 - While searching
for a suspension device to ease rough sailing on battleships, navy engineer
Richard James discovers that a torsion spring will “walk” end over end
when knocked over. James brought the discovery home to his wife, who named
the new toy “Slinky.” If stretched end to end, the Slinky toys sold since
1945 would wrap around the world 126 times. Slinky’s (James Industries)
are still made in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, on the same eight machines
that James began with over 50 years ago.
Chutes and Ladders (Milton
Bradley) are developed, based upon an old game called Snakes and Ladders
that European settlers brought with them to America.
1948 - Arthur
“Spud” Melin founded Wham-O with partner Richard Kerr to market slingshots
and other projectile-firing sporting goods by mail. In 1956 the company
branched out into more peaceful playthings with the introduction of the
Frisbee and two years after that struck gold with the original Hula Hoop.
Melin died on June 28 2002.
1949 - While recovering
from polio, Eleanor Abbott devises imaginary games, among them the famous
Candyland (Milton Bradley). She sells the game to Milton Bradley, where
it remains a perennial top-seller for the preschool set.
Silly Putty (Binney &
Smith) is introduced. Silly Putty was a byproduct of a search to find a
synthetic substitute for rubber. James Wright, a chemical engineer for
General Electric, came up with the flesh-colored silicone compound that
bounced when rolled into a ball and stretched like rubber.
1950 - With the
introduction of the Safety School Bus, Little People (Fisher-Price) as
we know and love them today are born.
1951 - Two art
students discover that vinyl sticks to semi gloss paint. From this discovery,
Colorforms (Colorforms) is born.
1952 - Banking
on the idea that children like to play with their food, Mr. Potato Head
(Hasbro) is introduced. Mr. Potato Head is the first toy advertised on
television. First year sales of the toy are $4 million!
Edward Haas brings the
Pez mint dispenser to the United States. It was initially unsuccessful,
but gained popularity after Haas changed the original lighter-like design
by adding a cartoon head and replacing the mints with fruit-flavored candy.
Jack Odell creates the
original Matchbox (Mattel) car when he makes a small brass model of a Road
Roller and puts it into a matchbox so that his daughter could bring it
to school. Today, 100 million Matchbox cars are sold each year.
1956 - Yahtzee
was invented by a Canadian couple (name unknown) who in 1956 approached
Mr. Edwin S. Lowe, the man who made a fortune selling Bingo games. Lowe
liked the game, offered to buy the rights and changed the name of the game
to Yahtzee. The Milton Bradley Company acquired the E.S. Lowe Company and
the Yahtzee game.
enters the market as wallpaper cleaner. Non-toxic and less messy than regular
modeling clay, it is soon recognized that the cleaner makes an excellent
toy. The innovative product made Joe Clicker a millionaire before his 27th
birthday. To date, 700 million pounds of Play-Doh have been sold.
At a Fourth of July family
barbecue, Milton Levine dreams up the idea for the first Ant Farm (Uncle
Milton Industries), complete with live ants. Gumby
1957 - The Tonka
(Tonka) truck is introduced by a group of Minnesota teachers. The word
Tonka means “great” in Dakota Sioux, the language of the Native American
tribe indigenous to Minnesota. More than 230 million trucks have been manufactured
The idea of the Frisbee
(Wham-O) comes from a metal pie tin originally manufactured by the Frisbee
Baking Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut. During the 1920’s, students
at nearby Yale University threw the tins around for fun and yelled “Frisbee”
to warn passersby. Fred Morrison, a carpenter and building inspector who
was fascinated with flight and plastic, came up with the design for a flying
disk. Wham-O bought the idea and named it Pluto Power, because it resembled
a flying saucer. In 1957 Wham-O modified the plastic disk and trademarked
the name Frisbee. Since its debut, Wham-O has produced more than one hundred
1959 - Elliot
Handler and his wife Ruth invent the Barbie doll (Mattel). Today, two Barbie’s
are sold every two seconds.
Arthur Melin and Richard
Knerr begin to market Hula Hoops (Wham-O) after getting the idea from a
friend who saw school children in Australia twirl bamboo hoops around their
waist for exercise. Merlin and Knerr were actually reincarnating a toy
that was probably used a long ago as 1000 B.C. in Egypt, and, later, Greece
and Rome. In the first year of production, 15 million Hula Hoops were sold.
1960 - The first
Etch-a-Sketch (Ohio Art) is marketed. Since then, more than 100 million
of these popular drawing toys have been sold. The Etch-a Sketch was invented
by Arthur Granjean in the late 1950s and was originally called L’Ecran
In 1869, the Checkered
Game of Life (Milton Bradley) was introduced. Its popularity began Bradley’s
career in the game business. In 1959, executives at Bradley’s company asked
game inventor Reuben Klammer to come up with a game to commemorate Milton
Bradley’s anniversary. Inspired by one of Bradley’s old Checkered Game
of Life game boards, Klamer designed the now-classic Game of Life.
1963 - Hasbro
introduces its light-bulb heated Easy Bake Oven.
1965 - Stanley
Weston creates a doll for boys based on a new television show called “The
Lieutenant.” The doll, G.I. Joe, proves more popular than the TV series,
to the surprise of many toy manufacturers who had assumed for years that
boys wouldn’t play with dolls. Interestingly, a female G.I. Joe doll introduced
years later was a flop.
Spirograph (Hasbro) is
introduced at the Nuremburg International Toy Fair. Its visual creativity
and ease of use expands the range of art experiences for children. With
wild colors and patterns, it is appropriate for all ages and abilities.
Using a simple set of gear-form templates and a set of colored pens, anyone
can make hundreds of geometric shapes and create a variety of effects.
1966 - Elliot
Handler, one of the cofounders of Mattel Inc., invents Hot Wheels (Mattel)
when he decides to add axles and rotating wheels to small model cars. His
gravity-powered car with special low-friction styrene wheels reaches 300
million per hour.
Twister (Hasbro) is introduced
as the first game ever invented that requires people to use their bodies
as playing pieces. Twister actually grew out of a project that inventor
Reyn Guyer was working on for his father’s design company and has been
played by an estimated 65 million people around the world.
1968 - A new push-pull
toy called The Corn Popper (Fisher-Price) is introduced and adds the incentive
of fun to confidence-building mastery. The multicolored balls pop inside
the clear bubble as a response to the child’s walking. The popping fascinates
children, and they keep walking to keep hearing the pops. This sort of
sturdy and carefully designed toy works with your child’s growth patterns
and makes learning and practice painless and carefree.
1969 - Parker
Brothers introduces the Nerf ball (Hasbro), a polyurethane foam ball that
is safe for indoor play. By year’s end, more than 4 million Nerf balls
1971 - Hans Beck
creates his first Playmobil system. Perfectly designed for little hands
and growing minds, the pieces are durable crafted, with bright colors,
rounded edges, and inviting themes. And as an added bonus to parents, each
set is fully washable. Playmobil has created over 275 different sets, all
scaled to work together.
1972 - Magnavox
introduces Odyssey (Magnavox), the first video game machine, featuring
a primitive form of paddleball. Other companies soon invested in the video
game business and, by 1976, hockey, tennis, and squash were available.
1973 - Dave Arneson
and Scott Gygax invent Dungeons & Dragons. The game creates a whole
new fantasy/ adventure category of toys, which has become a $250 million
1974 - Four engineers
created Magna Doodle (Fisher-Price) in response to their search for a dustless
chalkboard and it was first sold by Tyco. Magna Doodle has a variety of
uses and has been purchased by more than forty million people.
1976 - Nolan Bushnell
sells his video game company, Atari, to Warner Brothers. Atari’s popular
(Warner Brothers) Pong and Super Pong video tennis games soon gave way
to a home video cartridge system that ran full-color games, from baseball
to Pac-man. By 1992, Atari was making $2 billion a year, but lost its business
just as quickly through over-licensing. In 1983, Atari sent thousands of
cartridges to Texas to be used as landfill.
1977 - A new line
of Star Wars action figures (Kenner Toys) is marketed, in response to George
Lucas’s blockbuster film. They dominate the action figure market.
1983 - Nintendo
Entertainment System, (Nintendo) a home video game system, is introduced.
With 52 colors, realistic sound and high-speed action, it catches the attention
of retailers who were initially skittish due to Atari’s collapse. The NES,
as well as the popular “Super Mario Brothers” and “The Legend of Zelda”
game cartridges, were the top-selling toys for the 1987, 1988 and 1989
The Manhattan Toy Company
begins under the creative hand of Francis Goldwyn; they make wonderful
finger puppets and also make a theater for the puppets. Playing with finger
puppets helps children develop their imagination and language skills and
encourages them to express themselves.
1985 - Pappa Geppetto’s
Toys in Victoria BC Canada is founded and begins as a small manufacturer
of wooden toys and gifts. Squish (Pappa Geppetto’s now sold by Manhattan
Toys ) was designed by Tom Flemons while he was studying Buckminster Fuller’s
“tensegrity” structures-models that show coexistent tension and compression
and are comprised of a complex network of triangles that form a roughly
spherical shape. Squish is the ultimate baby toy, with bright colors, sliding
beads and a jingling bell.
1986 - Artist
Xavier Roberts introduces his Cabbage Patch Kids (Mattel) into the mass
market first through the Coleco Company. Each of the dolls comes with an
adoption certificate and unique name. Although more than three million
of the dolls are produced, supply cannot keep up with demand. Cabbage Patch
Kids become the most successful new dolls in the history of the toy industry
Rob Angel, a 24-year-old
waiter from Seattle, introduces Pictionary, (Hasbro) a game in which partners
try to guess phrases based on each other’s drawings.
1987 - Engineer
Scott Stillinger invents the Koosh Ball (Hasbro) in an effort to teach
young children how to catch. He tied rubber bands together to make a small,
easy-to-catch ball. The name “koosh” comes from the sound the ball makers
as it lands in a person’s hand.
The first Intellitoy
is introduced and takes the country by storm. Teddy Ruxpin ( ) is an automated
responding bear who can read books aloud.
1989 - A battery-powered,
hand-held video game system called Gameboy (Nintendo) is released.
1993 - Toy inventor
H. Ty Warner begins to market under stuffed plush beanbag toys called Beanie
Babies (Ty). The toys are designed to be inexpensive so that a child can
purchase them. Warner began with nine Beanie Babies (a dog, a platypus,
a moose, a bear, a dolphin, a frog, a lobster, a whale, and a pig.) The
toys were not an instant success. It was only after the 11 Beanie Babies
were retired in 1996 that they became a collector’s item.
Gymini Gym (Tiny Love)
is introduced as an expansion of the classic mobile so that your child
can play with it in a variety of ways. The structure is based on colorful
arches designed so soft toys can be attached. Because it is padded, your
baby can lie on top of the mat and play on it or roll over around still
be secure. A variety of Gyminis are available, with different themes and
different colors. Gymini is a true original and the leading activity gym
on the market today.
The grand idea for Toobers
& Zots (Hands On Toys) came to Arthur Ganson, an artist, kinetic sculptor
and artist-in-residence at MIT. Flexible, holdable and infinitely moldable,
Toobers & Zots inspires hours of open-ended, creative fun. Toobers-
long, bendable foam tubes-hold their shape and are lightweight and fun
to use. Colorful Zots are an assortment of stars, circles, squares, triangles,
donuts, crowns, and other shapes that connect with Toobers like beads on
1998 - Tickle
Me Elmo ( ) hits stores and causes Christmas-shopping hordes to triple
in size. Elmo was the ideal character to launch a line of plush toys that
reacted to a child’s touch.