The Most Popular Toys Each Decade (Including Some Dangerous Ones!)

How many of these do YOU remember?   If you were in retail during the 80’s you will definitely remember the Cabbage Patch Kids frenzy, I have really not seeing anything that crazy since then.  I’m surprised there weren’t any actual deaths considering how psychotic people got over getting one of these for their kids.  After Christmas the first year we got a few in during March, after they had been sold out for a few months and we advertised that we were giving 6 away as part of our Easter event that year.  At 9 am in the morning, there was a line of over 300 people who were lining up just for a CHANCE to win a Cabbage Patch Doll.

6 months before Christmas when we first saw them at a toy show, the toy company said they thought that they were going to be a “good item” and I looked at them and said “Those things are ugly, who would want a doll like that?”  I’m humble enough to admit that was not one of my better predictions…


Every year during the holidays, there’s always that one toy that your kids just have to have. As adults, it can seem pretty trivial and a little silly but you have to remember how badly you wanted your own trendy toy-of-the-year back when you were little.

Growing up in the 1990s the hot ticket items for me were Power Rangers and Nintendo game cartridges, but toy fads have been around for decades. Here’s a look into the past at the toys you either had or probably wished for. Depending on how old you are you may even have given some of these to your own kids.

1920s – The Radio Flyer Wagon

The famous little red wagon has been around for a long, long time. It was first made in Chicago by an Italian immigrant. The wagon was immensely popular and sales stayed steady even during the Great Depression, and they continue to sell to this day.

1920s – The Chemistry Set

This chemistry set was educational and fun, which made it a hit with kids and parents alike. By today’s standards, it’s incredibly unsafe – the first experiment was “Explosives” – but it was all the rage back in the day. Unfortunately, the kit was marketed only to boys. Girls were only allowed to be “Lab Technicians” until the 1960s.

1930s – View-Master

I gotta say, this shocked me a bit. I didn’t realize the View-Master was that old. Truly a classic.

1940s – Bubbles

Bubbles have been around for centuries. but Chemtoy was the first company to patent their own soap solution in 1940. Bubble wands have been immensely popular ever since.

1940s – Little Golden Books

This was the first line of books published exclusively for children, at a price point that was affordable for the average family. They sold 1.5 million copies in just five months and they are still in print today.

1950s – Silly Putty

During World War II, scientists were trying to develop a synthetic alternative to rubber since the war was diminishing rubber supplies. What they got was the stretchy, bouncy Silly Putty. It became a hugely popular toy and eventually even did get a practical use too – it was used by NASA astronauts on Apollo 8 mission to hold their tools in zero gravity.

1950s – Pez Dispensers

Pez candies were invented back in the 1920s in Austria but the dispenser took another 30 years and the novelty heads that they are now famous for didn’t show up until 1955. They became collector’s items and some are worth as much as $10,000 today.

1950s – Gumby

Gumby was the star of a stop-motion film called Gumbasia in 1953, which was eventually developed into TV’s The Gumby Show. The lopsided little guy was a hit and has been going strong since.

1960s – Etch-a-Sketch

Although it was originally invented in France, the invention was bought by the Ohio Art Company, who gave it the instantly memorable name it has come to be known around the world by. If there’s a Toy Hall of Fame, this one is clearly a frontrunner.

1960s – G.I. Joe

After seeing how successful Barbie was with little girls, Hasbro decided to cash in on the male market and created an “action figure” (it’s NOT a doll!) that was marketed as a rugged, manly war hero. The toys eventually starred in their own comics, cartoons and even full-length Hollywood blockbusters.

1960s – Easy-Bake Oven

Yes, the light bulb-powered oven wasn’t really hot enough to truly cook anything, but seriously, you have no idea how many kids first got interested in cooking thanks to these.

1960s – Lite-Brite

Back in the day, Lite-Brites were basically a light covered by a black paper grid. Kids would poke transparent colored plastic pegs through the paper to make their own glowing designs and artwork. Today’s Lite-Brites take advantage of advances in technology such as touch-screens and LED lights.

1970s – NERF Football

Not everyone knows this, but NERF is actually an acronym for “non-expanding recreational foam.” The lightweight material is perfect for throwing around and was safe for young children. Although there were several NERF balls of all shapes and sizes back in the day, the football was by far the most popular.

1970s – Paddington Bear

Paddington Brown first appeared in a 1958 book, but didn’t make the transition to the toy market until 1972 when the first Paddington plush toys were made.

1970s – Rubik’s Cube

The world’s most recognizable brain-teaser was invented by a Hungarian man named Ernö Rubik. The cube quickly became popular in Europe before hitting America. Its popularity remains unchallenged, and there are even Rubik’s Cube speedsolving contests worldwide.

1970s – Classic Football

This classic game, released in 1977, was the precursor to things like GameBoys and other handheld electronic gaming devices. It pitted the player against a series of dots (the other team) that had to be avoided to get to the end zones and score.

1980s – Cabbage Patch Kids

These lumpy fabric dolls were originally made by an art student in 1976 and became popular after appearing on a television show in 1980. The dolls were cute, but the idea to sell them with their own “adoption certificates” really gave them a personal feel that had kids clamoring for them.

1980s – Glo Worm

Fun fact: I had one of these as a kid and it was awesome. I called him “Glowy,” which wasn’t the most original name but what do you expect from a 3-year-old? The Glo Worm came out in 1982 and combine a stuffed animal with a nightlight to help kids be less afraid of the dark.

1990s – Beanie Babies

These little bean-filled stuffed animals created an absolute frenzy during my childhood, with children and adults rushing to collect as many as they could. Today, some of the rarer models can still fetch a few thousand bucks online.

1990s – American Girl Doll

These were a huge hit since they were a different alternative to Barbie dolls. Modeled after girls from different periods of American history, they included various ethnicities, time periods and walks of life which made them an educational toy. Many also include tie-ins to book series. Unfortunately, the dolls aren’t cheap (about $100) and are sold largely via catalogue.