- 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.
- A Babylonian board game was probably an ancestor of chess and
- 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.
- Kites appear in China. They have probably been flown since before
recorded history. Stone yo-yos (Duncan) begin to be used in Greece.
- Playing cards begin to be used in Asia.
- Joseph Merlin introduces roller skates.
- 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.
- The first American doll maker is granted a patent and dolls begin
to be mass-produced in America for the first time.
- Salem, Massachusetts native S.B. Ives develops “The Mansion of
Happiness,” the first board game in the United States.
- 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.
- Alphabet Blocks (Uncle Goose) become favorites and help children
learn their alphabet the old-fashioned way.
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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 as 1800.
- 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.
- Australian native Lawrence Hargrave invents the first
- Gund introduces the first mass-produced musical toys and soft
- 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.
- 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.
- Edwin Binney and C. Harold Smith produce the first box of Crayola
crayons. (Binney & Smith)
- 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.
- 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
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.
- 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
- 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,
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.
- 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.
- His wife, Daphne, and his young son, Christopher Robin, inspired
A.A. Milne to write the poems and stories of Winnie the Pooh
- 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
- Walt Disney creates the Mickey Mouse (Disney) character. Two years
later, Charlotte Clark began making stuffed Mickey Mouse dolls, and
Disney merchandising was born.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 (Hasbro).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- Little Golden Books (Golden Books) delights children and parents
of all ages.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- With the introduction of the Safety School Bus, Little People
(Fisher-Price) as we know and love them today are born.
- Two art students discover that vinyl sticks to semi gloss paint.
From this discovery, Colorforms (Colorforms) is born.
- 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
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
- 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
- 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 to date.
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 million disks.
- 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.
- 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 Magique.
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.
- Hasbro introduces its light-bulb heated Easy Bake Oven.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 are sold.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 market.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 holiday seasons.
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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
The first Intellitoy
is introduced and takes the country by storm. Teddy Ruxpin ( ) is an
automated responding bear who can read books aloud.
- A battery-powered, hand-held video game system called Gameboy
(Nintendo) is released.
- 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 a string.
- 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.