The holiday season is upon us, which means it's the perfect time to dive into the history of iconic gifts—and for Americans to gear up accordingly and look out for the best deals. For retailers, it means lining physical and virtual shelves with the most popular toys and newest gadgets.
Toy shopping has transformed over the past 100 years due to advancements in the products or the marketplace. Stacker searched for products from 1920 to today that caught hold of the public zeitgeist through novelty, innovation, kitsch, quirk, or simply great timing, and then rocketed to success. The list was curated using national toy archives and data curated by The Strong National Museum of Play. Some items remain curious relics of the past, while others are essentially as iconic now as they were upon their debut. Each one also functions as a window into American culture.
So how do you choose the perfect toy for your family and friends today? If you're looking to avoid tech, you could always opt for one of those historic classics that never go out of style, like yo-yos, Tonka Trucks, or teddy bears. If you want to impress with the latest innovations of the past decade, however, you can choose robot puppies, gaming consoles, or tablets for children.
Here are top holiday toys from the year you were born, counting up from 1920 to today. May they fill your heart—and stockings!—with joy.
1958: Hula Hoop
Original estimated retail price: $1.98
Hula Hoops arrived after an Australian named Alex Tolmer designed a polyethylene plastic version of the bamboo hoops Aussie kids were spinning around their waists. Tolmer sold the design to American toy company Wham-O, which named it the "Hula Hoop" in honor of Hawaiian dance moves. To create buzz, Wham-O gave the toy away for free to kids in Southern California and got it featured on "The Dinah Shore Show." As a result of the inventive marketing campaign, the Hula Hoop became a huge sensation. Twenty-five million units sold in the first two months alone.
1961: Slip 'N Slide
Original estimated retail price: $8.95 per box of six
As one might expect, the Slip 'N Slide has relatively dangerous origins. In 1960, an upholsterer by the name of Robert D. Carrier came home to find his son and his son's friends sliding down the wet pavement of their driveway. Drawing on his work with synthetic fabrics, Carrier created a plastic slide for kids to put down over hard surfaces for a slicker (and presumably safer) experience.
1965: Wham-O Frisbee
Original estimated retail price: 79 cents
According to legend, the Frisbee's origins date back to the late 19th century when New England college students tossed pie plates to one another outside the Frisbie Baking Company. But it wasn't until 1948 that Walter Morrison and Warren Franscioni began selling their plastic "Flying Saucers" or "Pluto Platters" at county fairs. Toy company Wham-O caught word of the discs and bought the rights in 1955, renaming them Frisbees. By the mid-'60s, Wham-O Frisbees were ubiquitous in backyards and college campuses.
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