Toys of the 1950’s

Toys! I love toy design- the psychology behind it, the toys themselves, and what kids glom onto. Who can tell what those crazy little hooligans are going to like, anyway?

Let’s look at the most popular toys from the past 60 years. We’ll start with the 50’s.

1. Play-Doh: Did you know that this was originally invented in the 1930’s as a wallpaper cleaner? It didn’t become an official kids’ toy until 1958. Can you imagine all of the annoyed moms searching in vain for their wallpaper cleaner blob, only to find it being molded into a dog by little Eddie? No, me neither. To date, 700 million pounds, or 2 billion cans of Play-doh have been sold. Here’s my Playdough recipe.



2. Oh, Gumby. Kids today aren’t too sure what to make of Gumby, but I love that you can still buy Gumby and Pokey dolls. He was invented by Art Clokey, as a recent film school graduate, who made a spinoff of Fantasia, called, Gumbasia. He appeared on the Howdy Doody Show in 1956 and was given his own series in 1957 on NBC.



3. Matchbox Cars were created by Jack Odell, who made a tiny brass car for his daughter to take to school. She transported it in a matchbox, and it was a huge hit amongst the wee ones. I love that it’s such a boy toy, but the first one was owned by a girl. Booyah.




4. Barbies were invented by an American businesswoman, Ruth Handler, who named her after her daughter. Original Barbie wore a snappy black and white striped bathing suit, which I would kill for, and was available in blonde and brunette. How many Barbies have you owned?



5. Hula Hoop- These just scream the ’50’s to me, even though they’re still popular today. In 1957 the Wham-O toy company launched a plastic hula hoop that exploded in sales over the next 3 years. The longest Hula Hoop duration record is held by Roxann Rose of the United States, who went 90 hours between 2 April and 6 April 1987. I can hula hoop for approximately 1 second. Wham-O!



6. Mr Potato Head was originally created by George Lerner as a set of plastic face pieces for kids to push into fruits and vegetables. Eight years later the toy was modified to include the plastic body. Mr. Potato Head pieces are also a blast for kids to use with Play-Doh, which you probably already know.



7. Slinky was invented by a naval engineer working with tension springs. He saw one fall to the ground and was inspired by the way it kept moving after it hit the ground. I can just picture him watching it and cracking up, enjoying the break from boring old engineering stuff.



8. Silly Putty was originally created by accident during research into potential rubber substitutes for use by the United States in World War II. Here’s another case of someone dropping something to the ground and probably giggling maniacally as it moved in a weird way. Which I think is an argument for scientists everywhere to drop items they are working on to see what other interesting things they can do. It has sold more than 4,500 tons or 300 million units since its inception.


Here’s a recipe so you can make your own Silly Putty.

Pretty cool how all of these toys are still going strong. Next time, we’ll dive into the ’60’s and see what those kids were into.

Read about 1960s toys here.

Read about 1970s toys here.



9 thoughts on “Toys of the 1950’s”

  1. My childhood was great due to silly putty, slinky, and hula hoops. And I’m old enough to remember using the Mr. Potato Head items on real potatoes. Kids these days… they don’t know how fun playing with vegetables can be.

  2. What a fun to remember toys from my past that kids still love today! I wish I could get a good hula hoop. The ones I get seem to fall apart within a month. I guess some toys can endure the test of time!

  3. the slinkys looked great in commercials but, did they ever really go down the steps that way? and they were always getting sooo tangled up


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