It’s hard to believe, but there used to be a time when kids were entertained by something other than YouTube, Netflix, and “Fortnite.” Back in the 80s and 90s, it was all about dolls, puzzles, board games, and all kinds of other retro toys that have since cemented a place in pop culture history. If you were young at this time, you were pretty much hypnotized by TV commercials advertising these toys. They were magnetic, and once you convinced your parents to buy them, you could play with them for hours and hours without getting bored.
Those days are long gone, but how about a trip down memory lane? Here’s a quick history of some of the best toys from the 80s and 90s, from Rubik’s Cubes to Easy-Bake Ovens!
A Brief History of Popular 80s Toys
What Were the Most Popular Toys in the 80s?
Hop in the DeLorean and travel back in time to the 1980s. This rad decade brought us a ton of popular retro toys like the Rubik’s Cube, the first Nintendo Game Boy, and some very hungry hippos.
The list of the most popular toys in the 80s includes:
- Rubik’s Cubes
- Hungry Hungry Hippos
- Care Bears
- Cabbage Patch Kids
- My Little Pony
- Game Boy
- Big Wheels
- Speak and Spell
When Were Rubik’s Cubes Made?
The first Rubik’s Cube was made in 1974 by a college professor named Erno Rubik. Funny enough, it took Mr. Rubik a month to solve his own puzzle, and even today, only 1 in 7 people have managed to complete it!
By the early 80s, 100 million Rubik’s Cubes were sold resulting in over $250 million in sales. It was hands-down one of the bestselling toys of the 80s.
When Did Hungry Hippos Come Out?
Hungry Hungry Hippos came out in 1978 from Milton Bradley and went on to become one of the most popular 80s games of all time. It is designed for 2 to 4 players, with the objective being to gobble up the most white marbles.
The best 80s toys inspired movies and shows, and while the Hungry Hippos didn’t necessarily have that kind of influence on the zeitgeist, they were still extremely popular. There’s even a Guinness World Record for the fastest game ever played. A man named Axel Tuanzebe managed to eat all 20 marbles in 17.37 seconds!
When Did Care Bears Come Out?
The original Care Bears came out in 1981, and there were 10 in all. Their names were Cheer, Bedtime, Birthday, Wish, Tender Heart, Good Luck, Love-a-lot, Friend, Funshine, and Grumpy Bear. These plush teddies went on to star in books, TV shows, movies, and even the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade!
Over 40 million Care Bears sold between 1983 and 1987. They dominated the decade, and even today the creator, Muriel Fahrion, is still illustrating these cute teddy bears. She even released a drawing of a Stay-at-Home Bear during the 2020 COVID-19 quarantine.
When Did Cabbage Patch Kids Come Out?
Baby dolls have been around forever, but the Cabbage Patch Kids took things to the next level when they came out in 1983. These simple fabric dolls with the big cheeks were released right in time for Christmas, but stores only had between 200 to 500 dolls at a time to offer customers. This limited inventory led to riots, injuries, and property damage!
3 million Cabbage Patch Kids found new homes by the end of the shopping season. All those black eyes and broken windows must have been worth it as many nostalgic Gen X’ers think of the Cabbage Patch Kids as one of the best 80s toys of all time.
When Did Transformers Come Out?
Transformers were released by Hasbro in 1984. The first generation included 18 Autobots and 10 Decepticons, which transformed into either cars, or as was the case for Optimus Prime, semi-tractor trailers. These shape-shifting toys were so popular, an animated show was created in the same decade.
Now Transformers are bigger than ever thanks to the 7 blockbuster movies that have been released since 1986. These movies have made close to $5 billion combined at the worldwide box office. The success of the Transformers franchise proves just how much people love these robots in disguise!
When Did My Little Pony Come Out?
My Little Pony galloped into every kid’s heart when the line of toys came out in 1982. Released by Hasbro, these mini ponies came with beautiful rainbow colored hair that 80s girls couldn’t resist brushing and braiding.
Today, My Little Pony has totally crossed over gender lines with a community of hipster boys who also love the toys. They call themselves “Bronies,” and there are viral videos of them cherishing their favorite horses. Who knows how many of them helped with the $1 billion in sales that My Little Pony earned in 2014 alone?!
When Was the Game Boy Invented?
While other handheld consoles were available, the Nintendo Game Boy totally dominated the market when it was invented by Gunpei Yokoi in 1989. People couldn’t get enough of games like Tetris, Prince of Persia, and Super Mario Land.
40,000 Game Boys sold on the first day of its release in North America, with an estimated 118 million total selling by the end of the year. The game system became even more popular when the Game Boy Color came out in 1998.
When Did Lite Brite Come Out?
The Lite Brite was released in 1967 by Hasbro, but it didn’t become popular until the 80s. This is in large part due to the light-up toy being paired with other beloved properties of the time like My Little Pony and Darth Vader.
The Lite Brite encouraged creativity and imagination in 80s kids and has been doing the same for the next generations of kids who own these retro toys. Lite Brite was even popular enough to earn the #55 spot in Time Magazine’s list of “All-Time 100 Greatest Toys.”
When Did Big Wheels Come Out?
You couldn’t be the cool kid in the neighborhood unless you were cruising around on a Big Wheels. These giant toy bicycles came out in 1969, but sold like crazy in the early 1980s.
The Big Wheels was inducted into National Toy Hall of Fame in 2009. Many people are still in the market for these vintage 80s toys. In fact, eBay has listings that start at over $2,000!
What Year Did Speak and Spell Come Out?
Are you terrible at spelling? Pick up a Speak and Spell! These popular 80s toys came out in 1978 and dominated the market a few years later. With 150+ built-in words, they were able to help many students get ready for their school’s Spelling Bee!
The legacy of the Speak and Spell lives on to this day! You can even see one make its Hollywood debut in the movie Toy Story. Woody uses a Speak and Spell to send a message to the rest of Andy’s toys.
80s Toys Honorable Mentions:
- Teddy Ruxpin
- Glo Worm
- Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
- View Master
- Rainbow Brite
A Brief History of Popular 90s Toys
What Were the Most Popular Toys in the 90s?
Follow in the footsteps of Bill and Ted, get inside of the phone booth, and journey back to the 1990s. This decade was all that and a bag of chips, bringing us popular retro toys like the Furby and Easy-Bake Oven. It was also primetime for a crazy little collector’s craze known as Beanie Babies.
The list of the most popular toys in the 90s includes:
- Polly Pocket
- Nintendo 64
- Etch a Sketch
- Bop It
- Beanie Babies
- Socker Boppers
- Doodle Bear
- Easy Bake Oven
What is a Polly Pocket?
With cases that looked like makeup compacts, and tiny worlds that mirrored LEGO, Polly Pockets were very popular 90s toys. They first came out in 1989 and soon made their way on every girl’s Christmas wish list in the next decade.
Chris Wiggs invented the original Polly Pocket for his daughter Kate, but eventually sold his idea to Bluebird Toys. Mattel bought this toy company and has had the rights to Polly Pocket ever since. Today, original Polly Pocket compacts could be worth thousands of dollars!
When Was the Etch a Sketch Invented?
The Etch a Sketch is another toy in the National Toy Hall of Fame. It was invented in 1960 by an electrical technician named André Cassagnes who eventually sold the rights to Ohio Art. The Etch a Sketch really became famous in the mid-90s due to an updated look that included sparkly frames and pocket-sized travel versions.
It may be an old-school toy, but more than 175 million Etch a Sketches have sold since the toy was first released. It’s even been on the big and small screen in movies like Elf and TV shows like ‘Pretty Liar Liars.”
When Did the Nintendo 64 Come Out?
Nintendo was on a roll in the 80s, but they really emerged as a leader in the video game market with the release of the Nintendo 64. This cartridge-based console came out in 1996 and introduced the world to two party games that we love to this day – 1) Mario Party and 2) Mario Kart.
Even with the Nintendo Switch, we still have room in our hearts for the classic N64. As of September 2020, 32.93 million Nintendo 64 game consoles have sold around the world. People can’t get enough of games like The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario 64, Doom, and GoldenEye 007.
When Did Bop It Come Out?
The Bop It came out in 1997 and is still selling like crazy to this day. The handheld game capitalized on the path paved by “Simon Says,” raising the bar with 3 demands: “Bop It,” “Twist It,” or “Pull It.”
Dan Klitsner invented the Bop It because he wanted to encourage his kids to get off the couch and be more active. His design was bought by Hasbro, and once they changed the stick to a pretzel shape, the Bop It saw a 50% increase in sales!
What is a Furby?
The Furby was one of the most bestselling toys of the 90s. This digital pet was introduced in 1998 from Tiger Electronics and was programmed with 800 words and phrases. It also had blinking eyes that would totally freak you out if you accidentally came across it in the dark.
Despite its scary Gremlins-inspired appearance, 1.8 million Furbies sold in the first year resulting in about $14 million in sales. There is still a collector’s market for the Furby to this day.
How Much Are Beanie Babies Worth?
The first line of Beanie Babies came out in Chicago in 1994, and the world was turned upside down! These Ty Warner teddies kicked off a collector craze that arguably hasn’t been seen since. If you’re lucky, you have a rare, limited edition Beanie Baby in your collection. Some are worth over $500,000!
Sales for Beanie Babies managed to surpass $1.4 billion by 1998, which is a return on investment that hasn’t been matched since. While your Princess Diana bear is probably not rare, you can still look back fondly at these cool 90s toys.
When Did Socker Boppers Come Out?
Socker Boppers were a controversial toy that first came out in the 70s, but boomed in popularity a couple decades later. Big Time Toys had the rights to these inflatable boxing gloves, and they became one of the most iconic toys of the 90s.
Everyone remembers the Socker Bopper commercials, which had a catchy jingle that you couldn’t get out of your head. This jingle paid off big time in helping with sales. The entire Sock’em line, which included gloves, shields, and swords, sold more than 5 million units in the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Mexico.
What is a Tamagotchi?
A Tamagotchi is a virtual pet on a keychain that first came out in 1996. It was created by a Japanese toy company named Bandai who eventually moved it overseas to sell in Europe and the United States.
Demand for the Tamagotchi was so insane, people were camping outside overnight in front of stores to buy one. These digital keychains were literally everywhere – Happy Meal toys, TV shows, books, and on the shelves in every retail store imaginable. 5 million Tamagotchi keychains sold in the first year, and eventually 80 million sold by the end of the 90s.
When Was the Doodle Bear Invented?
It’s cute, cuddly, and you can show off your artistic talent! The Doodle Bear was invented in 1995 in New York by a man named Ed Kaplan.
As of 2016, the licensing on the Doodle Bear has expanded to bring the customizable teddies to a new generation of children. They even have a tech twist where kids can animate their illustrated Doodle Bears using a downloadable app. You can find the updated version of these popular 90s toys in 20,000 stores nationwide.
When Was the Easy Bake Oven Invented?
The original Easy-Bake Oven was invented in 1963, but it became all the rage in the 90s when it was rereleased by Hasbro. Kids may be starring on the Food Network in shows like “Kids Baking Championship” and “Kids Cookoff,” but there’s still something timeless about this retro 90s toy.
An alum from the University of Cincinnati named Ronald Howes brought the original prototype of the Easy-Bake Oven to the New York Toy Fair in 1963 and went on to sell half a million by the end of the year. The Easy-Bake Oven, which has had 11 designs since then, was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2006. To date, 23 million of the Easy-Bake Ovens and over 140 million cake and brownie mixes have been sold.
90’s Toys Honorable Mentions:
- Perfection board game
- Tickle Me Elmo
- Pokémon cards
- Betty Spaghetti
Your childhood toy box wasn’t complete without these popular toys from the 80s and 90s. Even today, many of them have gotten modern facelifts or are collectibles that are worth thousands of dollars.
Introduce your kids to these classic 80s toys, or buy a bunch of these retro 90s toys for Christmas this year. In a world of viral videos and online games, these old favorites will still never go out of style!
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