Toys and Games of the 1950’s

The 1950s were a special time for games and toys. With Western Europe escaping from the Second World War and with society becoming more affluent the economic climate was perfect for the acquisition of more luxury type items. The 1950’s saw the start of the Baby Boom period in Europe and the United States so now there were more children wanting toys. This period also saw major advancements in technology and mass production so that the toy industry could produce better quality products, and more of them. The toy industry started to invest more and more in advertising especially as more and more homes had a television. There were now advertising campaigns aimed at children whereas before they were aimed at adults.

In 1951 in the States 500 million US dollars were spent on toys but by 1952 this had jumped to 800 million dollars. By the end of the decade sales had reached 1.25 billion dollars. There were now larger families who lived in bigger houses that had more room to store their children’s toys. The 1950’s saw many toys and games brought onto the market that are still around today. One of the simplest toys that people play with is the Hula hoop and it has been around for centuries. California’s Wham-O toy company marketed a plastic model in 1957 and over the next 3 years it sold over 100 million hoops world-wide.

Play Doh such a simple idea

Play Doh was first introduced in 1938 as a wallpaper cleaning kit but then it re-appeared in 1956 as a children’s molding toy. It became so popular that by 1958 sales had reached 3 million US dollars and up to the present time 2 billion cans have been sold. The Gumby doll was invented by Art Clokey in 1953. He was an animator and he created a series with Gumby and his horse Pokey. Gumby was a clay based bendable figure and his success was as a spin off from the cartoon series. Usually the spin off relationship between doll and film series are the other way around.

In 1953 Lesney Products introduced match box cars. The original die cast toys were sold in boxes of a similar size to match boxes. This simple toy became a huge hit and would eventually lead to larger models and plastic alternatives. The original idea was created by Jack Odell and its initial introduction was boosted by the sales of its Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation coach which sold over a million copies.

Lesney’s green and red roller against a matchbox

The first model that could be fitted into a match box was the Lesney green and red roller. Odell created this as his child had needed a toy to take to school that could fit in a match box. This model became the first of the 1-75 miniature range and the success started from these humble beginnings. Mr Potato Head was invented by George Lemer in 1949 and distributed by Hasbro in 1952. This plastic model of a potato enabled children to decorate it with a variety of parts. These parts included ears, eyes and nose and the original idea was to stick the toy into potatoes.

The kit is still in production today but comes with its very own plastic potato due to government regulations regarding rotting vegetables. There were other toys coming onto the market in the 1950’s including the iconic Barbie Doll. The new consumer societies that were springing up were creating a surge in demand for different toys and there were many manufactures more than happy to satisfy this expanding market.

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