Just like iPads and iPhones are the hottest item on this year's holiday lists for many children, toys have always been a decidedly technological affair.
The 1950s were a decade of rapid change, post-World War II and through the Korean War. Toys of any decade reflect the culture of their times, and this collection of the popular toys from the 1950s — many still available in modern versions today — shows a focus on science, heroism, and realism.
Click on through to see how enduring favorites like Mr. Potato Head , Silly Putty and Lincoln Logs got their start in this fascinating decade.
Photo: Hake Collectibles
Lone Ranger Guitar
The Lone Ranger is one of America's most enduring Western fictional characters, first appearing in 1933 on a radio show out of Detroit. Originally inspired by Texas Ranger Captain John R. Hughes in a book by Zane Grey in 1915, the character became incredibly popular in the 1940s and '50s on radio, television, and in big screen serials. While the 10-inch action figure of the Lone Ranger may be the most successful, we're most enamored of this Lone Ranger-branded guitar, which is described as "a large size, 6-string Guitar, decorated just like a cowboy's. Has a rich professional tone. With shoulder cord and instructions for playing, tuning." Boy howdy that sounds keen.
Photo: Sears Supertone
Rangers Toy Gun
The golden age of cap guns started soon after World War II with toy guns sold bearing the names of famous television and film heroes like The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and Hopalong Cassidy were all the rage. The smoke powder gun above was marketed as a toy that looked so real, due to the smoke, that kids wouldn't be able to tell it from a real gun. Note in the ad: "This smoke powder is harmless. Will not hurt the eyes and may even be eaten." Gross. These days, all toy cap guns must be fitted with a bright orange plug in the barrel of the gun to prevent anyone from thinking they are actually real weapons.
Photo: Specialties Manufacturing Co.
Scientific Jet Rocket
Once Sputnik launched into space and the imagination of young boys and girls everywhere in late 1957, amateur rocketry became the hobby of choice for many kids and adults from then on. The Pacific Rocket Society was founded in the early decade, and would launch and research rockets from a site deep in the Mojave Desert. A 1956 article in Scientific American described how to build and power amateur rockets, helping a generation of kids send cardboard tubes into the sky. Perhaps inspired by the same article, 17-year-old Jimmy Blackmon's six foot homemade rocket was grounded by the Civil Aeronautics Administration as it was built from a material too week to contain the explosive nature of the liquid nitrogen, gasoline, and liquid oxygen fuel. Boom, baby. The rocket above only uses air and water to propel itself, so you know it was boring.
Photo: Honor House Products
The quintessential Schwinn bike from the 1950s was the Hornet, a single-geared cruiser with sweet "tank" and headlight styling. The Hornet first released in 1952, and the Schwinn company produced a new model every year thereafter from 1954 to 1964. The 1955 advertisement for this classic bicycle calls The Hornet "a fully equipped bike at a price that’s hard to beat -- and you get famous Schwinn quality and styling, too! Features include tank with horn, chrome truss rods and torpedo headlight. Sturdy luggage carrier on 26-inch models only." Beep beep!
Photo: Schwinn Bicycles
The original pink putty is made up of silicone and various other chemicals to produce a substance that acts both like a liquid and a solid. The best thing, however, is the way it picked up newsprint (before they switched to the more modern soy-based inks) and allowed kids to stretch and deform any number of images from the daily paper. The substance was originally sold out of Ruth Fallgatter's toy store, but it was marketing consultant Peter Hodgson who saw the true potential. As soon as he borrowed $147 to produce the now-famous plastic egg packaging and name: Silly Putty. The investment paid off, as the toy sold over 250,000 eggs worth of putty in the first three days. Though originally targeted at adults, the 1950s saw a huge uptake in the number of kids who bought the weird substance. The first televised commercial for the goo came about in 1957, which aired on the Howdy Doody Show.
Mr Potato Head
George Lerner came up with the idea of sticking various plastic features into fruits and vegetables during the early 1940s, but it wasn't until he showed his idea to the Hassenfeld Brothers (Hasbro) in 1951 that the toy reached national prominence. The first Mr. Potato Head toy, released in 1952, consisted of hands, feet, ears, two mouths, two pairs of eyes, four noses, three hats, glasses, a pipe, and felt facial hair. There was no potato "body" in those first kits, so families had to provide their own tuberous plaything until 1964 when the now-familiar plastic body was included. Mr. Potato Head also has the distinction of being first toy advertised on the nascent medium of television, and got a Mrs. Potato Head soon after in 1953.
This now-famous and controversy-prone doll was "born" March 9, 1959 at the American International Toy Fair in New York. The doll's inventor, Ruth Handler, had seen an adult-figured Bild Lili doll while traveling in Germany with her daughter, Barbara, and brought the design back to the United States to rework with engineer Jack Ryan). The fictional Barbie's full name is Barbara Millicent Roberts, and she has an on-again, off-again romantic relationship with her boyfriend Ken Carson, who was first created in 1961. Barbie has owned a ton of vehicles, including that famous pink Corvette convertible, and a veritable zoo of animals, including dogs, cats, horses, lion cubs, and zebras. The doll has been manufactured with a wide range of careers in the proceeding decades, including that of Astronaut, Doctor, and Nascar Barbies. She's also sparked more than her fair share of controversy, both around her inhuman measurements as well as the various failed attempts at producing dolls that were anything but white.
Photo: Mattel, Inc.
Lincoln Logs were first released as a toy in 1924, after they were invented in 1916 by John Lloyd Wright, second son of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, while visiting Japan with his famous architect father. The younger Wright is said to have named the logs after Abraham Lincoln's famous log-cabin, but other sources state it's from Frank Wright's original middle name (Lincoln) or an alteration of the name 'linkin' logs. Whatever the case, 1950s television shows like Pioneer Playhouse and Davy Crocket featured the toy sets in advertisements, resulting in huge sales spikes in the early part of the decade. You can still buy these wooden construction toy today, a testament to the enduring appeal of construction toys.
This spring-like toy was invented by a naval engineer in 1943. Richard James demonstrated the toy at Gimbels department store in Philadelphia in 1945, and the metal marvel was an immediate hit, selling all 400 units in the first hour and a half. Over 300 million Slinky toys, named by James' wife Betty for it's sinuous properties, have been sold between 1945 and 2005. The metal version gave way to a safer plastic version in the 1970s for parents concerned their children would jam the metal toy into electrical sockets. The toy is so popular that the US Postal service issued a Slinky postage stamp in 1999.
The modern version of the hula hoop was marketed in 1958 by Arthur Melin and Richard Knerr and was based on an Australian bamboo exercise hoop. Their toy company Wham-O marketed the plastic version of the hoop starting in 1958: 25 million units of the hip-shaking toy were sold in less than four months after release, and sales reached 100 million hula hoops within two years. A huge fad was born, but just as quickly waned as Wham-O faced a glut of un-bought hoops after ramping up production on the toy. Luckily, Wham-O had a new toy up their sleeves: the Frisbee.