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Classic Toys: Slinky, Yahtzee, Twister and More

The creation stories behind favorite toys like Mr. Potato Head, Slinky, Yahtzee and Twister.

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These 10 classic toys are ones that most folks will remember. They include the likes of Slinky, Play Doh, Mr. Potato Head and Yahtzee! In this article, we’ll take a deeper dive and give you the back story to each of these toy favorites. Enjoy!

10 Toy Stories

Every invention has its own creation story. These famous toys are no exception. Learn more about your childhood favorites.

1.) Play Doh

Play Doh began life as a wallpaper cleaner utilized to pick up the heavy black soot that would accumulate on walls in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Coal burning furnaces were to blame and when the nation switched to oil and gas fueled furnaces, there was no need for the clay-like wallpaper cleaner.

One of the companies that manufactured the wallpaper cleaner was Kutol from Cincinnati, Ohio. A relative of the founder’s son suggested the clay-like wallpaper cleaner would be a great craft item for kids. In 1957, the manufacturer discovered how to add color and introduced “Play Doh” in the primary colors, and the rest is history.

2005 Play Doh Commercial

2.) Lite Brite

In 1967 Lite Brite was birthed from the incredibly creative minds of the designers and inventors from Marvin Glass and Associates. Marvin Glass and Associates was the nation’s first toy and game design company. Based in Chicago, Illinois, Marvin Glass and his employees would create toy and game prototypes that would be pitched to toy manufacturers. Tthey were very successful. In addition to Lite Brite, they are responsible for Mr. Machine, Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, Mouse Trap, Ants in the Pants, and many, many more.

Lite Bright TV Commercial

3.) Cabbage Patch Kids

Xavier Roberts was a 21-year-old art student when he used his formidable sewing skills to create the first, hand sewn, Cabbage Patch Kids, that he called “Little People.” Roberts dolls sold originally at arts and crafts shows until he and some friends started their own freestanding store called “Babyland General Hospital.” When Roberts decided to license his dolls to a toy manufacturer, popular lore says 18 toy companies turned him down before the dolls were licensed to Coleco in 1982.

The dolls were immensely popular and in 1984 alone, Coleco sold 20 million dolls. In 1988 Coleco went out of business and Cabbage Patch Dolls were licensed to Hasbro Toys which sold the dolls until 1994. Mattel Toys took over after 1994 and sold the dolls until 2001.

Evergreen Favorites

Since then, they have been manufactured and sold by Toys R’ Us, Play Along Toys, Jaks Pacific, and Wicked Cool Toys. In toy parlance, these dolls are called “Evergreen,” meaning they just keep selling year after year. Original Xavier Roberts “Little People” have been sold at auction for as much as $3,000.00.

Cabbage Patch Kids Birthed in Store Video

4.) Slinky

Richard James was serving as a Naval Engineer in 1943 when he accidentally knocked a spring off a table and watched its hypnotic movement, The Slinky was born. He told his wife Betty about the discovery and she thought it would make a great, inexpensive children’s toy. She suggested the name “Slinky.”

Initial reaction was very positive, and the Slinky company became very successful. But in 1960, Richard James mysteriously left his company and family and moved to Bolivia. Luckily, Betty James stepped in and ran the company successfully until 1998 when the company was sold. Slinky is currently marketed by Poof-Slinky, Inc. and over 300 million have been sold since 1945. Thank you, Betty James.

Slinky Tricks Video

5.) Lincoln Logs

Famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright had a very enthusiastic admirer, his son John Lloyd Wright. John Lloyd followed his father everywhere including to the Imperial Hotel construction site in Tokyo, Japan. At the site John Lloyd observed a construction technique that used beans that were made to interlock. This technique allowed the building to have a certain amount of give and take in the event of an earthquake.

Named in Honor of his Father

John Lloyd envisioned a child’s construction toy made of child-sized notched wooden logs that kids could use to build their own log cabins. He named the toy Lincoln Logs, but not for the reason you think. His father’s original name was Frank Lincoln Wright. When Frank Lincoln Wright’s parent divorced, he changed his name to Frank Lloyd Wright to honor his mother’s maiden name. So, John Lloyd Wright’s toy was named Lincoln Logs in honor of his Dad. Introduced in 1918 and currently marketed by K’Nex, over 100 million sets of Lincoln Logs have been sold.

Lincoln Logs vs. Potato Launcher Video

6.) Mr. Potato Head

Mr. Potato Head holds the distinction of being the first toy advertised on television. Introduced in 1952 for just 98 cents, Mr. Potato Head was an instant hit with over 1,000,000 sold the first year. Invented by home gardener George Lerner, the first version of the toy was a box full of ears, noses, eyes, mouths, and other accessories that could be stuffed in to a fresh potato. In the box was also a Styrofoam shaped “potato” that could also be used.

When mothers started noticing a strange smell coming from their child’s toy box, it was time for Mr. Potato Head’s manufacturer Hasbro to create a plastic potato shaped body in 1964.

Funny Mr. Potato Head Moments

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A Toy Marriage

Mr. Potato Head gained a wife, Mrs. Potato Head, and carrot, cucumber, orange, and pepper friends. The Potato Head couple even had children, brother Spud and sister Yam. In the Toy Story movies, Don Rickles provides the voice of Mr. Potato Head. Well over 100 million of the taters have been sold.

7.) Yahtzee

The game of Yahtzee can trace its heritage back to traditional games like the Puerto Rican game Generala, Scandinavian game Yatzy, and the English game Poker Dice. But, according to the game’s current manufacturer Hasbro, the game we are familiar with today can be credited to an anonymous Canadian couple.

The couple spent many leisurely hours playing Yahtzee on their yacht. The couple met the owner of a manufacturing plant, E.s. Lowe. Lowe was fascinated by the simple game and he acquired the rights to Yahtzee by promising to make 1,000 sets of the game that the couple could give away as gifts. From 1956 to 1973, the E.S. Lowe Company marketed and sold Yahtzee. In 1973 the rights to Yahtzee were purchased by the Milton Bradley Company now a part of Hasbro. Currently, approximately 50 million copies of the game are sold yearly.

How To Play Yahtzee

8.) Twister

A St. Paul, Minnesota point of purchase display design company was responsible for the game Twister. The design company created an internal development group called Team Winsor owned and operated by Reynold’s Guyer Sr. One of their clients was the Johnson’s Wax company. Guyer’s son Reynold’s Guyer Jr. had an idea for a game played on the floor where people were the game pawns. He believed this would make a good premium for Johnson’s Wax. Johnson’s Wax passed on the idea as did 3M which had a line of board games at the time.

Frustrated, the Guyers decided they need some assistance and hired Charles Foley, a season toy industry pro, to help with development. Along with another designer, Neil Rabens, Foley came up with a game they named “Pretzel.” It utilized a floor-based play mat with colored dots and a corresponding spinner that instructed players where to place their hands and feet.

Twister: The Classic American Game Video (NBC Nightly News)

Milton Bradley Buys In

Foley and Guyer Jr. pitched the idea to Milton Bradley. Milton Bradley loved the game and acquired the rights. However, they changed the name to “Twister” because Pretzel was not available. In 1966, the game was not well received by retailers because it was deemed too risqué. But Milton Bradley’s Public Relations firm had done their job and the game appeared on the Tonight Show. Johnny Carson and Eva Gabor played the game, and the audience went wild. Sales skyrocketed with three million units being sold shortly after its tv appearance. Milton Bradley had a hit, and the nation had an iconic game with Twister. Team Winsor’s next toy concept…Nerf, not a bad follow-up.

9.) Magic 8 Ball – Classic Toys

The basis for the Magic 8 Ball is an icosahedron die, a die with twenty sides. Each side has a printed answer like, It is Currently Yes, Yes – Definitely, Outlook Good, Signs Point to Yes, You May Rely on it, Don’t Count on it, My Reply is No, Outlook Not So Good, Ask Again, Reply Hazy, and more.

A man by the name of Albert C. Carter conceived the soothsaying novelty through the inspiration of his clairvoyant mother Mary. Carter trapped a printed icosahedron die in a cylinder filled with blue tinted alcohol. The cylinder was just wide enough to allow the die to rotate, float to the surface, and reveal an answer. An Ohio novelty company marketed the item under the name Syco-Seer, but then changing the name to Syco-Slate.

Cylinder Shape Changed to a Sphere

In 1948, the outside cylinder shape was changed to a sphere, thought to be more mysterious. The Brunswick Billiards Company spotted the ball and asked the Ohio Novelty Company if they could make the ball look like a number 8 billiard ball. The company said yes, and as a result, Brunswick promptly submitted a large order. The Magic 8 Ball as we know it today was born.

The small Ohio Novelty Company continued to sell the Magic 8 Ball until 1971 when Ideal Toys bought the company. After Ideal was sold to CBS Toys in 1982, the classic toy was marketed by Viewmaster, then Tyco Toys, and then in 1997 to Mattel. Today, Mattel says they sell over one million of the fortune telling Magic 8 Balls each year.

What’s Inside a Magic 8 Ball? Video

10.) Silly Putty

Like many other classic toys, Silly Putty was the result of an accident. During World War II, an engineer was trying to create a new synthetic rubber to help the war effort. While experimenting, the engineer mixed boric acid and silicone oil, the result was a compound that could bounce, stretch, and pick up printed images when pressed against them. While the new product couldn’t replace good old rubber, it was named “Nutty Putty” and became a hit with kids.

A businessman spotted the stuff, acquired the rights, renamed it “Silly Putty,” and packaged it in plastic eggs because it was introduced at Easter time. Since 1950, more than 300 million of the putty filled eggs have been sold, that’s a lot of Silly Putty. Silly Putty is currently marketed by the Crayola Crayon people, Binney and Smith.

1982 Silly Putty Commercial Video

There you have it. So, next time you play one of these classics, you’ll know more than the average Joe.

–Tim Moodie

Tim Moodie is a toy industry veteran with over thirty years of experience designing, developing, inventing, and licensing toys. He has worked with Hasbro, Mattel, Jakks Pacific, Endless Games, USAopoly, and many more. He has also won two Parent’s Choice awards for Best Family Game. 

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Further Reading

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