Bad Fads or Fantastic Classics?: Toy Crazes Over the Last 40 Years

Must-have toys have driven parents to push and shove. Did you or your kids have any of these?

By
Amanda Bindel, Toca Magazine Writer
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This week, the toy industry’s eyes were on New York City for Toy Fair. What will be the craze of 2015? A look back over the past four decades of toy crazes shows some interesting trends in the standouts, with electronic gaming systems and plush toys dominating. Take a trip down memory lane with these toys kids thought they couldn’t live without.

1970s

Atari 2600

The Atari had been around for a couple of years in the late ’70s but hadn’t really taken off. In 1979, with the release of a blockbuster movie tie-in game, Superman, sales took off, and the Atari 2600 became the toy craze of the year.

1980s

Nintendo Entertainment System

The game console of the ’80s found success by rebranding itself as an “entertainment system” rather than just another video game machine. It worked: by the end of the decade, 30 percent of U.S. homes had an NES.

Cabbage Patch Kids

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Cabbage Patch Kids changed the tone of toy crazes to a more violent one. Demand exceeded supply during the holiday season of 1983, resulting in long lines to buy the dolls as soon as they were put on the shelves, including some pushing, shoving and fighting to get the dolls.

Rubik’s Cube

One of the most ubiquitous symbols of eighties pop culture might have never been known had a toy industry executive not absentmindedly played with it during a meeting. The seemingly impossible colorful puzzle caught the eye of the other execs in the room, and they decided to produce it. The rest is pop culture history.

1990s

Beanie Babies

Ty took a unique approach in marketing Beanie Babies. Instead of advertising, they controlled the supply, making a limited number of each plush toy and retiring them at unspecified times. This turned the normally affordable toys into collector’s items. Customers lined up to buy the newest releases faster than stores could stock them, generating a frenzy of popularity in hopes that they’d increase in value.

Tickle Me Elmo

Like the Cabbage Patch Kids of the previous decade, demand for Tickle Me Elmo surpassed supply, in this case after talk-show host Rosie O’Donnell featured the plush doll on her show. Scalpers bought the toy and resold it at outrageous markups, reportedly into the thousands of dollars in some cases.

 2000s

PlayStation 3

Christmas 2006 saw shortages for both the newly released Sony PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii, with demand exceeding supply in some places for both of the newest game systems.

Zhu Zhu Pets

Stores were more prepared for the toy craze of the new century. Seeing the popularity of the plush robotic hamsters, stores like Target and Toys “R” Us limited how many customers could buy in a given day. Still, they scurried right off the shelves.

2010s

Rainbow Loom

Without YouTube, Rainbow Loom creations might not have been all the rage. The creator had difficulty finding sellers for his crafting kit until he created a tutorial video showing how to use it. After that, the Michaels chain of stores began selling it, and tweens created their own instructional videos showing how to make everything from single bracelets to doll clothes.

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