Hot Wheels

In 1968, Elliot Handler, the co-founder of Mattel, devised a plan to compete with the popular Matchbox model car line from the British company Lesney Products.

As apposed to Matchbox’s more realistic themed cars, Mattel’s cars were designed to look like the popular hot-rods of the era. They featured vibrant “spectra-flame” paint and were able to achieve extremely high speeds thanks to low friction plastic. It was the birth of Hot Wheels, and by the end of the decade Hot Wheels was the hottest toy car brand in the US. The early Hot Wheel’s cars were affectionately referred to as “Redlines” because of the distinctive red pinstripe found of their wheels, and today they are highly sought after by collectors.

Fire Trucks

Toy fire engines first became popular with young children in the 1880s. Typically made from cast iron and tinplate, these early toy fire wagons were extremely detailed and included a number of accessories including hoses and ladders. Today, toy fire engines still manage to capture the hearts and minds of young and old alike.

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Lunch Boxes

Metal lunch pails became popular among blue-collar workers at the end of the 19th century. The first metal lunch boxes for children were made in the 1920s and 30s, for children who wanted to emulate their working parents.

In 1950, Aladdin Industries revolutionized child lunch boxes when they released a metal lunch box decorated with a decal of Hopalong Cassidy – it was a huge success, and soon a slew of other character-based lunch boxes followed. Between 1950 and 1970, 120 million lunch boxes were sold. In the 1960s, cheap vinyl lunch boxes made a brief appearance, but they were too flimsy and failed to catch on with kids.

Robot Toys

While mechanical automata had existed since ancient Greece, the first mass-produced mechanical toy robots were built in Japan following World War II. These early wind-up robots, typically made from tin and wonderfully detailed, delighted young children around the world. Now considered both works of art and engineering wonders, the toy robots from the 1940s and 50s are highly sought after by collectors.

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Cloth Dolls

The history of cloth fabric dolls stretches back to ancient Egypt and the Roman Empire. During the late 1800s, when painted or printed lithograph fabric rag dolls were all the rage, two women from Ithaca, New York would leave their own unique marks on this ancient toy tradition.

In 1892, Celia Hazlitt Smith patented the “Tabby Cat.” Known also as the Ithaca Kitty, Smith’s doll was sold as a printed pattern on muslin for 10 cents and was extremely popular, selling nearly 200,000 units its first year. Smith’s design stood out from others because it included a piece of cloth depicting the cat’s feet, allowing the toy to stand upright. It was considered so realistic people used the doll to scare away birds and mice.


The first dollhouses were originally built as expressions of wealth for members of Europe’s aristocracy during the 16th century, but it wasn’t long before children became fascinated with the miniature homes. German craftsmen began making dollhouses for children during the 17th and 18th century, and by the 19th century mass-production methods allowed toy makers to produce dollhouses cheaply and quickly.

The toy became a favorite among children in the growing middle class, and by the 20th century toy makers were making dollhouses that suited a large range of tastes and needs. Today, dollhouses of all shapes and sizes continue to be a desired plaything among children.  

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Space Toys

In the late 1960s, toy makers where quick to capitalize on America’s fascination with space. Some of the most popular toys in the industry centered on man’s trek through the stars.  
One of the most popular in a long line of space explorers was Mattel’s Major Matt Mason who looked to conquer the galaxy in his moon walker and space sled. In 1968 Marx introduced the popular Johnny Apollo line into the mix and Hasbro quickly signed up G.I. Joe for a trip into space with his Mercury styled Capsule. Dozens of different play-sets where to follow and America’s children played along with the real heroes of space.

Toy Trains

Children have played with toy trains since the earliest days of steam travel. During the 19th century, toy trains were made from cast iron and wood and children pushed or pulled them across the floor. By the turn of the century, trains were motorized and running on metal tracks. Toy companies such as Ives, American Flyer, and Marx all vied to control the toy train market. In 1924, Lionel Corporation captured the number spot, and by the 1950s Lionel had solidified their place as America’s most recognized name in toy train manufacturing.


Companies in the United States have used promotional items, or premiums, to sell their products since the late 1700s. However, Kellogg’s popularized the technique in the early 1900s. During the 1930s and 40s, premiums were closely associated with popular radio programs such as the Lone Ranger and Little Orphan Annie. Later premiums capitalized on popular movies and TV shows. For generations, children have waited impatiently for the mail to arrive with their new decoder ring, baking soda powered Frogmen, or nuclear powered submarine – with real diving action.

Manoil Toy Soldiers

Toys soldiers have been played with since the time of the Pharaohs, but remained a toy for the wealthy until a new lead casting process revolutionized their production in the 19th century. In the 1930s, Maurice Manoil and his brother Jack began manufacturing lead soldiers out of their Manhattan factory. The pair soon moved their company to Waverly, New York, where they became the second largest producer of lead figures in the United States. The Manoil Manufacturing Co. also produced a number of different lead farm and western themed figurines, as well as die cast automobiles.

Crandall Toys

In 1866, Charles Martin Crandall began making toys at his furniture factory in Montrose Pennsylvania. Crandall’s first toy was a set of toy building blocks that utilized a new system of interlocking tongues and grooves. He would use this interlocking system in a number of other wood toys. In 1889, at his new factory in Waverly New York, Crandall invented what would become his most popular toy – “Pigs in Clover.” The ball in a maze puzzle game swept the nation and even brought a session of Congress to a standstill. Ultimately, Pigs in Clover sold over a million units, a record number for its time.

Lincoln Logs

In the 1860s, Joel Ellis of Springfield Vermont designed a new toy called “Log Cabin Playhouse.” Ellis’ construction set utilized a system of interlocking logs that many children today might recognize. Almost fifty years later, in 1916, John Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright, immortalized this style of toy when he began marketing and selling his own version- which he called Lincoln Logs. Released around the same time as Tinker Toys and Erector Sets, Lincoln Logs continued a long tradition of constructions toys. Today distributed by K’nex, Lincoln Logs continue to be enjoyed by generations of children.

Marx Playsets

In the 1950s, Louis Marx and Company began producing elaborate plastic playsets.  
Marx capitalized on the popularity of westerns with their “Fort Apache” and “Roy Rogers,” series. While other Marx playsets were inspired by historical events or popular movies. Marx highly detailed and affordable playsets set the new standard that all later playsets would follow. Variations of Marx style playsets continue to be popular among toy manufacturers today.

Hartland Figurines

During the 1950s, the western was at the height of its popularity, and American toy manufactures moved to capitalize on this trend. Hartland Plastics Co. began producing cowboy figurines in 1953. Hartland modeled many of their figures after the popular TV and movie stars of the time – including James Arness, Gail Davis, and of course Roy Rogers with his faithful horse Trigger. The arrival of the space age in the 1960s, brought about the decline of interest in westerns and an end to Hartland’s western Line.

World War II Toys

Just three weeks before Christmas, on December 7th 1941, America was violently thrust in to the Second World War. When war rationing of metals, rubber and other products went into effect toy manufactures were forced to find other materials to build their instruments of play. Glass toys, often filled with candy, became a popular item. Many of the toys where molded into the shapes of tanks and planes that America’s children were quickly becoming very familiar with. One of the most popular series of toys released during the war where called “build-a-sets”, made completely out of cardboard.

Fisher-Price Toys

In 1930 Helen Schelle, who operated the Penny Walker Toy Shop in downtown Binghamton, joined forces with with two other entrepreneurs and started making wooden toys for pre-school aged children. They called it the Fisher-Price Toy Company and opened a manufacturing facility in East Aurora New York, outside Buffalo. In 1932, they introduced a delightful wind-up toy called “Puppy Back-up” which became an instant best seller. Many other hits would follow including the immensely popular “Snoopy Sniffer” pull toy in 1938. By the early 1960s, Fisher-price toys where known worldwide especially their “Little people” line, which included one of the most popular toys in the entire industry, the “Safety School Bus”.


In 1939, a new instrument for displaying photographs was introduced to the world. Viewing black and white stereographic images had been around for decades, but inventor William Gruber and his partners found a unique way to utilize a newly introduced color slide film process called Kodachrome.  
Mounting 7 pairs of pictures on a single disk, allowing two slides to be viewed simultaneously, one with each eye, created the illusion of three-dimensional depth perception. They called it the View-Master and rolled it out at the Worlds Fair in New York. It became an instant sensation.