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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