Once upon a time, every city of a decent size had a family-owned department store that served as headquarters for visits to Santa and, just as important, a Toyland. This area, usually positioned before the line to visit Santa, offered kids a hands-on look at the toys they might not have known they wanted. These Toylands opened with a great fanfare each year on the day after Thanksgiving, when Santa took up residence. Though most, if not all, of these stores carried toys year round, they expanded their inventory for Christmas, and especially for the most sought-after products.
Boomers had been influenced by TV shows and commercials right from the start. Peer pressure added to their wish list, but a trip through Toyland could cement their desires into a list for Santa. Of course, many parents of boomers had to explain that Santa was very busy, and had to have many helpers, so there was no guarantee that their kids would see the real guy on their visit. But, the tale continued, kids could rest assured that their requests were given directly to the Big Man. The parents of boomers tried to get their kids much more than what they had, and did everything in their power to fulfill the lists.
Every decade has its special toy debut, but the boomer era spawned some of the most iconic toys in the history of toy making. The earliest boomers mainly grew up with toys that originated and were popular in the 1930s and ’40s, like Slinky, Legos, Magic 8 Ball, bottled bubble solution, sock monkeys and Tonka trucks. The 1950s kicked it up a notch, introducing a vast array of toys that have gone on to become classics. A good many are still sold today. Take a look at just a few of the most popular toys of the 1950s:
Silly Putty (1950)
Mister Boomer and his siblings all received Silly Putty as a gift. The stuff was a terrific toy because it would bounce like a ball, could stretch great distances, break like taffy if a sharp motion was used, and it would lift images from the Sunday comics. Ink was petroleum-based then so the putty picked up the color. The image could then be stretched to outlandish proportions, and transferred to another piece of paper. Mister B recalls lifting images of Dennis the Menace and Beetle Bailey.
Shiny vinyl cut into simple shapes could be positioned and repositioned on a laminate background that Mister B recalls was black in the set that his sister had.
Mr. Potato Head (1952)
The first Mr. Potato Head kits were nothing more than a series of plastic parts with a pointed stick mounted on the back of each. Boomers would get a real potato (or other vegetable) and plug in a nose, eyes, lips, mustache, hat, and body. This is the kit Mister B had. Mrs. Potato Head arrived in 1953, and the plastic head for Mr. Potato Head was introduced in 1964. Mr. Potato Head made history in 1952 by being the first toy to ever have its own dedicated TV commercial.
PEZ Dispensers (1952 in U.S.)
Originated in post-War Europe, the PEZ dispenser was a way to attract more kids to PEZ candy. It came to the U.S. in 1952 as a plain cigarette-lighter shape. The earliest character dispensers, around 1955, were Santa, the Easter Bunny, a Halloween witch, astronaut and Popeye. Mister B had a Popeye dispenser but the head quickly broke. He continued to use the dispensing function without it. In the 1960s, additional heads joined the PEZ line up, with Casper, Bozo the Clown and Mickey Mouse, followed by a full line of Disney characters.
Wiffle Ball (1953)
One of the great things about Wiffle balls was you could bat them around a yard and not worry about breaking windows or hurting younger siblings. Mister B, though not having a Whiffle ball and bat himself, recalls playing games at his cousin’s house with boys and girls of varying ages.
Matchbox Cars (1953)
Tiny metal cars that would fit in a matchbox, boomer boys took to these toys right away. Mister Boomer was not one of them. He and Brother Boomer had small slot cars instead.
Play-Doh (early 50s)
Like Silly Putty, another strange substance from our youth, Play-Doh could be molded like clay, but was much easier to shape. It could also be baked into permanent items with the help of boomer moms. Mister Boomer and his siblings all had their own Play-Doh kits for several years.
Gumby first appeared on TV in 1953. Gumby toys hit the stores in 1955. Boomers could not resist the bendable figures of Gumby and Pokey. Mister B had cousins who owned the toys, but he and his siblings did not.
Fisher-Price Corn Popper (1957)
A good many boomers had this early development toy that encouraged kids to walk. Resembling a lawn mower, as kids pushed it, small colored balls would pop inside a clear dome. Again, this toy didn’t make it into the Mister Boomer household, probably because he and his siblings were too old for it, but his younger cousins did have them. Fisher-Price also gave the world Busy Bee and Snap-Lock Beads in the 1950s.
Two-Handed Pogo Stick (1957)
A single vertical-poled pogo stick was around since the late 1800s, but a two-handed stick debuted in 1957. Mister B didn’t have one, but some neighborhood kids did. It took a while before he got the hang of it and could compete with the kids for highest number of consecutive bounces.
Hula Hoop (1958)
Based on a gymnast’s ring, which had been around for centuries in China, Wham-O introduced the plastic hula hoop in 1958 and launched a huge worldwide fad. Youngsters to teens were all mesmerized with the task of rotating the hoop around their waist for as long as possible. Advanced users could rotate them around their necks or arms. Mister B and his siblings each had one. Mister B enjoyed flipping the hoop. The proper flick of the wrist would send the hoop out and back to the place of origin.
The doll that launched Mattel toy sales into the stratosphere for years began during the boomer years. Mister Boomer’s sister loved her Barbie, and Mister B and Brother boomer liked the fact that they could always count on getting a new outfit for her each Christmas, making gift buying for their sister that much easier.
Chatty Cathy (1959)
The first talking doll activated by pulling a string, the doll appeared in stores and in TV commercials in 1960. Mister B’s sister got one of these dolls for Christmas one year. (See Boomers Knew What a “Chatty Cathy” Was)
Etch A Sketch (1959 in Germany, 1960 in US)
Etch A Sketch has become one of the most iconic toys of the Boomer Era. The Ohio Art Company saw the toy at a toy fair in Germany in 1959, envisioned its potential, and brought it to the U.S. market as a new decade appeared. Mister Boomer had his for many years, eventually becoming proficient enough to draw circles using the horizontal and vertical control knobs.
Whether you were an early or late boomer, chances are good you or your siblings got one of these toys for Christmas. Which ones did you enjoy, boomers?