More Groovy Toys From the '70s
5: Magna Doodle
While attempting to create a dust-free chalkboard, a trio of engineers inadvertently invented the Magna Doodle in 1974 [source: Sobey and Sobey]. A touch-screen of sorts for the '70s generation, the Magna Doodle used a magnetic pen to draw particles of iron up towards the surface of the toy, creating pictures or text. Unlike many other forms of art for kids, this toy was completely mess-free and totally reusable — just slide to erase. While similar to the Etch A Sketch, Magna Doodle offered slightly different features, making it easier to manage for younger kids who couldn't quite manage to master the knobs on the Etch A Sketch. Even less artistic kids could get in on the fun, using simple stamps and other props to create pictures — no drawing talent required.
4: Baby Alive
Girls have always loved to practice their nurturing skills on baby dolls, but one '70s icon took the doll to the next level. Introduced by Hasbro in 1973, Baby Alive looked like any other plastic doll, with molded features and curly blond hair. Unlike other dolls, however, this baby could make noises and move her head, arms and legs. She could also eat and drink just like a real baby — but all that food had to go somewhere. Yup, Baby Alive gave little girls the chance to learn all aspects of baby care, including diapering. Despite the ick factor, Baby Alive sold more than a million units per year through the '80s, as well as three times that amount in food and diapers — hey, at least it's good practice for motherhood, right [source: New York Magazine]?
3: NERF Ball
"It's NERF or nothin'!" Hey children of the '70s, bet you played with a NERF ball at some point — but do you know what "NERF" stands for? It stands for "non-expanding recreational foam," the same stuff used to protect drivers in certain types of racing events. When playing around with the material in 1969, a group of toy designers figured it would make an excellent ball for indoor play. Parker Brothers debuted the first NERF ball in 1969, a simple, round ball, marketed as the only ball you could use indoors without upsetting mom or dad. The toy was an instant success, selling more than 4 million units in 1970 alone and going on to become one of the hottest toys of the decade thanks to variations like the NERF basketball and the famous NERF football [source: Townsend].
Like the Easy-Bake Oven, the Lite-Brite relied on the power of the trusty incandescent bulb. The bulb projected light into a triangular box, which featured a screen equipped with hundreds of tiny holes. Popping a sheet of black paper over the screen helped block the light so kids could create designs using small translucent pegs that could be popped into each hole. If you've never played with a Lite-Brite, think of it like a modern computer where you design an image pixel by pixel, with each colored peg representing a single pixel. The light from the bulb illuminated each peg, giving it a colorful glow. Kids with limited creative skills could still create top-notch Lite-Brite images using "color-by-letter" templates that told you exactly where to place each peg, making it easy to create pictures of notable characters like Mickey Mouse and Santa Claus.
1: Big Wheel
All of the coolest kids in the '70s rode 'round the 'hood on low-slung tricycles made from sturdy plastic. The Big Wheel put the cool factor back in the trike and also made it less likely to tip over, so kids were less likely to suffer injuries. Of course, the low-slung nature of the Big Wheel meant there were plenty of ways to pick up scrapes and scratches while fulfilling your need for speed, bumping over curves and speeding down steep driveways. The original model came in red, blue and yellow, but there were plenty of special editions to choose from, including "Q*bert" and "CHiPs" versions, if you preferred a flashier color scheme.
Author's Note: 10 Groovy Toys From the '70s
Since I missed the '70s by a few years, I had to query some slightly older friends to get their opinions on the top toys of the decade. Every male I spoke to gushed about Rock'em Sock'em Robots, and all remembered the characteristic ringing sounds made by the original toys. It was interesting to see that the Big Wheel was actually a late '60s creation, as my friends and I proudly sported our Cabbage Patch-themed pink, white and purple Big Wheels in the mid- to late-'80s, thinking we were part of the latest craze.
More Great Links
- Cooper, Gale Fashingbauer and Brian Bellmont. "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops?" Penguin. 2011. (Nov. 24, 2014) http://books.google.com/books?id=CNhvXw_vJxcC&pg=PT211&dq=stretch+armstrong&hl=en&sa=X&ei=16JvVO77Aq_gsASKhIGQBg&ved=0CC0Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=stretch%20armstrong&f=false
- Daly, Michael. "Bringing Up Baby Alive." New York Magazine. Jan. 6, 1992. (Nov. 24, 2014) http://books.google.com/books?id=f-MCAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA14&dq=%22baby+alive%22&hl=en&sa=X&ei=s6ZvVL_qIYTGsQSRu4LQBg&ved=0CDsQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=%22baby%20alive%22&f=false
- Hunter, Ron. "Toy Box Leadership: Leadership Lessons From the Toys You Loved As a Child." Thomas Neloson, Inc. 2008. (Nov. 24, 2014) http://books.google.com/books?id=oXIXhzaK-mMC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false
- Jones, Jonathon. "Toys, Games and Action Figure Collectibles of the 1970s: Volume IV Star Wars to Zorro." 2014. (Nov. 24, 2014) https://books.google.com/books?id=5j6NAgAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
- Katz, David A. "Chemistry in the Toy Store." 2002. (Nov. 24, 2014) http://www.chymist.com/Toystore%20part2.pdf
- Sansweet, Stephen J. and Anne Neumann. "Star Wars – 1,000 Collectibles – Memorabilia and Stories From a Galaxy Far, Far Away." Abrams. 2009.
- Siegel, Alan. "Machines Don't Fall Down Dead: How Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots Came to Be." Deadspin. Dec. 10, 2011. (Nov. 24, 2014) http://deadspin.com/5869804/its-ok-when-machines-get-hurt-how-rockem-sockem-robots-came-to-be
- Sobey, Ed and Woody Sobey. "The Way Toys Work." Chicago Review Press. 2008.
- The Strong National Museum of Play. "Easy-Bake Oven." (Nov. 24, 2014) http://www.toyhalloffame.org//toys/easy-bake-oven
- The Strong National Museum of Play. "Big Wheel." (Nov. 24, 2014) http://www.toyhalloffame.org/toys/big-wheel
- Townsend, Allie. "Baby Alive." Time. Feb. 16, 2011. (Nov. 24, 2014) http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2049243_2048657_2049150,00.html
- Townsend, Allie. "NERF Ball." Time. Feb. 16, 2011. (Nov. 24, 2014) http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2049243_2048657_2049137,00.html
- Trex, Ethan. "A Brief History of Nerf (or Nothin')." Mental Floss. Jan. 20, 2011. (Nov. 24, 2014) http://mentalfloss.com/article/26916/brief-history-nerf-or-nothins
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