Top holiday toys from the year you were born
The holiday season is upon us, which means it’s the perfect time to dive into the history of iconic gifts—and for Americans to gear up accordingly. For savvy consumers, that means getting an early start on shopping and keeping an eye out for the best deals. For retailers, it means lining physical and virtual shelves with the hottest toys and newest gadgets.
Toy shopping has transformed over the past 100 years, whether because of advancements in the products themselves or the marketplace. Using national toy archives and data curated by The Strong from 1920 to today, Stacker searched for products that caught hold of the public zeitgeist through novelty, innovation, kitsch, quirk, or simply great timing, and then rocketed to success. Some remain curious relics of the past while others are essentially as iconic now as they were upon their debut. Each one also functions as a window into American culture.
So how do you choose the perfect toy for your family and friends today? If you’re looking to avoid tech, you could always go with one of those historic classics sure to never go out of style, like yo-yos, Tonka Trucks, or Teddy Bears. If you want to impress with the latest innovations of the past decade, however, you can opt for robot puppies, gaming consoles, or tablets for children.
For extra inspiration, shoppers can look to Amazon—perhaps the foremost modern authority on consumer trends—for a clue on this year's hottest toys with the site's Top 100 Toys for this season. The curated collection includes the LEGO Star Wars Kessel Run Millennium Falcon and the Kano Harry Potter Coding Kit.
Here are the top holiday toys from the year you were born, counting up from 1920 to today. May they fill your heart and stockings with joy.
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1920: Raggedy Ann doll
Original estimated retail price: $1
Originally a book character, Raggedy Ann was created by a prolific political cartoonist named Johnny Gruelle. By 1920, two signature handmade dolls—Raggedy Ann and her brother, Raggedy Andy—were sold alongside the book. The result was a meteoric success on all fronts. Many myths surround the conception of Raggedy Ann, which is quite fitting given the character’s storybook origins.
1921: Lincoln Logs
Original estimated retail price: 50 cents to $1
John Lloyd Wright, son of the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, invented Lincoln Logs after noticing a foundation of interlocking beams on a Tokyo hotel that his father had designed. The earliest Lincoln Logs used redwood and various colors for the roof. To this day, it’s not clear whether the name itself was actually inspired by Abraham Lincoln, or whether it was due to Frank Lloyd Wright’s original middle name: Lincoln.
Original estimated retail price: 59 cents
Comprising various wheels, rods, and pulleys, the original Tinkertoys came in a fun mailing tube and garnered additional distinction as a result. After an initially slow rollout, the creative construction set would appear under nearly every Christmas tree in America by the 1920s.
1923: A. C. Gilbert chemistry sets
Original estimated retail price: $1.50 to $10
In a rather stunning example of how times have changed, magician A. C. Gilbert’s wildly popular chemistry sets that were introduced this year included flammables and explosives among their components. The 1923 version was aimed exclusively at young boys, and decades would pass before unisex sets were introduced to the market.
1924: Erector Set
Original estimated retail price: $1 to $10
Conceived in 1911 by A. C. Gilbert during a train ride from Connecticut to New York City, Erector Set was the first toy ever to use a national ad campaign. It was also the only construction toy of its time to utilize a motor on special units, which contributed to its allure. The earliest incarnations focused on skyscrapers, but Erector Set was redesigned in 1924 to incorporate everything from trains to Ferris wheels. Meanwhile, the name was so catchy that it’s now commonly used as a generic term for home construction sets.
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1925: Teddy bear
Original estimated retail price: 79 cents
The original idea for the teddy bear was inspired by former President Teddy Roosevelt himself. It began when a political cartoonist depicted Roosevelt refusing to shoot a black bear that had been tied to a tree by his expedition team. Upon seeing the cartoon in the Washington Post, a candy shop owner named Morris Michtom, who also made stuffed animals with his wife Rose, got the idea to create a stuffed bear and name it after the famous incident. With Roosevelt’s permission, Michtom put two "Teddy’s Bears" in his shop window, and the rest is history.
1926: Crayola Crayons
Original estimated retail price: 5 cents
The word “Crayola” represents a combination of the French words for “chalk” and “oily,” which makes perfect sense given that crayons are small waxy sticks invented to supplement low-quality chalk. Upon its debut in 1903, a box of crayons comprised only eight colors, but by the time Binney & Smith purchased the brand in 1926 that number was up to 22.
1927: Radio Flyer wagon
Original estimated retail price: $2.99
Italian inventor Antonio Pasin had no idea his wooden wagons would be so popular among American kids. To keep up with demand, he took cues from the auto industry and began using stamped steel to mass produce the wagons in 1927. In the process, he renamed the wagon as Radio Flyer, honoring his fixation with both flight and radio.
Original estimated retail price: 5 cents
With origins going all the way back to nearly 500 B.C., yo-yos became ubiquitous in America after a Filipino immigrant named Pedro Flores partner with the toy manufacturer D.F. Duncan Sr. to start mass-producing them to the tune of 300,000 units a day. Fueled by publicity from the likes of William Randolph Hearst himself, kids engaged in yo-yo contests across the country, making the “wonder toy” a veritable sensation.
1929: Pop-up book
Original estimated retail price: not available
Believe it or not, the first pop-up book dates back to a 14th-century Catalan mystic, who employed a series of moving discs to visually demonstrate his philosophical treatises. Today's pop-up books are more directly tied to 1929’s "Daily Express Children’s Annual No. 1," published by Louis Giraud and Theodore Brown. Known at the time as a “movable,” Giraud and Brown’s book introduced a handy flap that, when pulled, prompted cardboard models to spring up.
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