90s toys every kid wanted
Toys are more than just objects to keep kids occupied. Like music, movies, and fashion, toys can steer pop culture and define entire decades. Like every generation, children of the '90s associate that time, in large part, with the toys they had. Some of the decade's most popular playthings were exclusive to the era. Others were reincarnations of things that had been around for decades before taking off in the '90s. In other cases, toys from the era made such an impact that kids are still playing with some version of them today.
In terms of technology, the 1990s was one of the most transformative decades in human history—it was the bridge between the analog and digital eras. At the beginning of the '90s, people stopped at payphones to check in with loved ones during long car rides, which they survived with cassette tapes and FM radios. By the end of the decade, those same people were sending text messages, downloading songs onto MP3 players, and using high-speed modems to perform Google searches online. Toys were not immune to the sea change. Personalized interactive toys and pocket-sized electronic games made the blocks, Slinkys, and Lincoln logs of old feel like relics.
Some of the biggest toys of the decade, however, were just modified versions of things that had been around forever. Dolls, stuffed animals, and action figures were as popular in the '90s as they'd been in the '80s, '70s, and earlier—in fact, some of the biggest Christmas crazes of the decade were as low-tech as the Cabbage Patch Kids or mood rings that came before them. Some toys, like Tamagotchi and Pogs, came and went, while others, like Nerf and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, are still staples in bedrooms and backyards today.
Here's a look at the toys that defined the '90s.
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A member of the National Toy Hall of Fame since 2015, the Super Soaker made all water guns that came before it look feeble and meek—and the hydro-cannon's roots are anything but humble. A mechanical and nuclear engineer named Lonnie Johnson invented the device while working on a water-based heat pump for NASA's Galileo mission to Jupiter. The first Super Soaker went on sale in 1990, turning backyards into battlefields across the world—about 200 million have been sold to date.
Originally invented in 1969 as what Parker Bros. billed as "the world's first indoor ball," Nerf was a round ball until the game-changing Nerf football arrived in 1972. In 1989, however, the company triggered an arms race among children everywhere with the introduction of Blast-a-Ball, which could shoot foam projectiles. In 1991, the world met the Nerf bow and arrow, followed by guns, missiles, and blasters, all of which caused surprisingly little damage as they whizzed across living rooms for the rest of the decade and beyond.
Games like Simon had long challenged kids to keep up with electronic commands, but Bop It upped the ante when it arrived on the scene in 1997. Unlike those that came before, the clunky, handheld contraption was a multiplayer game. Soon, children across the United States were racing to keep up with increasingly fast and anxiety-provoking directives to "twist it," "pass it," and, of course, "bop it."
Sort of a lazy person's jump rope, Skip-It—which debuted in the late '80s but rose to stardom in the '90s—went around one ankle like a rubbery ball and chain. Any kids who had one used their leg to whip the ball around and skip over it with the other foot. The ball counted the repetitions so kids could keep score.
Toy cassette player/recorder Talkboy was originally created in 1992 as a non-working prop for that year's blockbuster Christmas movie "Home Alone." Macaulay Culkin's character Kevin McCallister made Talkboy a must-have toy when he showed off the technology in the movie's sequel. The devious and unsupervised McCallister used Talkboy to slow down the playback speed and change the pitch of his voice to mimic that of an adult, which let him reserve a luxury hotel suite over the phone.
Tabletop action game Crossfire was a staple of rainy days in the '90s. Combatants blasted metal balls from opposite sides of the board to score pucks in the opponent's net. Although Milton Bradley first unveiled a version of the game in the 1970s, Crossfire gained worldwide fame during, and is still associated with, the 1990s.
Tickle Me Elmo
In the winter of 1996, parents across America trampled each other on Black Friday and scoured stores in vain for the hottest Christmas toy of the year—and perhaps of all time. It was Tickle Me Elmo, a "Sesame Street" spinoff that launched a must-have craze not seen since the Cabbage Patch Kids a decade prior. According to the Times Union, the doll, which exchanged giggles for tickles and hugs, retailed for $30, but went for as much as $1,000 on the secondary market at the height of the craze.
Exactly 30 years after the first Easy-Bake Oven debuted in 1963, Hasbro refined the iconic American kitchen toy with the introduction of the Snack Center in 1993. Just like real kitchens of the era, the Snack Center was sleek, digital, and multi-functional.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
In May 2012, a hand-drawn sketch of weapon-wielding, martial-artist turtles sold at auction for $71,700—it had been drawn in 1983 as the prototype for a new adult comic book series called “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” The grown-up subject matter was later softened for children and turned into a cartoon that ran from 1988 to 1996, and during that time, Playmates produced 400 related action figures, playsets, and toy vehicles. The TMNT line sold $1.1 billion in the first four years of the Turtlemania craze alone, making it the #3 best-selling toy franchise in history at the time, behind only G.I. Joe and Star Wars.
Few decades were more transformative in terms of technology than the 1990s, and toy tech was no exception. The concept of the digital pet came out of Japan when Tamagotchi hit the market in 1996. Attached to a keychain, Tamagotchi was a piece of plastic with a digital interface that let the "pet's" owner care for it and even watch it hatch—it went on to sell more than 80 million units.