Nostalgic Toys Of Christmases Past: Retro Kids Toys We Still Love contains affiliate links. This means I get a small commission if you purchase an item using my links. Don’t worry, there’s no extra cost to you! You can read my full disclaimer here.
When you think of nostalgic toys, what comes to mind? I’m sure you can think of a number of toys that helped form your earliest childhood memories and the fondest reflections of your youth. So many toys that had their 15 minutes of fame over the years, but most of them vanished just as quickly as they appeared…with the exception of a few prominent pioneers. I’m talking specifically about retro kids toys that have stood the test of time. These toys not only made waves at the time of their debut but are still finding their way under your Christmas tree year after year.
Retro Kids Toys
Erector Sets 1913
Erector Sets are the original STEM activity. Since 1913, this educational toy has been teaching kids engineering from an early age. Through the construction of machine-like structures, kids gain an understanding of mechanical details and how things operate. Because they contain small parts, these nostalgic toys are most suitable for older kids. With so many options on the market today, imaginations are free to soar! Erector sets also build strong hand-eye coordination and valuable problem-solving skills.
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If you were born in the 80s it’s likely you or someone you knew owned a set of Tinker Toys. But, these retro kids toys got their start long before the 1980s, making their original debut over a century ago! In 1914, creator Charles Pajeau came up with the idea after witnessing kids playing with sticks and empty spools of thread (Wikipedia). Tinkertoys are another great STEM activity for developing hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and dimensional awareness. With limitless creative potential, your child’s ingenuity and imagination will soar to extraordinary heights! .
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Pogo Stick 1918
Pogo Sticks have been around for more than 100 years, and since making their debut in 1918, have sold over 25 million products all over the world (Flybar). But, the pogo stick isn’t just a toy for kids. It’s come such a long way that it’s turned into a popular extreme sport, with the ability to elevate jumpers up to ten feet in the air! The new advanced designs by Flybar are said to be inspired by the modern trampoline! Whether you’re a professional jumper or a here and there hopper, there’s a pogo stick out there for everybody! One thing’s for sure, this retro kids toy is still soaring to unimaginable heights!
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Lincoln Logs 1916
Lincoln Logs are one of my favorite retro kids toys and have been making little builders happy for over 100 years! Created by the son of famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1916, John Lloyd Wright drew inspiration from his father to create one of the most nostalgic toys of all time! Lincoln Logs allow kids to create frontier-like structures with roofs, windows, and doors, using interlocking “wooden logs” for a country cabin feel. Original sets contained directions for building Abraham Lincoln’s childhood home, as well as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s iconic “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Through many modifications and manufacturers, Lincoln Logs have stood the test of time! With over 100 million sold, this nostalgic toy was deservingly inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1999 (Klein, 2016).
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Radio Flyer 1927
No childhood is complete without a Radio Flyer Wagon. In 1917, Italian Antonio Pasin came to Chicago as a cabinet maker and soon began constructing and peddling his first wooden wagons under the name “Liberty Coaster”. Eventually, these evolved into the metal wagons we know and love today. In 1927, he created the first steel wagon, the “Radio Flyer”, which later gained worldwide recognition after being featured in the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair (Radio Flyer). Since then, these popular wagons have become a childhood favorite and one of the most recognizable nostalgic toys ever. These wagons are so much fun for any child and their versatile use both indoors and out, allows kids to transport their toys, friends, or simply be pulled on leisurely walks with the family.
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Mickey Mouse Doll 1930
In early 1930, with the consent of Walt and Roy Disney, Los Angeles seamstress Charlotte Clark began sewing, stuffing, and distributing the first Mickey Mouse dolls. The dolls became so popular that Clark couldn’t keep up with the demand. With further permission from Disney, she released the sewing pattern to the public, so families could make their own Mickey Mouse dolls at home (WaltDisney.org). These early dolls set the standards for all Disney memorabilia to follow, and to this day the Mickey Mouse doll remains one of the most beloved retro kids toys of all time.
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The View-Master is one of the coolest retro kids toys and by far one of my all-time favorites! The clean, realistic, 3D imagery has been allowing kids to imagine they’re snapping photos of real-life objects and animals since 1938! Today, the View-Master is still in popular demand with countless reels available for purchase, including zoo animals, sharks, trains, Disney, dinosaurs, and many more. One of the most nostalgic toys for kids, the View-Master still makes a terrific a gift for any child 3 years and up!
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Tonka Truck 1947
There’s no doubt little boys love their heavy-duty machinery and Tonka has been delivering the best in toy tractors, dump trucks, excavators, and more since 1947! Sure, there are a lot of toy trucks on the market, but nothing beats the superior quality and materials these retro kids toys are known and loved for. There’s nothing better than seeing a little boy open a Tonka truck on Christmas morning and I can personally guarantee these durable trucks will hold up to all the wear, tear, and miles put on them over the years!
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Mr. Potato Head 1952
Mr. Potato Head was one of the first toys I remember having as a kid and is arguably one of the most nostalgic toys ever made. This pioneering potato came from humble beginnings in 1952 but rose to “spud”-dom after becoming the first toy ever advertised on television, as well as the first advertisement aimed directly at children and not their parents (PBS). Originally released as a bag of parts you could pin to a real-life potato, Mr. Potato head has had a lot of different looks over the years. One thing’s for sure though, Mr. Potato Head is still everywhere, starring in movies like Toy Story, floating in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and making his way under thousands of Christmas trees year after year.
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Corn Popper 1957
Is it a vacuum, is it a lawnmower, or is it a popcorn maker? We may never know. One thing is for sure though, the Corn Popper has been captivating kids and annoying parents non-stop since 1957! Still, one of the most pop-pop-popular items for babies and toddlers, the Corn Popper remains one of the most requested nostalgic kids toys on baby registries and baby’s first Christmas!
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In the late 19th century, the “Frisbie Pie Company” opened in Bridgeport, CT. At a nearby college, students would pass time on campus by throwing the empty pie tins back and forth while shouting, “Frisbie!” In 1948, inspired by these flying pie tins, Walter Frederick Morrison and William Franscioni created a plastic disk called the Flying Saucer. The disk was eventually sold to Wham-O in 1958, who changed its name to the beloved “Frisbee”(History.com). Since then, these nostalgic toys have been replicated by dozens of manufacturers and continue to be one of the most enjoyable leisurely pastimes for kids and adults everywhere. Games such as Ultimate Frisbee and Frisbee Golf have all been imagined from this amazing little disk and have grown so popular they’re now recognized as legitimate sports…with no shortage of dedicated players.
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Hula Hoop 1958
The Hula Hoop has been twirling its way into kids’ hearts since 1958. I loved Hula Hoops when I was growing up. As a parent, they’re a fun and inexpensive activity for kids to burn off energy. But, whether you’re a child or an adult, the Hula Hoop is beloved by all. Through the years, the Hula Hoop has been adopted for use in a number of activities including games, water sports, fitness routines, and pet training! I remember using these nostalgic toys in gym class. It’s hard to believe that such a simple concept could be so treasured after all these years! It just goes to show, it’s the simple things in life that bring the most joy!
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For over 60 years, the Barbie doll has been cherished by little girls all over the world. Barbie was created by innovative wife and mother, Ruth Handler (co-founder of Mattel) in 1959, after observing her daughter Barbara playing with paper dolls for hours (barbie.mattel.com). Since then, the Barbie doll has become one of the most iconic retro kids toys of all time! Sending a powerful message to little girls that women can be anything they want, Barbie has always sought to represent independence, empowerment, and equality for women. Despite much controversy throughout the years over diversity, social class, and body image, Barbie’s evolution is ever-changing, just like the women she represents.
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Etch A Sketch 1959
Christmas 1960 was a huge year for the Etch A Sketch. Created by French electrician Andres Cassagnes in 1959, this classic drawing toy was originally named “L’Ecran Magique, meaning “The Magic Screen” (National Toy Hall Of Fame). While most of us are amateur doodlers, it’s nothing short of magic what some people are able to create with the two spinning knobs. Since its debut, the Etch A Sketch has become a Christmas hallmark, as parents everywhere relive the nostalgia of their own childhoods through their children. In 1998, these classic retro kids toys were inducted into the National Toy Hall Of Fame.
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Legos have a somewhat convoluted history. The name “Lego” itself began in 1934 by Danish toymaker Ole Kirk Kristiansen, long before the first Lego brick was ever conceived. Kirk Kristiansen came up with the idea for the popular toy system and prototype in the late 1940s, but they wouldn’t become the familiar interlocking bricks we know and love until 1958, the same year as his death. With his son Godfred in charge of the company, Lego eventually made its way to North America in 1961 (Lego). The rest, as they say, is history! Today, the Lego brand is comprised of hundreds of nostalgic toys and services, including board games, video games, retail stores, hit movies, and even theme parks!
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Chatter Telephone 1961
The Chatter Telephone by Fisher-Price is a wildly popular toy for kids 12 months and up and one of the most recognized retro kids toys of all time. When I had my first kid, this toy was at the top of my baby registry, along with the beloved Corn Popper, also made by Fisher-Price (get them both here!). The Chatter Telephone is a pull-toy with moving eyes, a spinning rotary dial, ringing sounds, and bright, vivid colors. My kids have spent hours on this phone pretending to call their family and friends and in my opinion, any toy that sparks that kind of imagination should be celebrated! As the old adage says, “no matter how old you are if a child hands you a pretend phone, you answer it!”
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Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots 1966
Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots is a popular toy for two created by Marvin Glass and Associates featuring dueling robot boxers in a ring, with the goal of “knocking each other’s blocks off”(The Old Robots). The original toy was released in 1966 by the Marx toy company and has undergone a number of minor revisions over the years to stay relevant through changing pop-culture climates. Since its initial release, variations of the game have included space/cosmic theme, Transformers, Batman vs. Super Man, Toy Story, and more. Today, Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots remains one of the most favorable retro kids toys for boys and has even gained somewhat of a cult following over the years.
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Spirograph is one of the most classic retro kids toys and the original STEAM activity! The Spirograph was created by Denys Fisher in 1965 and relaunched in 2013 with an all-new look. Modern sets include gear-like pieces, markers, and stationery for creating colorful geometric works of art! In 1967, the Spirograph won Toy Of The Year and in 2014, 45 years later, became a two-time finalist for the same title (Wikipedia)!
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Lite Brite 1967
“Turn on the magic of colored lights”. I can still remember the commercial that made me and millions of other kids in the 80s ask for a Lite Brite for Christmas. The Lite Brite was created by Joseph M. Burke and originally released in 1967 (Wikipedia). The lightbox-like toy includes a number of different colored pegs that you can stick into a backlit pegboard to create countless designs, either freehand or from templates. Named one of the Top 100 Toys Of All Time by Time Magazine, Lite Brite is currently a finalist for induction into the 2020 National Toy Hall Of Fame!
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Hot Wheels 1968
In 1968, Hot Wheels took the toy car industry by storm when they released the “Original Sweet 16”, a collection of 16 realistic die-cast muscle cars which included (among others) the Chevy Camaro, Corvette, Ford Mustang, and Pontiac Firebird (Hot Wheels Media). Hot Wheels’ main competition at the time was the beloved Matchbox brand of cars, but what set them apart was their hot rod-like proportions and fantasy embellishments. Hot wheels also sold track sets that could be used to race and propel the cars for more interactive play, something Matchbox cars were not intended for (Wikipedia). While both brands are still cherished by toy collectors and car enthusiasts all over the world, Hot Wheels is still going strong and remains one of the most top-selling, nostalgic toys of all time.
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See ‘N Say 1969
One of the most iconic retro kids toys of all time, the See ‘N Say has been teaching kids their sounds since 1969. Based on popular pull-string technology of the time, the See ‘N Say was the first toy that let kids choose the sound they wanted to hear prior to pulling the string. Kids could select an image by positioning the arrow in the middle of the dial, and then pull the string to hear the corresponding sound (Wikipedia). A number of different See ‘N Says have been introduced over the years, from the original farm animal sounds to sounds of the city, zoo animals, and even the alphabet. These nostalgic toys are still one of the most popular toys for small kids and new mothers.
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Big Wheel 1969
Big Wheel is a brand of plastic tricycles introduced in 1969 by Louis Marx & Co and one of the most classic retro kids toys to come out of the 70s. The Big Wheel differed from its high-seated competitors in that it allowed kids to ride at higher speeds and perform “risky” stunts safely, due to its low center of gravity and cushiony plastic construction (The Strong). The Big Wheel became an umbrella term to describe any low-riding plastic tricycle of its time…and there were many! Over the years a number of competing brands have introduced their own similar bikes, but Big Wheel will always reign supreme!
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What is there to say about Nerf? Um, so much! With the release of “the world’s first indoor ball” in 1969, the Nerf brand has grown into one of the most successful collections of retro kids toys ever. After the success of the Nerf Ball, creator Reyn Guyer further collaborated with Parker Brothers to develop a number of top-selling foam toys in the years to follow. (Mental Floss) The classic Nerf Football released in 1972 is perhaps one of the most nostalgic kids toys of all time, but the toy weaponry that made its debut in 1989 would explode the brands’ popularity and success for years to come.
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Sit ‘N Spin 1974
What could be more fun than sitting and spinning? Well, I can personally think of million things, but when you’re a kid, it’s pretty much the highlight of your day. One of my favorite retro kids toys, the Sit ‘N Spin, was introduced in 1974 by the Kenner Toy Company. Since then, kids everywhere have been whirling their way to wooziness on this timeless turning treasure.
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Since 1978, Simon has been testing people’s memories and temperaments with its flashing lights and characteristic sounds. Creators Ralph H. Baer and Howard J. Morrison drew inspiration for the addicting device from the classic children’s game, “Simon Says” and an Atari arcade game called, “Touch Me” (National Museum Of American History). The basic premise for these nostalgic toys is to repeat a sequence of corresponding sounds and lights determined by Simon. Upon correctly repeating the pattern, the sequence becomes increasingly more difficult until either the time limit runs out or the player fails to repeat the correct pattern.
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My Little Pony 1981
One of the most popular retro kids toys of the 1980s for little girls was the My Little Pony doll. The ponies are recognized by their colorful bodies, unique symbols on each of their flanks, and the nostalgic smell of sweet, sweet plastic. My Little Pony made its original debut in 1981 and girls everywhere fell in love with their stylable mains, whimsical names, and adoring eyes. Over the past four decades, the My Little Pony brand has reinvented itself a number of times and successfully branched out into other forms of media including cinema and television. Today, these nostalgic toys are still going strong, and as recently as June 2020, a new series, “My Little Pony: Pony Life” aired its first season on Discovery Kids, with the second season already in production.
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Nintendo Entertainment System 1985
Perhaps one of the most influential retro kids toys of all time is the Nintendo Entertainment System. In 1985, kids all over North America plugged in their NES’s and didn’t move from their living room floors until the early 90s. Of course, I kid, but the NES was so influential, it was responsible for shaping an entire generation of childhoods. With iconic games like Super Mario Bros., Tetris, The Legend Of Zelda, and Metroid, the video gaming industry had been reborn. In the following years, Nintendo released the portable handheld device, the Nintendo Gameboy (1989), followed by the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1991. These helped propel Nintendo into legendary status and turned Mario and his cohorts into true 90’s pop culture icons. Nintendo has been responsible for a number of popular franchises through the years including Donkey Kong, Animal Crossing, and Pokemon (to name a few). The brand is still going strong, recently introducing a number of successful gaming consoles and handheld devices, and is recognized as one of the most nostalgic toys ever made.
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As far as toys go, my childhood was pretty diverse. I had all the “girly” toys and my brother, who is 18 months older than me, had all the “boy” toys. Combined, we must have had every successful toy to hit the market in the 80s and early 90s. As long as I can remember, there have always been Transformers. If you’ve been living under a rock, Transformers is an extremely popular toy and media franchise introduced to America in 1984 and comprises a wide range of nostalgic toys, comic books, television series, and movies. These popular retro kids toys are robots that can be reconstructed into cars, planes, weaponry, and animals with the popular catchphrases including (in your best robotic voice), “more than meets the eye” and “robots in disguise.” If you weren’t playing with Transformers, you were watching them on TV. Today, the franchise accounts for a number of popular movies, animated series, toys, and comic books, which are always eagerly anticipated by the masses.
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Tickle Me Elmo 1996
I was already 16 when Tickle Me Elmo came out in 1996 (yep, I’m 40), but I remember the media frenzy and craze when production of the popular Sesame Street citizen couldn’t keep up with the demand. My husband and I recently purchased one of these retro kids toys for our son, and I have to admit, he’s pretty adorable. This little red monster quivers with excitement when you squeeze him, and even the dog likes to get in on the action. Without eliciting anger, it is my personal belief that Elmo is the most lovable Sesame Street character there is and thus explains why he is so cherished by kids everywhere.
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Retro Kids Toys: Stuff A Stocking With These Nostalgic Toys!
These retro kids toys may be small but they’ve made a huge impact over the years with both kids and adults alike! Their handheld proportions make them the perfect nostalgic toys to stuff a stocking with this Christmas!
Stuff A Stocking With Nostalgic Toys From 1903!
Stuff A Stocking With Retro Kids Toys From 1945!
Stuff A Stocking With Retro Kids Toys From 1959!
Stuff A Stocking With Nostalgic Toys From 1943!
Magic 8 Ball
Stuff A Stocking With Retro Kids Toys From 1950!
Stuff A Stocking With Nostalgic Kids Toys From 1955!
Stuff A Stocking With Retro Kids Toys From 1974!
Stuff A Stocking With Nostalgic Toys From 1928!
The Best Age-Appropriate Stocking Stuffers For Toddlers
Baby Stocking Stuffers: Tiny Toys For Tiny Tots
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