The ‘70s was a decade of big changes social, politically, and economically. These changes also impacted the toy market. We saw the introduction of video games, and more complex toys – toys that challenged our imagination, required us to think, and developed manual dexterity.
The 1970s was also a decade of new products and discoveries – two of which were the Sony Walkman and fibre optics – and with many firsts:
• The first face-lift
• The first MRI image
• The first email transmission
• The first floppy disk
• The first commercially available microwave ovens and VCRs
If you were born in the 70s, you’ll definitely remember these toys.
The First Game Systems
The Magnavox Odyssey was the first home video game console, predating the Atari Pong by three years. Atari games included Haunted House, Raiders of the Last Ark, Space Invaders, and Pac Man
Fun and Fads
Magic Eight Ball
Although invented in 1946, it wasn’t until Mattel issued it in ’76 that it became really popular. This fortune telling toy was a must at birthday parties, and many teens consulted their younger sibling’s toy for romantic advice.
A short-lived idea that made its creator rich, the Pet Rock became the gift to get and give for Christmas in 1975. With its care instruction manual, home with straw and air holes, and clever promotion, it captured the imagination of many.
For Younger Children
Lite-Brite, a Hasbro toy of the early 70s, was a plug-in toy using multi-colored translucent pegs pushed through black paper to create glowing pictures. Millions of them were sold and is has been adapted over the years and appeared in many incarnations, some using LCD technology.
Baby Alive, as the name implies, was a realistic baby doll. Introduced by Kenner in 1973, Hasbro currently produces this doll and it is still remarkably popular. Modern versions eat, drink, wet, and come as Caucasian, African-American, and Hispanic babies.
UNO Card Game
This family card game, originally developed in 1971 by Merle Robbins in Reading, Ohio, has been produced by Mattel since 1992. Children as young as seven grasp the basic concept of the game which has 108 cards in four bright colours, usually red, blue, green, and yellow. Action cards such as Skip, Wild, and Reverse keep the game fresh and challenging, no matter how often it is played.
Hungry Hungry Hippos
First introduce in 1978, there were four hippos in the original version: Lizzie (purple), Henry (orange), Homer (green), and Harry (yellow). I don’t know if it was the marbles, or the excitement this game created, this was one of those games our parents would not buy, so we spent hours at a friend’s house. It even had its own theme song:
It’s a race, it’s a chase,
Hurry up and feed their face!
Who will win? No one knows!
Feed the hungry hip-ip-pos!
Hungry hungry hippos!
Open up and there it goes!
This game is still around, although some of the hippos have changed colours and names.
Toys That Challenged
Simon Electronic Memory Game
Released by Milton Bradley in 1978, this clever game became an instant success. The game combines memory, visuals, touch, and sound. Simon lights up and plays tones in a random order. The player must copy the order by pressing the coloured buttons. The rounds continue with each one becoming progressively more difficult. This game has remained popular – you can now play this game on-line!
Each generation discovers the fun of Rubik’s Cube. My grandchildren had small ones as stocking stuffers this last Christmas. Invented in 1974 and created by Hungarian Erno Rubik, the cube did was released by the Ideal Toy Company. Over 350 million Rubik’s Cubes have been sold, making it the best-selling toy ever!
Toys for Boys
The 70s saw the introduction of “action figures” – the male equivalent of the Barbie doll. However, unlike Ken, these guys were all muscles and allowed boys to create scenarios filled with excitement.
“S-T-R-E-T-C-H him… He returns to normal size!” Totally unrealistic, many parents could not see the attraction. But the fun was pulling, twisting, and knotting this toy and watching it return to normal size.
It was Hasbro that introduced the term “Action Figure” – GI Joe was never referred to as a doll. Much more realistic in appearance than Stretch Armstrong, GI Joe had outfits, weapons, and vehicles. Actually introduced in the 1960’s, this toy reached its height of popularity in the 70s.
Star Wars Action Figures
Star Wars, the hit movie from George Lucas, spawned the release of action figures by Kenner. The toys remained popular, and each new movie release meant new characters and more toys. In was not until the mid-1980s that the sale of Star Wars merchandise slowed, at which point Kenner discontinued production. As an example of the popularity of these toys, sales in 1978 reached 40 million units.
The ‘70s have come and gone, but the toys introduced during that decade remain, both in our minds and our hearts.