The holiday shopping rush is on, and retailers and parents across the nation are all asking the same thing: What is this year's "must-have" toy going to be? The new Furby? The Roboraptor? The Xbox 360 gaming console?
With so many new toys and games hitting store shelves every year, it may be a little surprising that many of the most popular playthings are actually quite old. But people have been playing for a very long time. In 4000 B.C., Babylonians played a board game that was probably the ancestor of chess and checkers. Stone yo-yos were first used in ancient Greece around 1000 B.C. Kites appeared in China around the same time, though historians speculate that they have probably been flown since before recorded history.
The 20th century saw the invention of dozens of much-loved toys as well. Still-popular board games like Tripoley, Sorry and Monopoly have been around since the 1930s, and Crayola Crayons are more than 100 years old! Twister, made by a division of Hasbro, sold more than 3 million games within a year of its release in 1966. It has sold more than 22 million since then.
Toys aren't always a hit the year, or even the decade, they're created. Unemployed architect Alfred Mosher Butts invented the game of Scrabble, which he first called "Lexiko" and later "Criss-Cross Words," in the 1930s. Entrepreneur James Brunot acquired the game in 1947, but it wasn't until 1953, when the president of Macy's — now owned by retail giant Federated Department Stores — discovered the game on vacation that things really took off. More than 100 million sets have since been sold worldwide.
The fortunes of other playthings are more cyclical. Troll dolls, which hit big during the 1960s, had all but disappeared by the 1980s until troll nostalgia ushered in a second boom in the early 1990s. As Generation Xers grow older, toys like Cabbage Patch Kids, now made by Mattel, and Koosh balls could stage a comeback as well.
And there's serious money to be had. Mr. Potato Head, made in 1952 by Hasbro's Playskool unit, was the first toy advertised on television, and it grossed more than $4 million in its first year (that's $30 billion in 2005 dollars). Play-doh, which was originally designed for cleaning wallpaper, made inventor Joseph McVicker a millionaire by his 27th birthday. And Mattel sells an astounding 1.5 million Barbie dolls each week — that's two dolls per second.
With the help of our friends at the Toy Industry Association, we've put together a slideshow of some of the best-selling and best-loved toys of the past 100 years. Click here for some fun facts about these fabulous toys.