Last week I shared my childhood holiday shopping memories. Problem is, I STILL can’t get that Barbie Country Camper out of my mind. Damn that orange hippy-flowered vehicle! It made me wonder, what were the ‘must have’ items of other generations gone by? That's why I bring you…
THROUGH THE AGES: Holiday Shopping
All I want for Christmas is...
Below is a list of all the cool new toys and other hot items that debuted in each decade (I marked them in red), as well as some info on popular items with teens.
1900s -Now keep in mind that for the first few decades, kids didn’t expect much for the holidays. Many just got stockings with some penny candy, an orange, and maybe a small gift or two. If you were a boy and your folks had a few bucks in their pocket, however, you might get a Lionel Train. Woo hoo! Crayola crayons came on the scene a little later, which were much more affordable for everyone. Later on there were teddy bears, named for then president, Teddy Roosevelt, and die cast cars. If you were a teenaged girl, a popular gift might have been a sewing kit or a new book - complete with bookmark! Exciting times, I know.
1910s - This decade was a dream for budding builders. Tinker Toys, Erector Sets, and Lincoln Logs were all introduced. Girls got a special treat with the introduction of Raggedy Ann, the sweet doll from the popular children’s book series. Though older girls didn't really get toys back then, some received an Ouija Board, marking the first -- but not last -- time they’d become popular.
1920s - Raggedy Ann continued to dominate until late in the decade when Madame Alexander Dolls became all the rage. Doll chinaware and furniture were also popular. Boys delighted when the yo-yo made its first appearance. Sleds were hot, too. As for the older set, one traditional gift for girls was a fancy box of stationary. Think anyone would have a use for that now? I wonder….
1930s - In this decade board games made their debut with the classics Sorry and Monopoly. Betsy Wetsy, the first (and unfortunately not the last) peeing doll was born then, too. With the following year came the View-Master. Everyone had to have one, not just kids. Featuring color -- yes, color! --- 3-D photographs of places and things around the world, it was a favorite gift for many age groups. Since it was the depression, many girls would have been thrilled with a new coat, shoes, or other piece of clothing. Hard times, folks. Hard times.
1940s - What did the future for the Forties hold? Teen girls asked the Magic 8 Ball, which made its first appearance. Like every decade before and after, teens also asked for clothes. Board games continued to dominate in all age groups with such new additions as Candy Land, Scrabble, and Clue. Then, of course, there were Tonka Trucks -- made of die-cast metal, not plastic -- making them perfect for ramming into Mom’s coffee table. Near the tail end of the decade, little girls wanted the Baby Coos doll and, for both boys and girls, cowboys and Indians were the bomb. Everyone wanted a cowboy hat and two gun holster cap gun set like Hopalong Cassidy and the Lone Ranger. Yee-hah! This trend continued well into the Fifties.
1950s - Lots of fun ‘hands on’ stuff came out during this time. Silly putty, Legos, and Play-Doh were all favorites. There was also Mr. Potato Head, complete with everything but the potato -- a real one had to be supplied by parents. The hula hoop also debuted as well as the beauty and fashion icon, Barbie. She looked pretty smokin’ in that black and white striped bathing suit. Me-yow! For older kids, record players were high on the list. What better way to listen to the likes of Frank Sinatra, Elvis, and Ricky Nelson? Through the next four decades, records would be high on all teens lists. Brownie cameras were also popular. Angel Face powder and other make up were on some girls' lists, plus -- I won't say it again -- clothes.
1960s - Enter G.I. Joe who, despite what every boy in America might have believed, was created so Barbie could have a cool boyfriend. Etch-a-Sketchs, Hot Wheels, and Twister also came into existence. My favorites? The super cool Lite Brite and (drum roll please) Easy Bake Oven. Nothing like a 40 watt light bulb to bake those 3-inch cakes! For older kids, the transistor radio finally got cheap enough to ask folks to buy one. You could take music with you where ever you went! For older kids, 8-track tapes for stereo systems also made an entrance. For teen girls, nothing beat the oval-shaped princess phone. In fact, whether it be the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties, even Nineties getting a phone in your room was the HUGEST THING EVER. Girls also fancied those new portable hair dryers with the flexible tube that pumper air into a shower camp -- no more sleeping in rollers. Hooray! “The Swinger,” a fun Polaroid camera was a hit with teens. Much later in the decade, when things got groovier, lava lamps made their first appearance, becoming a popular teen gift item in the Seventies, too. They also craved anything with a ‘peace’ sign.
1970s - Nerf balls became the rage for boys everywhere, while girls got Strawberry Shortcake. Rubik’s Cube and skateboards were also hot, as well as the biggest movie tie-in juggernaut of them all: Star Wars merchandise. Action figures, trading cards, underoos… ‘the Force’ took over the world. Groovy items older kids went for were mood rings and black lights with corresponding psychedelic posters. Troll dolls and granny glasses were also popular, as were blow dryers, one of the greatest inventions of all time. Lip gloss in a pot made it big and in 1979, every girl -- big or small -- got an assortment of Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers in their stockings. As for ‘peace’ sign merchandise? It made way for ‘Have a Nice Day’ smilie face stuff. That yellow face was EVERYWHERE. Before I end, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this decade also brought one of the biggest games in geek history. The fantasy role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons debuted in 1974.
1980s - Oh, man. I don’t want to relive this…the Cabbage Patch Kids. Children were NUTS about them, making them the must have doll of 1983. Sure, there were Care Bears and Smurfs, too, but Cabbage Patch Kids? Whoa. Teddy Ruxpin, the animatronic talking bear, became a 'wanna have' toy later in the decade, though it was too expensive for many to afford. As for boys, Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles entered the scene. For the older set, Trivial Pursuit became the hot game, and everyone wanted a Sony Walkman (with tape cassette!) or stereo so they could listen to their tunes. Roller blades were also introduced mid decade, making anyone who still had roller skates look so lame. After Tom Cruise's hot performance in 1983's Risky Business, teens were dying for a pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses. The coolest things, though? The decade started with the Atari game system and ended with the Game Boy. The video game era officially began. Then there was the VHS cassette. People could watch movies in their homes whenever they wanted. Huge.
1990s - Move over Ninja Turtles, it’s time for the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers! Later on, Pokemon became big, too. Teletubbies dominated the younger set, as well as a slew of other kiddie TV show merchandise. (Can you say ‘Blues Clues?’) Elmo, being the bad self he is, managed to create a stir all on his own. Tickle Me Elmo was THE toy in 1996. I can’t tell you the amount of mayhem and angst the doll created that Christmas season when it sold out early. Beanie Babies made their mark, too. They were not only popular with young kids and teens, but made a big dent in many a collector’s pocket book in its hey day. Teens were also gaga for slap bracelets, plus we can't forget that the Nineties = boy bands. (For more on that see Through the Ages: Teen Idols.) Many a girl would have freaked for a ticket to one of their shows.
2000s - The beginning of the millennium started off with the Razor scooter craze. Video game systems, be they hand-held or at home consoles, also became must have toys. Tamagotchis left there mark and Dora the Explorer became a household name. Though Barbie continued to reign in the doll department, Bratz entered the scene and shook her world. Mid-decade, Radica’s 20 Q electronic game became a cool gift for older kids. They might also have wanted a DVD of their favorite movie or (girls only) a copy of one of the Twilight books. but if you really wanted to rock their stockings? I had to be a cell phone or IPod.
Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed this nostalgic trip. Now I’ve got to take a trip to the store and get some REAL holiday shopping done. If you’ve got the time, whether you’re an old fart or a hip happenin’ teen, I’d love to hear what your must have toys were when you were young. Come on, fess up!
Hey! Special thanks to my mom, my Aunt Margie, and my friend, Theresa B., for their' generational' input. Keepin' it real folks. Keepin' it real...