What were the top selling toys of the 1970s?

Come holiday season, many parents keep a close eye on toy trends to find the perfect gift for their child. What were some of the most hotly desired toys and gadgets from 1968 to 1977? Here’s our answer.

  • 1968: Hot Wheels.
    • The brand name has nearly become synonymous with toy cars since Mattel debuted the line in the late 60s, but a lot of that success comes from how they differed from Matchbox, as their rival had been in the market since 1953. Hot Wheels differentiated themselves by being more grandiose in presentation, rather than trying to always be an authentic recreation of a real car. Superchargers, giant tires, and flame paint-jobs were some of the many ways that the Mattel brand made its mark on pop culture, as well as the use of plastic wheels to make friction less of an issue. Their racing track set also turned out to be an invaluable idea, as the company still produces many variations on their original ideas to this day. For the 40th anniversary in 2008, Hot Wheels celebrated the making of its four billionth car with the production of a diamond-studded model worth $140,000. It had 2700 diamond chips, a total of almost 23 karats, and was cast in white gold, with rubies as the taillights.
  • 1969: Snoopy Astronaut.
    • Not only was the Space Race capturing the world’s attention at the end of the ‘60s, but Charles Schultz’s beloved “Peanuts” comic was in what many would consider its golden age. Snoopy the beagle was already an incredibly popular character, but during the Apollo 10 mission, he might have found his true calling. Before the mission, NASA approached Schultz to ask if they could use Snoopy as their safety mascot. This led to the institution of the Silver Snoopy Award program, which aims to improve the safety record of NASA employees and contractors. It proved to be a great success, and the Silver Snoopy Pin is a much-coveted award at NASA to this day, and adding to its mystique is the fact that the pin has actually flown in space! But of course, astronauts were not the only ones clamoring for the newest and coolest Peanuts merchandise. The Snoopy Astronaut plushy was a must-have in the holidays of 1969, and is still sought after by collectors today.
  • 1970: Nerf Ball.
    • Today, Nerf is probably best known for its foam-based weaponry, but the original toy from the company was just a simple, 4 in. ball. In 1969, a Minnesota game inventor named Reyn Guyer approached the Parker Brothers company with an idea for a volleyball game that was safe indoors. However, Parker Brothers saw the potential in just one small factor: the polyurethane foam ball. Introduced as the “world’s first official indoor ball,” Nerf debuted the following year. Since the original Nerf Ball release in 1970, the Nerf line has introduced many successful products, including foam sports equipment, Super Soaker water guns, and even some video game attachments. As of 2015, Nerf was estimated to be generating around $400 million a year.
  • 1971: Weebles.
    • Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down! The popular catchphrase for Hasbro Playskool trademark Weebles has endured, maybe even more than the toys themselves. Filled with two solids of different masses, this egg-shaped physics-based toy was a hit, swinging back-and-forth, but of course, never falling down. Even though Weebles aren’t as popular today as they once were, their influence can be felt in many current lines. Hasbro did attempt a relaunch of new Weebles in 2010 that were larger, but they never caught on like their original counterparts did in 1971.
  • 1972: Uno.
    • Originally developed by Merle Robbins in 1971, this unique card game with the goal of being the first person out of cards is played all over the world today. After Robbins first developed the game, his friends and family seemed to really enjoy it. So, he spent $8,000 to make the original 5,000 copies of the game. He began to sell it from his barbershop, then slowly was able to sell it in other local businesses. Robbins later sold the rights to the game to a group of friends headed by Robert Tezak, the owner of a funeral parlor in Joliet, Illinois. Tezak formed International Games, Inc., to market his new acquisition, with the offices for the newly formed games company located behind his funeral parlor. Uno was produced in-state by Lewis Saltzman at Saltzman Printers, in Maywood, Illinois. International Games would eventually be bought by Mattel in 1992.
  • 1973: Skateboards.
    • We know what you’re thinking - skateboards can’t have been invented in 1973! Well, you’d be right. However, the reason for their sudden upswing in popularity that year was due to the invention of the polyurethane wheel the previous year. Compared to the metal wheels used until then on most skateboard models, these polyurethane wheels completely changed the game. They had a better grasp on pavement, improving traction immensely, which of course make skateboarding much safer overall. It was a lot easier to convince parents to get their kids a skateboard when there was fancy new tech to keep those kids safer. Since the ‘70s, skateboarding has remained an incredibly popular sport, with another huge surge in interests starting in the early 2000s. Many metropolitan cities have even catered to their skater population as well, with more dedicated skateparks being built in the past couple of decades.
  • 1974: Dungeons & Dragons.
    • Originally developed by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, Dungeons & Dragons exploded into a popularity that neither creator could have foreseen. Allowing the players to inject some creativity by making their own characters, this game greatly differentiated itself from other miniature wargames of the time. Since its debut in 1974, Dungeons & Dragons has gone through several iterations, with the most recent “Fifth Edition” launching to great success in 2014. Dungeons & Dragons has expanded into something much more than a game, with novels, video games, and even with entire careers being dedicated to discussing the mechanics of its various editions. There are also many content creators online who specialize in making D&D-themed content, like Geek & Sundry’s massively popular show of voice actors playing the game, Critical Role.
  • 1975: The Pet Rock.
    • Okay, this one definitely stands out as being a pretty horrible toy. A lot of why the Pet Rock has retained a place in cultural discussions is due to the way that creator Gary Dahl was able to make off with a lot of people’s money for not much work. To even call him the “creator” seems a little weird, since he didn’t invent rocks. The Pet Rock was marketed as the perfect pet, as you didn’t have to do anything to take care of it. There’s not much else to be said about this toy, other than we feel sorry for anybody who fell for this one.
  • 1976: The Cher doll.
    • The Goddess of Pop found lots of success in television throughout the early 1970s, and both she and ex-husband Sonny Bono were immortalized in dolls to commemorate the show. Cher’s model garnered much more popularity though, becoming the best-selling doll in all of 1976. The Mackie Collection Dolls that this was produced as a part of also released a full line of clothes, a home, and a stage playset to compliment this 12 in. figure. Cher was also made into a Barbie doll by Mattel in 2007, with obviously better standards of production at the time, but it didn’t catch on the way that her diva doll caught on during her heyday.
  • 1977: Kenner Star Wars action figures.
    • This one requires little explanation, as it was near impossible to exist in 1977 without hearing about George Lucas’ pop culture phenomenon Star Wars. Every kid across the country wanted to be Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, or Han Solo, so Holiday Season ‘77 was a rather easy one to shop for. Well, if you could get your hands on the toys, of course. The original Kenner toys sold out so quickly that the toy company sold certificates that parents could redeem for toys the following year. Kenner continued its partnership with Lucasfilm, producing toys for the following two films of the franchise, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Kenner produced over 100 unique figures for Star Wars between 1978 and 1985, with total sales that topped 300 million units.
  • 1978: Simon.
    • The memory game invented by Ralph H. Baer and Howard J. Morrison was an instant hit in 1978, becoming one of the hottest-selling toys of the decade. After getting his hands on Atari’s arcade game Touch Me at a trade show in ‘76, Baer made his own spin on the formula by adding more pleasing tones that were inspired by the notes of a bugle, as he found Atari’s game to be a good idea that was executed poorly with “miserable, rasping sounds”. Originally called Follow Me, the name was changed to Simon after Morrison and Baer pitched their idea to the Milton Bradley Company. Since its debut in the late ‘70s, Simon has expanded into many products that are variations on the original theme, as toy technology has advanced through the decades. Simon Trickster, Simon Flash, Simon Swipe, and Simon Air have all been released with increasingly complex circuitry and game mechanics, but none have had remotely the cultural resonance as the original Simon.
  • 1979: The ATARI 2600.
    • Although Atari found little success with their handheld endeavors like Touch Me, their home console story is entirely different. After the massive success of their Pong home console game, Atari decided to go about things differently. Founder Nolan Bushnell saw the limitations in burning custom logic to the circuit board, which meant that only one game could be played and to play a new game, an entirely new console must be built. To solve this, he used a low cost microprocessor that could support multiple games, which completely revolutionized the video game industry as we know it. Nowadays, game developers can be at entirely separate companies from those who design the consoles! On January 1, 1992, Atari ended production of the 2600, with lifetime sales being estimated at over 30 million units.