Toys of the 50s & 60s

Updated February 21, 2017

The 1950s and 1960s produced some classic toys that required some hands-on imagination. Long before the rise of electronic toys, kids spent their afternoons playing outside with a Hula Hoop, pushing a Slinky down the stairs, drawing on an Etch A Sketch or creating their own Mr. Potato Head.

Hula Hoop

The Hula Hoop was invented in 1958 by Arthur K. Melvin and Richard P. Knerr of Los Angeles, California. The user's body movements propelled the large plastic hoop around his waist without using his hands. The concept had been around for hundreds of years. Children played with grapevine hoops as early as 1000 B.C., but it wasn't a successful marketing concept until Melvin and Knerr put their hoop in motion. Hula Hoops have since been used for dance and even fitness classes.


The Slinky was invented in 1945 but became a top seller in the 1950s and 1960s. Inventor Richard James of Pennsylvania came up with the idea after he accidentally dropped a large spring and noticed how it flip-flopped across the floor. He created the toy Slinky out of a steel ribbon. There's no specific way to use this toy, but it is commonly made to propel itself down a staircase. It can also be juggled or simply stretched and swung around. As of 2011, roughly 300 million Slinkys had been sold worldwide.

Etch A Sketch

The Etch A Sketch was invented in 1959 by Arthur Granjean. He took his idea, then called "L'Ecran Magique" (The Magic Screen), to the International Toy Exhibition in Germany, and the rights were immediately purchased by the Ohio Art Company. The drawing tablet contains aluminium dust. When the knobs are turned, some of the aluminium dust is moved around to create the lines that show up on the clear screen. With one shake, the image can be erased.

Mr. Potato Head

Mr. Potato Head was invented in 1952 by George Lerner, and it has a special place in history as the first toy ever to be advertised on TV. The original toy package only had face pieces. Parents were told to purchase a potato so children could push those pieces into the potato and make their own Mr. Potato Head. The plastic potato body with holes for the pieces didn't come out until 1960.

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