Some toys in the 1980s became hugely popular, growing into merchandising giants. Some even got their own television shows. Some of the most popular toys of the 1980s encouraged imaginative play, while others engaged the mind. The 1980s saw the first must-have Christmas gift and the beginning of the end of the video arcade.
The Rubik's Cube is a six-sided, six-colored cube made up of lots of little cubes that all turn and twist until each side is a mishmash of colours. Designed by Hungarian mathematician Erno Rubik, this toy burst into extreme popularity in 1980. The goal when playing with a Rubik's Cube is to realign the coloured cubes so that each side of the entire cube is one colour. Some expert players are able to unravel the Rubik's Cube in minutes.
Cabbage Patch Kids
In the 1980s, Cabbage Patch Kids took the world by storm. The first Christmas they were available in the US, parents desperate to provide their children with one of the so-ugly-they're-cute soft dolls had physical fights in toy store aisles, elevating them to the status of the 'it' gift that year. Cabbage Patch Kids each came with a birth certificate with a unique name and had distinct looks. Changes of clothes and other accessories were available as well.
In the 1980s, if there was one toy that little boys loved above all others, it was action figures. Star Wars was king, with elaborate settings and vehicles and an almost unlimited array of figures. G.I. Joe (Action Force in the UK) was also very popular. He-Man was more fanciful, with a fantasy strong man and his friends and enemies. Both G.I. Joe and He-Man action figures also had popular Saturday morning cartoons.
The Lite Brite was a simple enough idea. A peg board with a light bulb behind it, black paper with patterns printed on it fitted to the front. Tiny translucent coloured pegs fit into the holes through the black paper, and when the light was turned on, the pattern lit up like neon. Lite Brite provided hours of entertainment for children during the 1980s, as well as an outlet for creative expression.
Transformers were part toy car, part action figure, and all magic. These toy vehicles flipped open to transform into robots. Two toys in one, with the extra excitement of the unexpected. These toys also came with elaborate stories about the battles between the good and evil Transformers. This was one toy that encouraged imaginative play for little boys through the 1980s. The line was supported with a comic -- its UK writer, Simon Furman, eventually took over the US comic as well.
Boys didn't have all the fun in the 1980s. Strawberry Shortcake and her desert-scented posse were immensely popular amongst little girls during that decade. These large-headed little hard dolls and their tiny pets had strong fruit scents and names to match, like Lemon Meringue and Blueberry Muffin. Extra sweet and very collectable, Strawberry Shortcake became an institution, spawning cartoons and a whole range of merchandise.
Just as the 1980s were fading into the 1990s, when video games were still something you saved your quarters and took the bus to the mall to play, Nintendo released the first Game Boy. This handheld game system would evolve over the next decade, but the first version was a revelation. A game that could be played anywhere and that you could switch the games on. Until then, handheld electric games were static. Game Boy changed all of that.
Care Bears were a bunch of sweet, stuffed animals that each had a symbol on its belly, a pastel colour and a special affinity for kindness, cheer or even grumpiness. They rode on cloudmobiles and slid down rainbows, spreading their message, using the Care Bear Stare if necessary. Care Bears were a gentle bunch who fought gentle villains and always saved the day in movies and TV specials.
Rainbow Brite was another very popular girl's toy during the 1980s. She started off as a television show about an orphan tasked with bringing colour to a colourless world by rescuing the Colour Kids. Don't forget about Starlite, her faithful rainbow horse. Each of the Colour Kids represented a rainbow colour and had a fluffy sprite for a companion. The show spawned a whole line of Rainbow Brite and Colour Kid merchandise and toys.
Pound Puppies are an example of a simple toy going over big with kids. In the 1980s, these soft, stuffed dogs were incredibly popular. Like Cabbage Patch Kids, Pound Puppies came with adoption papers. Their popularity spawned a wide variety of merchandise and eventually a television show where a little girl adopts the puppies and takes them on adventures.