The 10 biggest toys of the 1950s year by year

One decade gave us Barbie, Matchbox, Mr. Potato Head and so much more!

Images: AP Photo / Tom Reed / Scott Heppell / John F. Urwiller / Chris Pizzello

Who says you need batteries to have fun? Kids in the Fifties could play away the weekend hours with vegetables, magnets, clay and water. That will all make more sense when you see the top toys of the decade.

Let's travel back to the era of Eisenhower and Elvis to see what classic toys were introduced. Many of them remain favorites today!

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1. 1950: GIlbert Atomic Energy Lab

There were a few ways we could have done here, frankly. Howdy Doody, first introduced in 1947, was expanding his empire with comic strips and toy puppets. Elsewhere, the space age was kicking off on kids' floors with Tom Corbett playsets. But nothing says "Atomic Age" quite like the Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab. Gilbert made many chemistry sets, yet this dubious one with "real uranium ore" and "radioactive screen" seems particularly of its time.

Image: Sears / Wishbook Web

2. 1951: Colorforms

Reusable stickers — what a brilliant idea! These simple vinyl sheets could be applied to smooth backgrounds to create your own cartoon scene, of sorts. Here you can see an early Popeye Cartoon Kit from the 1950s.

Image: Click Americana

3. 1952: Mr. Potato Head

Most kids will remember the plastic Mr. Potato Head, the one seen in the Toy Story series. However, the original utilized an actual potato — or any piece of produce sitting around the kitchen! On the original box here you can see a beet and orange sporting the funny noses, ears and eyes!

4. 1953: Matchbox Cars

Matchbox cars originated in England, seen here. Lesney Products introduced the die-cast miniatures in 1953. Mattel, who owns the brand now, would not buy out the toy until 1997. 

Image: AP Photo / Scott Heppell

5. 1954: Transistor Radio

Far more than a mere "toy," few introductions had a bigger impact than the transistor radio in 1954. At last, children could take the radio into their rooms, their forts, their beds. As rock 'n' roll was introduced shortly thereafter, the pocket-sized transistor radios helped influence a generation of budding Boomers.

6. 1955: Wooly Willy

From the radio to something far more simple — iron shavings with a magnet stencil. For generations, kids have been snatching up these simply, silly toys in drugstores and as stocking stuffers.


7. 1956: Play-Doh

This iconic modeling clay was originally invented in Cincinnati as a coal soot remover. In 1956, thankfully, they found more creative uses — or, well, let children find their creativity through the colorful "Doh." In the 1980s, the original carboard can was replaced with plastic.

Image: Rainbow Crafts / Retrohound

8. 1957: Sea Monkeys

Brine shrimp, technically. Raise your hand if you ordered a packet from the pages of a comic book.

9. 1958: Hula Hoop

Humans invented the wheel thousands of years ago. It took until 1958 to realize you could whip a circle around your hips for hours (well, let's be honest, minutes) of fun.

Image: AP Photo / John F. Urwiller

10. 1959: Barbie

Where else to end but with the icon herself? Barbie was inspired by the German Lilli doll, a somewhat adult commercial tie-in to a risque newspaper comic in the tabloid Bild. Want to see a million-dollar Barbie collection? We featured it in season two of Collector's Call.

Image: AP Photo / Chris Pizzello

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C2Cigars 14 days ago
Sea Monkeys was the only one I never had.
cams 20 days ago
The 1959 Barbie is way different then nowadays
JillBaeder0 21 days ago
I would've loved the Atomic Lab!
dbulvony 22 days ago
Owned all toys but Barbie &Atomic Lab.
Diz 24 days ago
Now I want to buy some Play-Doh just to see if it smells the same way it did when I was a kid.
daDoctah 24 days ago
Had most of these in my own later childhood, except the Atomic Energy set and the Colorforms, and of course older woman Barbie (her "birth date" was about a month before mine; we both date from the time when there were 49 states).
jholton30062 24 days ago
I broke my arm when I was three, and I remember going through my "Looney Tunes" Colorforms set and having my mom draw casts on all the characters with a crayon.

I used to take a transistor radio like that to bed with me so I could listen to White Sox games from the west coast...
Scott 24 days ago
My family had an item similar to Colorforms, called Pick 'N Stik. Maybe it was made by a different toy company. Had dozens of Matchbox cars I played with a lot. I think when Hula Hoops came out they were $1 !
MarleenDavis Scott 22 days ago
When I first read what you wrote I thought you meant Pick Up Sticks but that was apparently something else. Pick up sticks was plastic sticks with points on the end that you needed to separate from the rest without disturbing the rest of them and scored points (I think) It was a long time ago but I vaguely remember playing it a lot with my brother.
Scott MarleenDavis 20 days ago
Yes, Pick Up Sticks was a different toy. Multi colored, sharp, pointed plastic sticks that came in a cardboard tube with metal caps on the ends!
Josie92 25 days ago
Yup, played with almost all these. Colorforms and hula hoops were great. We also had cootie, and of course, tinkertoys.
...and tiddlywinks 😉
MeliAlexander 25 days ago

There is such a devious story behind sea monkeys: https://www.google.com/amp/s/goat.com.au/pop-culture/the-guy-who-invented-sea-monkeys-was-a-literal-nazi/
Interesting. He also invented X-Ray Specs. I remember seeing them in the back pages of comic books.
mrwatcher MrsPhilHarris 24 days ago
I bought a pair for a Dollar from the back of a comic book 👓 that was a waste of a dollar. . hahaha
MrsPhilHarris mrwatcher 24 days ago
I always wanted to send away for them but my parents wouldn't give me the money. I thought they would really work.
texasluva MrsPhilHarris 24 days ago
You are so right. Here are the X-Ray among dozen of others on comic pages from the era. We always dreamed but no dinero. Lucky to buy Cracker-Jacks and get the chintzy prize inside.
MrsPhilHarris texasluva 24 days ago
Everything looked so interesting and impressive. Probably a good thing my childhood illusions weren't shattered.
Now THAT brings back some memories! 😉 The See Behind glasses 😂🤣
texasluva MrsPhilHarris 24 days ago
I know. I just looked at some ads from 80-100 years ago and you would be stunned what they sold things for that could never work. You would LOL. Even things like Potato fudge, pony whatever (not sure if joke or not). Strange. . .
idkwut2use 26 days ago
My faves are from '51, '53, '56, '58', and '59. :D
DawnGraham 26 days ago
Car trips were made bearable with Colorforms. Loved collecting different ones.
stephaniestavropoulos 26 days ago
I wonder if Wooly Willy was the precursor to the etch-a-sketch?
All of these of course carried over into the '60's as I remember them. I had Barbie, Play Doh, and a few colorforms sets. AHHH...MEMORIES!
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If that didn't dazzle ya here is more. Depends which box of colors you get now. If you get the 16 one its the old colors we all knew as kids. They add more. For instance the 96 crayon box adds these too. . They even have a Hot Magenta LOL.
Well, looks like they've got FIVE shades of purple now! 🤗
Yep and who knows when more shades might come along. I think I had the 8 or 16 crayon set when a kid. They even have Razzmatazz, UnMello Yellow and Inch Worm Whats next Satan's Hell Raising Fire Red?
LOL! ...Sounds to me someone has got wayyyy to much time on their hands 😆😂🤣
harlow1313 26 days ago
As a boy in the sixties, I think my favorite toy was an Aurora HO scale slot car racing set. I even had a Batmobile, though it could never beat the Ford GT.
mfitzpat811 26 days ago
Great article. It brings back so many fond memories!
Moody 26 days ago
I was born in 1954 & I remember all of these. I had all of them except for Barbie. My sister had that. When GI Joe came out me and my brother had some of those. Our GI Joe would beat up Ken & kidnap Barbie for ransom. Our sister had to pay $.25 to get her back.
teire Moody 26 days ago
Same, remember them all, between myself and my brother had everything but the sea monkeys (ugh).
15inchBlackandWhite 26 days ago
I was playing with a lot of these in the 1970's.
Barry22 26 days ago
My two year old grandson is playing with Play Doh right now.
ll675i 26 days ago
Lionel Trains should be on this list.
teire ll675i 26 days ago
They were very popular in the 50s but were introduced decades earlier. This article is about toys introduced in the 1950s. At my house Santa set up the Lionel trains every Christmas Eve. Loved the bumper cars.
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