In 1950 the Tiny Tears doll was introduced to American girls by the American Character Doll Company. Tiny Tears had a small hole by each of her eyes which produced a crying effect when the doll’s stomach was squeezed. The doll was loaded with water from her baby bottle and was easy to hold and love. Tiny Tears quickly became an icon and was pretty much a standard item under the Christmas tree or a birthday present for every little girl in the world. In production from 1950 to 1968, Tiny Tears was one of the first super toys — that is, a toy hawked on television, and on commercials seen on programs that were directed specifically at children. The Boss had one and still does.
In 1955 Walt Disney broadcast “Davy Crockett” on The Disneyland ABC program in five segments over the course of the year. The result was a national phenomenon! Christmas 1955 saw a massive barrage of everything and anything Davy Crockett. Coonskin caps were being worn by boys, girls, and adults. There were also t-shirts, sweatshirts, buckskin shirts with fringe, moccasins, flintlock rifles and pistols, rubber knives, comic and hardback books, a Marx Toys Alamo play set, action figures, dolls, potholders, sheets and pillow cases carrying the likeness of Fess Parker as Davy, and records of the “Ballad of Davy Crockett.” Again the power of television put the desire for Davy Crockett items in the minds and imaginations of kids across the land. I had my own coonskin cap I cherished.
In 1958 Mattel Toys came up with the Fanner 50 cap gun that was so lifelike it even shot off a plastic shell. Shootin’ Shell cap guns and rifles became a staple of a boys Christmas for the next decade as Mattel came with a new gimmick for their line of toy weapons for each new Christmas. A 13-year-old Kurt Russell hawked the “Agent Zero Radio Rifle” in 1964. “The Rifleman,” “The Restless Gun,” and “Wanted: Dead or Alive” would have cap gun creations modeled after the show’s iconic firearms. Every TV western and many of the detective shows had cap gun and holster sets marketed and carrying the show’s name on the box — from “Gunsmoke” to “The Untouchables.”
The next major toy fad also started in 1958. In 1957 Richard Knerr and Arthur Melin introduced the Hula Hoop through their toy company WHAM-O. In 1957 WHAM-O introduced Frisbees to the toy buying public and they quickly became a very popular pastime, particularly on college campuses. Hula Hoops quickly passed from a popular toy into a national fad and by Christmas of 1958 every kid in the world (and lots of adults) wanted a Hula Hoop. Alvin and the Chipmunks even mentioned them in their 1958 “Christmas Song.” The Boss wanted one for Christmas a couple years ago and got one.
It was in 1959, however, that the icon of toys from the 1950s first appeared. In March of 1959 Mattel Toys introduced “Barbie!” Mattel wasn’t all that sure the Barbie would sell very well. Paper dolls were usually preferred by little girls to dress in fashion ensembles while plastic life-like dolls were usually baby dolls. Some marketers were afraid that Barbie was a little too sexy looking to make parents comfortable, and even schools and churches might not go for the doll. By Christmas of 1959, however, Barbie was the most asked-for Christmas present from Santa by the little (and not so little) girls in North America. Barbie became a phenomenon and symbol of America. In 2009, celebrating her 50th birthday, it became apparent Barbie is not just a toy but a lifestyle. She is still going strong and shows no signs of slowing down.
Of course there were so many toys from that era that it’s almost impossible to catalog them all. Television played a big part in creating a market for the toys and toy technology became more complex and complicated. I tried to recall some of the better known toys from the 1950s. If I missed your favorite toy from the era please forgive me. Merry Christmas and here’s a wish that Santa brings you your favorite toy on Christmas Eve no matter what your age is!
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