There were many incredible toys of the 1980’s that defined a generation. While dolls and action figures dominated the scene, there were a large variety of toys that taught us about the difference between good and evil, how to take care of a family or pets, to appreciate art, and the reality that dreams could come true.
Toys with TV series
Many of the 80’s toys were popular due to the increasing influence of television pop culture. Below we feature some of the most popular TV shows and their respective toys.
Who could forget those robot toys that transformed into cars, animals, and other devices, making them truly “more than meets the eye”? Created by the Japanese company Takara and purchased and produced by American company Hasbro to distribute in in America, they were instantly popular. They had their own story line, with the heroic Autobots working tirelessly to defeat the Decipticons in comic books, cartoons, and eventually movies.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Named after four fictional teenagers, who happened to also be turtles and named after Italian Renaissance artists, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles created an adolescent culture and force to be reckoned with. Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo, and Raphael were created first as “heroes in the half shell” in a comic book and worked their way into toys, films, tv series, and other merchandise sold worldwide. Their adventures were followed by kids all over the globe, and to this day, many of those “kids” are still loyal fans and believers in the Ninja Turtles.
Every child from the 80’s that was a fan of Care Bears has a favorite Care Bear. Each of the 10 original Care Bears has a color and a name, based on kind values and heartwarming thoughts, including Bedtime Bear, Birthday Bear, Cheer Bear, Friend Bear, Funshine Bear, Good Luck Bear, Grumpy Bear, Love-a-Lot Bear, Tenderheart Bear, and Wish Bear. Other bears were added later, called the Care Bear Cousins to join in the tv series,
Dolls and Action Figures
Inbetween these popular TV shows, many of our 80’s kids also found some of their other favourites in the ad breaks. Dolls and action figures were highly marketed across all media throughout the 1980’s and none of the kids could forget these toys…
Cabbage Patch Kids
The difference between Cabbage Patch Kids and regular baby dolls was evident from the first, as Cabbage Patch Kids weren’t available to be purchased, but adopted (for a price) with their own birth certificate and name. They were first sold in craft markets and fairs by the creator, Xavier Roberts, in Georgia, but eventually were licensed with a toy company called Coleco to be sold to homes across the nation. Xavier even wrote a discovery legend that accompanied every doll, even when the toy line was purchased by Parker Brothers.
Teddy Ruxpin was not only our first talking stuffed animal, but the first stuffed animal who moved his eyes and mouth while reading us stories from the cassettes in his back. From his first debut in 1985, he not only entertained us but he became the Official Spokebear for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, using his fame to help families everywhere. He even briefly had his own tv show, called The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin, where he travels with his best friend Grubby in search of adventure and treasure. The stuffed Teddy Ruxpin may not have gotten any treasures, but he was still brought adventure home to us before we were able to have any of our own.
Sold by Tonka in the 1980’s Pound Puppies were a brand of small stuffed dogs that came in cardboard shaped doghouses. They inspired their “Lovable Huggable” motto through their droopy eyes and floppy ears, and like Cabbage Patch Dolls, they weren’t purchased, but adopted. Following the success of the original Pound Puppies, Pound Pur-r-ries were also created to incorporate cats in the brand.
Created by a Danish woodcutter Thomas Dam, troll dolls were also known as good luck trolls or gonk trolls in the United Kingdom. Famous for their furry stand-up hair, they first became popular in Europe before being brought to the United States. Trolls were also marketed to boys through their line of Battle Trolls and Dread Heads.
Hasbro is also responsible for the line of action figures called G.I. Joe, representing four branches of the United States Armed Forces, including the Action Soldier, Action Sailor, Action Pilot, and Action Marine. The term “action figure” was used as a favorable word to use to sell the posable dolls intended for boys, since boys, at this time, “didn’t play with dolls”. G.I. Joe was meant to be depicted not as superheroes, but real life heroes that had expertise in attainable skills such as weaponry, explosives, and martial arts. Other teams were added to the original G.I. Joe figurines and are still being created today.
My Little Pony
These colorful plastic ponies had flowing manes and unique symbols on one or both sides of their flanks. Developed as a toy line for girls, the ponies came in all colors and sizes and girls could comb and style their manes. Animations of My Little Pony were also created following the toy’s success in the 80’s. Since the creation, My Little Pony has become intensely popular today as an internet meme subculture popular with males, expanding its original base fandom and extending the popularity into over 40 years.
But it wasn’t all about sitting in front of the TV. There were many educational toys too.
The View-Master was originally conceived in the 1930’s as an educational tool aimed at adults, but as time went on, the appeal to children was discernible. However, it wasn’t until the 1980’s that toy company Tyco Toys bought the View-Master, turning it into a household name to children everywhere. Each cartridge contained 30 full color 2D images with pictures from beloved cartoons and shows including Star Trek, Doctor Who, and The Beverly Hillbillies. Today, a new type of View-Master is being created, called the View-Master Virtual Reality Viewer, based on virtual reality using smartphones and a Google cardboard VR platform.
Speak & Spell
Created by engineers from Texas Instruments, Speak & Spell was advertised as a tool to help children ages 7 and up to learn to spell and pronounce words. The toy came with a Basic Unit cartridge that could be replaced by other games called Mystery Word, Secret Code and Letter. The Speak & Spell, while a useful tool, had a uniquely eclectic and mismatched speaking voice that any kid from the 80’s can still identify and imitate today.
Alphie was the closest thing to a robot that you could have in your home in the 80’s. He had a rectangular head and a rectangular-shaped body with a slot in front to accept interchangeable cards to help kids learn math, spelling, and matching, as well as played music. Alphie was not only entertaining due to his low-interactivity requirements, but his high durability gave him cred in preschools everywhere.
Stickers and Designs
And even sticker books were cool…
Garbage Pail Kids
A set of sticker trading cards produced by the Topps Company, the Garbage Pail Kids was a parody on the Cabbage Patch Kids. Each card featured a Garbage Pail Kids character abnormally deformed or suffering from a terminal, but equally disturbing fate. The popularity of these cards, despite the upsetting content, was distinguished enough for a reboot of the cards in 2003, 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2016.
Lisa Frank was a popular school supply and sticker company, known for its uber colorful and psychedelic designs on everything it sold. The designs often depicted animals and cute patterns every girl wanted. Many sticker collections were started with Lisa Frank and girls learned the importance of a good trade from Lisa Frank. Above all, you knew when you when school shopping in the fall “you gotta have it”.
But let’s not forget how much fun it is getting outdoors, and our 80’s kids knew all about outdoor toys.
Little Tykes Cozy Coupe
While the Cozy Coupe was first sold 1 year before the 1980’s, in 1979, their popularity was strong through the 80’s. The car was designed by a designer from Chrysler, and engineered by the toy company Little Tikes. It has been described as “a cross between a Volkswagen beetle and Fred Flintstone’s vehicle”, as it is powered primarily by little feet. The Cozy Coupe allowed children their first taste of freedom and a glimpse into driving their first vehicle. But don’t let these put you off some of the more modern ride on toys.
Fischer-Price Grow with Me 1-2-3 roller skates
Roller skating was introduced to children from the 80’s in the form of Fischer-Price skates. They weren’t easy to learn from or easy to get rid of, as they could grow in foot size right along with you.
Giving “low-rider” meaning to children everywhere, this plastic tricycle with a larger front tire was the definition of riding low. It was made popular because it was inexpensive and it was safer alternative to the traditional steel tricycles. The Big Wheel was marketed primarily to boys and was quickly used as a generic name that described any tricycle with a big front wheel.
As those of us who were children in the 80’s grown up, we look back with nostalgia on the toys that defined our childhood. Perhaps that is the reason that toy makers are now recreating some of our childhood favorites, enabling us to relive our favorite memories not only with our favorite toys but share them with our own children.