Toys have been around since prehistoric times. Archaeological sites have produced findings of dolls representing infants, animals or soldiers. Toys and games have been discovered at the sites of ancient civilizations and have been written about in some of our oldest literature. The earliest toys in known existence were made from natural materials like rocks, sticks and clay. Egyptian children, thousands of years ago, played with dolls that had wigs and moveable limbs made from stone, pottery and wood. In ancient Greece and ancient Rome, children played with dolls made of wax or terra cotta, sticks, and bows and arrows.
While ancient toys were made from natural materials like stone, wood or grass modern toys are made from plastic, cloth, and synthetic materials. While Ancient toys were made by the parents and family of the children, or by the children themselves, modern toys are often mass-produced and sold in stores. New toys and games hit the store shelves every year so it may be surprising that some of the most popular playthings today are actually quite old. In 4000 B.C., Babylonians played a board game not unlike chess or checkers. Children in ancient Greece played with stone yo-yos and kites first appeared in China around that same time. A more modern toy whose popularity has never wavered is the Barbie doll of which Mattel sells a remarkable 1.5 million each week - that's two dolls per second.
The following are some of the best-selling and most-loved toys from the past century, broken down by decade. (Info gathered from Forbes.com Most Popular Toys of the Last 100 Years)
1900-1909: Crayola Crayons Introduced in 1903 and still going strong. The average American child spends 28 minutes a day coloring and wears down about 730 crayons by the age of 10. Parents and schools purchase 2.5 billion crayons each year.
1910-1919: Raggedy Ann Dolls Introduced in 1915. With a hand-crafted look, the Raggedy Ann Doll emerged at approximately the same time as Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys.
1920-1929: Madame Alexander Collectible Dolls Introduced in 1929. Madame Alexander was the first to create a doll based on a licensed character (in this case, Scarlett O'Hara from Gone With the Wind), thus paving the way for the glut of movie dolls, figurines and action figures that accompanies contemporary Hollywood releases.
1930-1939: View-Master 3-D Viewer Introduced in 1938. Created by a piano tuner by the name of William Gruber, the View-Master 3-D Viewer was used during World War II in training for the U.S. military and more than 1 billion have been sold since then. The most popular View-Master reel is the scenic reel of Mecca.
1940-1949: Scrabble Introduced in 1948. One out of every three American homes owns a Scrabble board. More than 100 million sets have been sold worldwide, and 1 to 2 million sets are sold each year in North America alone.
1950-1959: Mr. Potato Head Introduced in 1952. The original Mr. Potato Head contained only parts (eyes, ears, noses and mouths) and parents had to supply children with real potatoes to play with. Eight years later, manufacturer Hasbro decided to include the hard plastic potato "body" with the body parts.
1960-1969: Etch-A-Sketch Introduced in 1960. A stylus is mounted on a pair of orthogonal rails, which move when you turn the knobs. A mixture of extremely fine aluminum powder and beads lines the Etch-A-Sketch's interior. When you turn the device upside down and shake, this mixture sticks to the inside face of the glass. Then when you turn one of the knobs, the stylus scratches off the aluminum dust to create a line on the screen.
1970-1979: Rubik's Cube Introduced in 1978. Erno Rubik, inventor of the Rubik's Cube, was a lecturer in the Department of Interior Design at the Academy of Applied Arts and Crafts in Budapest when he created his now-famous cube. The cube has 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 different possible configurations and only one solution. It made Rubik the communist bloc's first self-made millionaire and Hungary's richest private citizen.
1980-1989: Cabbage Patch Kids Introduced in 1983. In 1985, the Cabbage Patch Kids craze reached its peak and doll sales totaled $600 million (that's more than $1.1 billion in 2005 dollars).
1990-1999: Tickle-Me-Elmo Introduced in 1996. Sales of the 1996 holiday season's "must-have" toy, Tickle-Me-Elmo, (which turned otherwise sane parents into angry, stampeding hoards as they tried to get their hands on one) didn't take off until talk show host and comedienne Rosie O'Donnell pulled an old Groucho Marx gag on her unsuspecting guests. Every time a guest said the word "wall," Rosie threw one of the 200 Elmo dolls that manufacturer Tyco toys sent to her studio into the audience.
2000 to Present: Razor Scooter Introduced in 2000. More than 5 million Razor Scooters were sold within a year of their debut. The original Razor Scooter was manufactured in the late 1990s by Taiwanese bicycle frame and specialty parts maker J.D. Corporation. President Gino Tsai, a mechanical engineer, claims that his legs were too short to move quickly around his large factory in Chang Hua, Taiwan, so he decided to give the classic scooter a sleeker, modern update.