How toys have evolved and stood the test of time

Published 7:30 pm Saturday, December 26, 2015

After reading heaps of Santa letters from children in local schools, The Daily Leader staff became aware of just how advanced and high-tech children’s playthings have become.

New trends were easily observed, but there was also a high demand for old-school toys such as LEGOs and bows and arrows. In the name of nostalgia, let’s look back at toys from yesteryear, name the most-wanted toys of 2015 and see what kinds of items have had decades of staying-power.

In the 1920s, the red Radio Flyer Wagon was at the top of children’s Christmas lists, and a decade later, the sock monkey was quite the popular plaything. In the late 1930s, the Red Ryder BB Gun and Army Men were all the rage, and all of these items have enjoyed long-lasting success. The Red Ryder BB Gun craze was fueled further by the classic film “A Christmas Story,” and years later, Pixar’s “Toy Story” ensured that Army Men wouldn’t fade away, either. This year, an average of at least two children per class in schools that participated in the newspaper’s Santa Letter special section were requesting a BB gun from Santa.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

In 1945, the world met the Slinky, a toy that children recognize 70 years later. In 1959 the world of toys for girls changed forever with the introduction of Barbie. A far cry from the paper dolls Grandma might have played with, these dress-up dolls have not faded into the shadows. Today, countless little ladies throughout the area requested classic Barbie items like her pink Corvette and Barbie’s Dream House, but the Barbie universe has branched out since then. Now, Barbie is an eye doctor. She has glitter hair extensions and an air-brush kit and can look like a mermaid or resemble a modern-day businesswoman with a briefcase. She rides a moving horse and can be any character from whatever movie princess is preferred.

Another particular type of doll that was scribbled on seemingly every other girl’s list was an American Girl Doll. With their own backgrounds coming from different time periods, American Girl Dolls that used to come with books now come with web games and movies.

In fact, many popular toys now include avenues to entire virtual worlds of possible story and entertainment. Even classic LEGOs are now themselves the stars of video games and movies, and are just as popular in 2015 as they were over 50 years ago. The Dimensions Starter Pack allows children to merge real-life LEGO brick building with an interactive video game. For those who played with Lincoln Logs (inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1999) looking at these virtual LEGOs is sure to be a head-scratcher.

Jigsaw puzzles, marbles, jacks and kites just don’t do it for the kids these days, with many preferring Shopkins and Pie Face Game — a wildly popular toy this year that basically blends Russian Roulette and getting “pied” in the face.

Some of the most popular toys this year don’t seem like toys at all. Several different variations of flying, remote-controlled drones — many with photo or video capability — are in the top 10 most popular toys this year according to These types of toys were requested by many little Brookhaven and Lincoln County kids, and there’s no doubt that the drone will replace the Frisbee as the item most often being retrieved from neighboring yards and roofs.

Tickle Me Elmo and Furby blew kids’ minds in the late 1990s as some of the first responsive and interactive talking toys that felt like real friends or pets. Today, while Elmo and his Tickle Me premise have evolved and continued experiencing success, everything talks. Remote-controlled cars are no longer jaw-dropping inspirations because everything can be driven or directed by a remote or even an app on smartphones.

Some of the most advanced toys on so many local kids’ list this year were the robotic pets Zoomer Kitty, Zoomer Dino and Zoomer Puppy. Each one is a modern marvel that responds to touch and voice command, with LED lighted eyes that reveal the robopet’s emotion. They interact with each other and can play games. For parents who were too old to play with Furreal Friends when they came out, this Zoomer craze is sure to be a little envy-envoking and (probably) confusing.

No doubt spurred by a certain trilogy’s arrow-toting heroine, there were a surprising amount of requests for bows and arrows. The popularity of wished-for items like basketballs, BB guns, ATVs, sporting and hunting equipment show some promise for those concerned about their children being glued to screens.

The reinventing and revitalizing of older toy concepts and the time-tested popularity of the classics prove that certain types of play are universal. Perhaps this year between syncing the Bluetooth this-and-that and charging the dock for the robot dinosaur, dog or cat, parents could steal their child’s attention and share one of their own old favorite toys. Building blocks and jump ropes don’t require batteries.