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Popular toys in the 1970s

Culture | July 11, 2021

Stretch Armstrong dashing and dangerous all in one. (Wikimedia Commons)

The ‘70s saw wild changes in almost every aspect of American life but, most enjoyably in toys! The decade that exposed incredible instability with Watergate and Vietnam also unleashed a torrent of iconic toys. Paradigm shifters such as Atari and action figures set the template for the future while antediluvian fads like the Pet Rock and the Easy-Bake Oven embody the era. Hot Wheels, Etch-A-Sketch, Connect 4, the Rubik's Cube, even the skateboard all exploded into massive fads, eaten up by children and teens, relishing the toy revolution. These are some of the seminal playthings of the “Me decade.”

Pong, endless amounts of fun with only 8 bits. (boardgamegeek)

Electronic Innovation

Sure, the 70’s also heralded the arrival of the calculator but for many kids “Pong” and the “Atari 2600” meant much more than doing maths faster. Show kids today any of these bygone video games and they'll fall asleep before you get past the menu. Nevertheless, these forerunners of computerized games set the standard then and laid the groundwork for the 12-hour Fortnite binges every kid savors today. To think that electronically bouncing a small dot back and forth set the world on fire shows how far we’ve come.

Every Star Wars kid needed the complete set. (Ebay)

Action Figure Outpouring

Action figures existed in the ‘60s but they experienced their own revolution with many of the most iconic figures in history. Stretch Armstrong thrilled children mostly by threatening to snap his elastic arms into someone’s face. The tension-filled adolescent version of chicken turned the $11 toy into a $50 million cash cow. Today collectors will drop a grand for a mint version of Mr. Armstrong.

Obviously, Star Wars bewitched legions of every generation since its inception and those action figures turned George Lucas into a billionaire, transforming movie statuettes forever. Kenner Products who owned the rights grossed $100 million on model Luke, Leia, and company in the first year alone!

Everything you need to keep your pedigreed Pet Rock happy. (clickamericana)

The Head Scratchers

Many inventions should just stay in the year of their origin. However, some of those missteps fell off the path of normalcy so far they live on infamously. The Pet Rock ranks at the top of this list and can’t be explained to anyone under the age of 45. In the summer of ‘75, Gary Dahl gave the world his scam in a clever box with “breathing holes”, complete with a “care and feeding” pamphlet. As a testament to ‘70s thinking and perhaps a lot of cocaine, the $3.95 racket (just shy of $20 when adjusted for inflation) sold like hotcakes. A year later it was over and everyone’s shaking their heads, baffled by amazement going on 50 years.

Slime counts as another parental abomination better left in the waste bin of history. Unfortunately, for parents of a new generation, children today learn to make their own slime from household products like moisturizers and shaving cream. Equally puzzling is how YouTubers pull in seven-figure incomes, teaching other youths their recipes. Even the occasional instant combustion into flames only spurred on the fad. Clearly, every generation delights in something stupid.

The Easy-Bake oven came in many varieties. (Wikimedia Commons)

Best Of The Rest

The Rubik's Cube’s original purpose was a 3D model to explain geometry. Nonetheless, when it premiered at the Nuremberg Toy Show, it became an instant hit, even if no one could really solve it. Of course, hordes of nerds descended upon the confounding toy and turned it into a competition. The world record for solving the biggest selling toy of all time at 350 million-plus units stands at 3.75 seconds!

The Easy-Bake Oven introduced a fire hazard into the home and the joy of not-so-scrumptious “just-add-water” deserts. Still, they did instill the thrill of feeding your parents and watching them fake the joy of a five-star cake. Undoubtedly, many future bakers got their introduction to the flush of serving their delicious delicacies.

Tags: Easy Bake Oven | Pet Rock | Pong | Star Wars | Stretch Armstrong | vintage toys

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