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More articles from December 2004 newsletter
Adults sometimes lose sight of the real meaning of the holiday season: that being toys, of course. Sure the quest for toys doesn't necessarily subside as we grow older, just the types of toys we want and our methods of obtaining them change. When we grow up, we get jobs and buy them ourselves. But as children, our only recourse is our birthday and the holidays.
In an attempt to help some adults regain their youthful perspective on the holidays, we polled some InventHelp® employees to find out what they thought was the best toy they received as a holiday gift. Below are just a few of the toys that InventHelp employees hoped and dreamed of for the holidays of their youth:
In the 1983 movie A Christmas Story, the phrase "You'll shoot your eye out, kid" immortalized Ralphie Parker's quest to get a Daisy Red Ryder BB Gun. While the movie portrayed this quest as an uphill climb, the truth is the Daisy air rifle is a rite of passage for many kids. Even grown-ups enjoy using compressed-air-powered rifles for target shooting.
"I wanted a BB gun because I admired U.S. soldiers who had just been victorious in World War Two," said InventHelp's president.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the BB Gun is that it took a company that manufactured windmills to make them popular. In the late 1800s, farms and other rural areas commonly used windmills to pump water and eventually generate electricity. The Plymouth Iron Wind Mill Company experienced some difficulty trying to get farmers to switch from the conventional wood structure windmill to their iron windmill. Therefore, they decided to create a premium giveaway for those who did purchase their windmill.
Another common fixture in rural communities in 1886 was the use of firearms. Clarence Hamilton from Plymouth, Mich. invented the Air Rifle as the incentive give away. Hamilton presented his prototype to Lewis Cass Hough, President of Iron Wind Mill, for testing. After firing the gun, Hough exclaimed, "That's a daisy," a common turn of phrase in that era. Little did he know that he just named the gun and the company that would eventually manufacture it.
A strange thing happened when they started giving away the rifle: it became more popular than the windmill. While windmill sales flagged, the popularity of the air-powered gun skyrocketed. By January 1889, the Plymouth Iron Wind Mill Company changed its name to Daisy Manufacturing Company and went into the air rifle business full time.
People camped out in front of stores rumored to have shipments coming in, people fought over dolls that had characteristics they wanted, and some entrepreneurs bought and resold them. No price was too high for some that had to have one of these unique little dolls.
Xavier Roberts was the brain behind the Cabbage Patch Kids phenomenon. Initially called Little People®, they were all hand made unique originals. Roberts sold the soft sculpture dolls at arts and crafts shows in the Southeast, where he developed the gimmick of providing adoption papers for each doll. In 1978, he and some friends established Original Appalachian Artworks and opened BabyLand General® Hospital where the public could come into a mock maternity ward and select the baby they wanted to adopt.
In 1982, Coleco Toy Company licensed the Little People® line and adoption process, renaming them Cabbage Patch Kids. The mass production of the dolls along with the adoption gimmick made them an overnight sensation. It seemed there were only two kinds of people in 1982-83, those who owned a Cabbage Patch Kid or those that wanted one.
"All I know is that I wanted one," said Nicole Hait, InventHelp Communications Manager. "So I cried until I got one!"
According to a Cabbage Patch Kids history site, "One of the features that made the Cabbage Patch kids so popular was that each doll seemed to be unique. With variations in head mold, eyes, hair color and style, and clothing, it is extremely difficult to find two dolls who look exactly alike. Add in the fact that each doll was given a first and middle name, and it's easy to see why the dolls were considered to be unique individuals."
While the frenzy for Cabbage Patch Kids waned long ago, real kids today can still get them. Mattel, which acquired the license to manufacture them in 1994, and Original Appalachian Artworks still create them.
When Wizards of the Coast released Magic: The Gathering (MTG) in 1993, Dr. Richard Garfield, PhD., became the inventor of an entirely new genre of game: the collectable card game (or trading card game).
Magic: The Gathering is not unlike other fantasy games such as Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). In fact, Garfield drew inspiration from this role-playing game. But where D&D relies more on rolling dice and creating a story line where players occasionally engage in fantasy combat, MTG focuses on a battle between Master Wizards called planeswalkers. In play, two (or more) players design a "deck" of the collectible cards and engage in a battle.
According to Wikipedia.com, "Each Magic card has a face, which displays the card's name, relevant rules text, and artwork. Over 10,000 unique cards (each with different attributes and abilities) have been produced for the game, with 500-600 new ones added on a yearly basis. Each player designs a deck of cards chosen from this available pool to be used in competition."
Since it was released, MTG has evolved because of its very nature. Open rules interpretations and variations, the creation of house rules, a player's ability to strategically construct their deck, tournaments creating banned lists (wherein certain cards are not allowed during play) and other alterations on the basic premise makes every battle unique. Now more than a decade old, MTG's popularity continues to grow with homes, tournaments and dedicated gaming establishments offering places to play.
Garfield has designed other games like RoboRally, Dilbert: Coporate Shuffle (a game of climbing the corporate ladder) and Netrunner. Since MTG's introduction, other companies have also released other popular collectible card games such as Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh.
When asked what was her favorite toy, Operations Supervisor Amy Nussbaum's answer was simple and automatic, "My Barbie, of course!"
Toy sales often seem to be driven by fads. Witness the recent rise and fall of Furby, Pogs and Beanie Babies. Then there are those that adjust to the era and just keep getting better. Barbie dolls are one of those few toys that never seem to be out of style.
Ruth Handler, who founded Mattel toys with her husband, Elliot, introduced Barbie® in 1959. While on a trip to Europe, Handler's daughter, Barbara, inspired Barbie's creation by playing with a doll depicting an adult woman instead of a baby doll. Handler felt that this was a good way for girls to dream of what they could be. Thus, Barbie® has maintained her pop-culture popularity by being the canvass for girls to dream of being everything from a fantasy princess to a rock star.
But it almost didn't happen. The all-male board of directors at Mattel failed to see the demand for a doll fashioned as an adult. How could they know Barbie® would set record sales for the company in its first year? They originally believed manufacturing would be cost prohibitive and no one would want it. But Handler persevered and now Barbie® is pushing fifty years old.
Many a woman can recall The Easy Bake Oven® being an item at one time on her Holiday Wish List. "I can't tell you how many times I burned my tongue – usually because I couldn't wait long enough for the food to finish cooking!" said Jennifer Lawlor, Director of Communications for InventHelp and INPEX®.
The Easy Bake Oven® has outlasted most other trends and fads in the toy industry. At 41 years old, the toy has only grown in popularity since its invention in 1963. Designers at Kenner Products (now a division of Hasbro) brought it to the market. The Easy Bake Oven® was originally designed for little girls to be able to bake their own pastries alongside their mothers in the kitchen. The toy included packets of powdered, processed foods that mostly just needed water before baking in the small oven.
Driven by only a light bulb, one might think that this toy would fade in popularity as video games and DVDs become the newest trend. However, with 11 different Easy Bake Oven® revisions since its conception, it has evolved in both color (from avocado green to white to pink) and technology (from oven-style to microwave to toaster oven) as real appliances have changed.
In 2003, Hasbro introduced The Easy Bake Real Meal Oven®, which allows kids to make an entire meal – from appetizers to dessert – without a light bulb. This ever-changing toy has spanned the decades, and it appears that it will be on little girls' lists for many years to come.