The Real Toy Story 2 – Amazing origins of history’s most famous toys

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Toys were our best friends when we were young. We grew up with them, and we have a nostalgic place for toys in our hearts. Toys are always special. But some of the toys you played with have equally special origin stories. The idea behind these toys is as unique as the toys themselves. Here are our picks for few of the extraordinary toys with an equally extraordinary story. 


During 1950s, most toys were based on either animals or a human infant.

Ruth and Elliot Handler, the co-founders of Mattel toy company, had a daughter named Barbara, who used to play with paper dolls. Ruth and Elliot observed that Barbara enjoys giving her toys adult roles like teachers and singers. 

Realizing that there could be a gap in the market, Ruth suggested the idea of an adult-bodied doll to Mattel’s directors, but initially they were not very enthusiastic about the idea.

During a trip to Europe, Ruth came across a German adult-figured toy doll, called Lilli. The adult-figured doll was exactly what Handler had in mind, so she bought back several of the toys to America. She redesigned the doll to make it look more like an American female, and the doll was given a new name, Barbie, after Handler’s daughter Barbara.

The doll made its debut at the American International Toy Fair in New York on March 9, 1959.

Barbie was one of the first toys to have a marketing strategy based extensively on television advertising. Several variants of Barbie were released, along with different outfits for different careers, like Nurse, Ballerina or Businesswoman Barbie. Soon, Barbie became popular with children who enjoyed dressing the doll up in outfits that were available separately. Today, Barbie is often used generally as a description for dolls. Mattel has released more than 130 different careers for Barbie including Astronaut and U.S. President.


Unlike the other toys mentioned in this article, the popular clay modelling putty Play-Doh, was not meant to be a toy at all. In 1950s, the houses in US used to burn wood and coal in their fireplaces to keep the house warm during winter. Wallpapers became very popular during that era. It turned out that fireplace and wallpaper did not go very well together. The coal residue from the fireplace darkened the wallpapers, which could not be cleaned very easily.

In 1955, Noah McVicker, a Cincinnati-based soap manufacturer tried to create a Non-Toxic eraser like substance which could erase coal residue from wallpapers. After mixing flour, water, salt, boric acid, and mineral oil, with a base of putty, he was able to perfect his formula. Grocery shops across Ohio started to sell it.

Following World War II, American homes switched to Natural Gas from Coal. Also, Vinyl based washable wallpapers appeared at the market. Suddenly the market for McVicker’s wallpaper cleaning putty vanished. 

McVicker’s sister in law, Kay Zufall, was a nursery school teacher. She started using the excess putty to create art projects in her school. Her students enjoyed it, and she persuaded McVicker to re-launch the putty as a children’s toy. They came up with the name Play-Doh and launched it in bright colorful variants to attract young children.

McVicker took Play-Doh to educational conventions and school supply shops. In 1956, a department store in Washington agreed to sell the compound. After in-store demonstrations, the product started to become popular. They opened retail accounts in New York and Chicago.

After advertising through television, Play-Doh’s sales reached nearly $3 million by end of 1958.

Today Play-Doh is one of the most successful stationary item worldwide. More than two billion cans of Play-Doh were sold between 1955 and 2005. Play-Doh is now being sold in 75 countries around the world and 95 million cans a year.

Rubik’s cube 

World’s most famous puzzle toy, the Rubik’s cube was not meant to be a puzzle at all. The Rubik’s cube was invented in 1974 by Erno Rubik, a Hungarian architect, and a professor of architecture at the Budapest College of Applied Arts. 

Erno Rubik was teaching his students about three-dimensional geometry, and looking for a prototype structure which can teach his students about spatial geometry, movements in 3 dimensions, and the correlation between components. 

He created a wooden model of a three dimensional structure held together by rubber bands, where the parts can be moved independently without the entire mechanism falling apart. 

Erno Rubik presented the cube to his students, thinking it would be a good task for the students to study the cube and interact with it for learning purposes. Unfortunately, the Erno and his students found that once rearranged, the cube is incredibly difficult to restore in its original form without taking the pieces apart. 

Erno Rubik demonstrated his cube to several mathematicians and they calculated that the cube can be organized in 43252003274489856000 different ways. After a month of effort, and using an algorithm of rearranging the corners of each side first, he finally solved the puzzle. 

In 1979, Erno Rubik took his cube to Nuremberg Toy Fair where it received very good response from visitors. In 1980, Ideal Toy Corporation bought the license to manufacture Rubik’s cube made with plastic. 

In next 30 years, more than 350 million official units had been sold worldwide making Rubik’s cube as one of the largest selling toys in the history, and most sold puzzle toy of all time. Every year, “speed cubing” competitions are held all over the world where people try to solve a randomly scrambled cube as quickly as possible. The current world record is held by Mats Valk, a Dutch teenager, who managed to solve a 3x3x3 cube in just 5.55 seconds.

If you have not read the previous part of this list, read it here. What other famous toys intrigue you? Are there any incredible toy histories that you want to share? Comment below or write to us at



Manas Saha

Manas is a software engineer who is also a Travel addict, Technology and News enthusiast, and has deep interest in Science, Photography and Movies.

One thought on “The Real Toy Story 2 – Amazing origins of history’s most famous toys

  • March 20, 2017 at 7:49 pm

    Nice research this.

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