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

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.

Teddy Bear

The name Teddy Bear comes from former United States President Theodore Roosevelt, who was commonly known as “Teddy”.

In November 1902, The Governor of Mississippi, Andrew H. Longino, invited Roosevelt for a hunting trip. Several guests joined the hunting, and most of them had already killed an animal. Roosevelt’s attendants captured an American black bear cub and tied it to a willow tree. They called Roosevelt to the site and suggested that he shoot it. But, Roosevelt refused to shoot the bear cub, stating that it would be un-sportsmanlike.

The incident became popular in media, when a political cartoonist, named Clifford Berryman, published a cartoon on this in The Washington Post on November 16, 1902. Morris Michtom, a toymaker, saw the drawing of Roosevelt and was inspired to create a toy based on it. He created a small stuffed bear cub toy and put it in the shop window with a sign “Teddy’s bear.” The Bears were an immediate success. Today, teddy bears have become one of the most iconic toys of all time, and are widely available all over the world.


Ole Kirk Christiansen, a carpenter in Denmark, had purchased a woodworking shop in 1916, mostly for constructing houses and pieces of furniture in the local villages. Unfortunately, the workshop accidentally burned down in a fire in 1924, just when Europe was hit with the great economic depression. This affected Christiansen’s Carpeting business negatively.

Christiansen had to capture new customers, and he started working towards expanding his business beyond local villages. He began producing miniature versions of his products like stepladders and ironing boards as design demonstration to his clients.

These miniature models inspired him to create reusable components which can be taken apart and reassembled to produce different things to reduce wastage. The woodworking business was not turning out to be profitable because of the Great Depression. So Christiansen started producing wooden construction toys in addition to making furniture to stay in business.

Following World War II, plastics became available in Denmark. Christiansen and his son Godtfred purchased a plastic molding machine in 1947 and began producing plastic toys that could be taken apart and re-assembled. They founded a company named Lego from the Danish word “leg godt” which means “Play well”.

In 1949, after getting inspiration from a company called Kiddicraft, they began producing Self-Locking small building Bricks, calling them “Automatic Binding Bricks.” Lego bricks could be stacked upon one another and locked together using several round buds on top.

In 1958, the design of the locking mechanism was improved for stronger bonding, and the design was patented. Within a decade, Lego bricks became so popular that in 1968, a theme park was opened in Billund, Denmark, to feature constructs made with only Lego bricks.

A model of Trafalgar Square built entirely with Lego at Legoland Windsor, England.


Today, Lego bricks are one of the most mass produced toys in history. As of July 2015, total 600 billion Lego bricks had been produced and Nine Lego-based theme parks have been opened in all over the world.

Mr. Potato Head

A universal truth about kids is that they hate eating vegetables. In the early 1940s, Brooklyn-born toy inventor, George Lerner, saw his nephew Aaron Bradley had found a novel way to make vegetables look interesting to his younger sisters.

Aaron used to place small parts of fruits and vegetables, like carrots and grapes, on potatoes to make facial features and create a “funny faced man”. He also used small sticks to make hands and feet. This toy-cum-food dolls inspired George Lerner to create a toy based on vegetables.

In the beginning, a potato toy proved to be controversial. World War II had just ended, and the scarcity of food was a recent memory, the idea of fruits and vegetables to make toys did not go down well with many consumers.

After several years of trying, Lerner finally convinced a breakfast cereal company to distribute plastic “body” parts inside breakfast cereal boxes. They experimented with a small school batch of supplies. American Toy company, Hasbro (who are well known for producing G.I.Joe action figures), realized the toy was quite unlike anything in their line and bought the rights for $5,000. The toy was dubbed Mr. Potato Head and went into mass production with body parts like hands, feet, ears, two mouths, two pairs of eyes, four noses, three hats, eyeglasses, a pipe, and eight different types of facial hair.

Originally, Mr. Potato head had only the accessories and not the body itself. So parents had to arrange for a real potato in which children could stick the accessories. Later, Hasbro started to supply a plastic potato body as well, so that the box set was complete. Mr. Potato Head was featured in Pixar’s Toy Story film series where he, along with his wife Mrs. Potato Head is a key character.

There are more toys and more fascinating stories. Keep watching the space for more..



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 – Amazing origins of history’s most famous toys

  • March 16, 2017 at 8:29 am

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