Toys, Games & Crazes of the Century

The official BATR shortlist sponsored by Intertek Testing Services

(These are the nominations by the British association in alphabetic order only)



In 1965 Stanley Weston created a doll for boys. It went on sale in the USA as GI Joe, but came to Britain and was renamed Action Man. This was, and still is, the world’s first and most successful male doll. In recent years the militaristic figure has developed into a more adventurous character.


Founders of US toy company, Mattel, Elliot and Ruth Handler created Barbie and boy friend Ken in 1959. Forty years later, it still dominates the fashion doll market worldwide. There are also ethnic Barbie’s and friends. Barbie’s controversial figure was changed for some models to allow her to wear more casual clothes, and she has also developed into a more interesting role model encouraging careers into vetinerary medicine and teaching amongst others!


Ole Kirk Christiansen started his Lego toy company in Denmark in 1932. Lego means ‘play well’ in Danish. (leg godt). Later he discovered Lego in Latin means ‘to put together’. Lego bricks went on sale in the UK in 1955. The international success of Lego is now the stuff of legends. Besides the simple Duplo bricks for youngsters, the range extends to Mindstorms, where dedicated bricks have imbedded microchips to create robots which can be controlled over the Internet!


In the USA, the ‘teddy’ bear was created by a Russian emigrant, Morris Michtom in 1902 after he had seen a report of US President Teddy Roosevelt who declined to shoot a bear cub while out hunting. Clifford Berryman’s celebrated newspaper cartoon captured this moment and Mitchcom launched his range of “Teddy” bears in his Brooklyn shop. German toymaker, Margarete Steiff began making jointed toy animals including bears, and they were also able to cash in on the teddy bear craze in the USA, which spread worldwide.


Meccano (1901), Frank Hornby’s first great toy and Hornby trains, the first electric train sets: Scalextric, invented in the UK in 1952 but not too successful until the clockwork engines became electric powered in the mid-fifties, James Bond Aston Martin made by Corgi and winner of the first BATR Toy of the Year in 1965, Spirograph from English inventor, Denys Fisher (1965), Tiny Tears here in 1966, Etch-a-Sketch in 1967, Nintendo Game Boy (1987)……



An Israeli telecommunications expert, Mordecai Meirowitz invented this game in the early 70’s as an educational tool. He later tried to interest all the leading games companies, but they rejected his idea. A small Leicester-based educational toys and aids company, Invicta Plastics restyled the game and the rest is history. Without any advertising, it sold millions and is still made by the company and sold around the world under license to Hasbro.


In the USA in 1933, Charles Darrow devised Monopoly. The patent was filed 31st August 1935 while the game was on sale in America. Based on an earlier game, The Landlord’s Game, it was at first rejected by Parker Bros., as being too complicated to be a success. How wrong could they be! It came to the UK in 1936, made under licence by Waddingtons. Darrow died in 1967 having realised he had developed one of the most successful board games of all times.


What’s in a name? Alfred Butt, an unemployed New York architect began work on a word game called Criss Cross Words in 1931. Not a success, he renamed it Lexico, but an entrepreneur James Bruinot eventually bought the rights and trade marked the game as Scrabble in 1948. In the next years to 1953, sales average just 8,000. From 1953 -55 it suddenly took off and became recognised as the world’s most popular word board game.


On the evening of the 15th September 1979, two 30-year old Canadians, Chris Haney, picture editor of the Montreal Gazette, and sports writer, Scott Abbott came up with an idea for a game which was eventually manufactured in 1982. Trivial Pursuit sold 45 million copies worldwide in its first five years and spawned umpteen imitations.


Cluedo, introduced exactly 40 years ago in 1959, the revolutionary Dungeons & Dragons in 1973, Pictionary (1986), Othello (1977)………



In 1993 H.Ty Warner created a range of 12 bean bag toys he called Beanie Babies. These collectibles were not immediately successful until he began to ‘retire’ the first 11. The phenomenal success of the product is due to the appeal of the toys and the financial attractions associated with what are, in fact, limited editions. On his birthday on 31st August 1999, he announced that he would not be making any further Beanie Babies in the year 2000.


This famous plaything – a hoop you can twirl around the waist – goes back to ancient Egypt. Reborn at the end of the 50s when Arthur Melin and Richard Knerr began manufacturing having been told about Australian girls playing with hoops made from bamboo. Millions were sold and still sell every year.


Hungarian Erno Rubik created his famous cube puzzle in 1974, but it was not manufactured until 1977. The first puzzles reached the UK just before Christmas 1980* and were an instant success. Rubik was lucky to have a patent because an American, Larry Nichols actually took out a patent for his cube first but could not persuade any US manufacturer to take his invention. Rubik became the first self-made millionaire from the communist block. The world record for unscrambling the puzzle is 22.95 seconds held by a Vietnamese high school student.

* Thanks to Andrew Brett for sending us the following information by email:

“I thought that you might be interested in the history of the Rubik’s Cube. I was surprised at its inclusion in the ‘I Love 1979’ programme, and the information in your otherwise enjoyable ‘Toy of The Century’ website article. The inaccurate information stems from the usually excellent ‘Brewers Dictionary of 20th Century Phrase and fable’. I have contacted the publishers, and they have agreed to revise their Rubik entry. The following information has sources listed beside each entry.


  • 1974, Erno Rubik of Hungary invents ‘The Magic Cube’. Source: Official Website, ‘Mastering Rubiks Cube’ by Don Taylor (1981).
  • 1977, towards the end of this year, the ‘Magic Cube’ appears in Budapest toy shops. Source: Official website.
  • 1979, September. A deal is made to bring ‘Magic Cube’ to the West. Source: Website.
  • 1980, ‘Magic Cube’ appears at toy trade fairs in London, Paris, Nuremberg and New York in January/February. Erno Rubik demonstrates his creation at the fairs. Orders flood in, but Magic Cube does not conform to manufacturing and packaging norms of the Western World. The Hungarian manufacturing process has to be drastically altered. Ideal Toys rename ‘Magic cube’. The name chosen is ‘Rubik’s Cube’, and the first Cubes are exported from Hungary to America in May 1980. The Cube reaches the UK in time for Christmas 1980.
  • 1981: 13 year old Patrick Bossert of England is still unable to obtain a cube early in the year, and orders one from abroad. Soon, Britain is fully stocked, and goes cube crazy! Patrick’s book – ‘You can do the cube’ (June 1981), is reprinted 14 times that year. Sources: Official Website, ‘You Can do The Cube’, Patrick Bossert (1981), 20th Century Words (Oxford 1999).
  • 1982, The craze continues with national and international contests. School children succumb to a new form of wrist strain known as ‘Rubik’s Wrist’. Sources: Official Website, Memory!
  • 1983, The craze is over, the cube becomes unavailable. Source: Official Website.
  • 1991, Cube revived as a classic toy. Source: Official Website.”


Rediscovered by Frank Duncan in Los Angeles in 1929 when he saw waiters originally from the Philippines demonstrating their traditional toy. The Yo-Yo can be traced back to ancient Greece – in the Philippines it was a weapon (like a boomerang) for hunting and war until later it became a sporting item and a plaything. To promote his product, Duncan used celebrities such as Mary Pickford and Bing Crosby (who sang ‘My Little Yo-Yo). In 1930 Frank Duncan brought over demonstrators to Europe to play the music halls. The craze started to spread all over the world, and seems to be frequently revived. Last year the UK toy retailers sold yo-yos worth over £30m.


Slinky, devised by Richard James in 1943, Frisbee – originally pie tin tops made by the Frisbee Pie Company (1958), Clackers or Klik-Klaks, played on all Spanish beaches during the summer of 1971 and P.O.G.S – the fruit bottle tops craze swept most of the world in 1995.