Toys from the 1950s

By Matt Horvath
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Toy army man
Army Men were originally released in the late 1800s, but it wasn't until the '50s that the armed forces went from tin to plastic, the form that can still be found today
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Barbie and Army Men have stood the test of time.

New toys hit store shelves every year without the assurance of longevity or appeal, destined to disappear and be forgotten. Imagine how many toys are released in a decade that don't carry over to the next one and are never played with again.

It may come as a surprise that toys from the 1950s are still quite relevant in today's culture. The following have stood the test of time and are still prevalent in toy boxes everywhere.


At the top of the list is Barbie. This blonde vixen came late in the decade. However it would be absurd to not include her in the scope of the '50s. Ruth and Elliott Handler, co-founders of Matel, made paper dolls three-dimensional and named their creation after their daughter Barbara, according to Skooldays.

Barbie would continue to evolve with wardrobe additions, dream houses, sisters, boyfriends and convertibles to this day, remaining one of the most popular toys among young girls everywhere.

Army Men

Boys had their toys as well. Small green men in arms and miniature racecars took off in the '50s. Of course, Army Men were originally released in the late 1800s but it wasn't until the '50s that the armed forces went from tin to plastic, the form that can still be found today.

Small replicas of cars were named Matchbox by the creator because they could fit into a matchbox, and made it possible for youngsters to put themselves in the driver seat well before any driving permit. Tonka Trucks also took off during this decade and, like Matchbox, are still in production.

Of course, boys can play with Barbie and girls can have fun with miniature cars and trucks. But a number of unisex-targeted toys are still huge in the life of a millennium-child.


The Top Dogs in Toy Land

It's hard to rate the 'Top Dog' but names like Crayola, Lego, Play-Doh and Silly Putty are still pouring out of the mouths of toddlers. Crayola Crayons have been around since well before the '50s but up until 1949, they were only available in an eight-crayon box. It wasn't until then that 48 crayons, and in 1958, 64 crayons were available with the convenient built-in sharpeners.


The first Lego sets came out in the mid-50s and the idea was monumental. "A new toy every day!" was the slogan. Kids could build and destroy whatever their imaginations could dish out. It produced three theme parks worldwide.


Inspired by wallpaper paste, Play-doh emerged in 1956 and has since evolved with additional accessories and colors. This molding clay provides hours of creative fun but often comes with a mess.

Silly Putty

The reason why sticking some putty on a newspaper photograph and stretching it to morph into funny forms caught on is elusive, but you can still find Silly Putty everywhere. This stretchy material would start off pink but by the time your nephew got bored with the putty it was grey from ink.

View Master

In this modern age of DVD players and the Internet, it is hard to believe that the View Master is still bedazzling youth. Small images on film circled a disc that was inserted into the binocular-like viewer, where they came to three-dimensional life.

Originally targeted at nature buffs, the view master switched its attention to children in 1951 when the company purchased a license to use Disney characters, according to Skooldays. Since then, numerous movies, television stars, wildlife and science images have been produced and are still a popular item.

These vintage toys are great collectors items, so if you are cleaning out the garage and find the first Barbie or even the early View Masters, these toys from the 1950s can be worth more than you think.

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