Content Director for TTPM.com, toy industry veteran and author of "Toy Time."
11 Weirdest Toys Of All Time (PHOTOS)
"What were they thinking?" Yes, that's a phrase one hears often if you work in the toy industry. But you also hear, "Crazier things have worked!" The fact of the matter is that both are true. Some of the wackiest ideas have been surprise hits that left some people rolling their eyes--but manufacturers laughing all the way to the bank. Here's a bunch of wild ideas that either made millions or got people talking. Many of them are featured in my new book, "TOY TIME!: From Hula Hoops to He-Man to Hungry Hungry Hippos--A Look Back at the Most-Beloved Toys of Decades Past," on sale now from Three Rivers Press.
The only hit game that could literally be called “lousy.” Kids race to be the first to build their cootie (another name for louse). It was a major hit and has never been out of production. (Those vermin are hard to do in.) And, in 1975, it was celebrated with a 15-foot tall float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Big Loo (1963)
If there ever was a toy that tried to do everything, it was this three-foot tall, shiny green, red and gold robot from Marx. The hit of the holiday season, at a staggering $9.99, he had eyes that lit up, a voice changer, a Morse code clicker, darts that shot from his nipples, a rocket launcher in his foot and an arm that shot plastic balls. It had all the bells and whistles of classic, active play—including the bells and whistles.
Clackers (c. 1970)
Now here’s a brilliant idea. Give kids hard acrylic balls on string that they smash into each other at high speeds. Like the yo-yo and the boomerang, these began their lives as ancient weapons and were used to knock small animals unconscious. Children, like warriors of old, loved showing off their proficiency—and the inevitable battle scars. Today, the only response to these is: “What were they thinking?”
The Pet Rock (1975)
Was it a toy or a gimmick? Didn’t matter. Toy stores sold millions of rocks in a box with breathing holes that came with a tongue-in-cheek manual about care and training of the little igneous “friend.” Amazingly (or not), the fad came and went pretty quickly and after an initial flurry sales became (wait for it) rocky.
Stretch Armstrong (1976)
It was really not much more than a plastic bag full of goo that could stretch up to four times his size. But kids loved pulling this amorphous super hero out of shape, tying his arms up and seeing just how much punishment this guy could take. For kids, he was a test of strength and a healthy toy for acting out aggression. There wasn’t much that could do in Stretch. Well, except for being left in a hot car. His latex body and corn syrup innards broke down in no time. A sad fact many kids learned the hard way.
Hey, here’s a million-dollar idea: get kids to spend their allowance money on decorated cardboard discs. Starting as cardboard discs sealing the tops of Passion Fruit Orange Guava (POG) drink from the Haleakala Dairy on Maui, the craze swept the nation and over the next two years became playground must-haves. Until, as always seems to happen, those cranky schools banned them because kids were using them as a form of—gasp—gambling.
Tanky Wanky (1998)
This one never made it to the U.S., but it sold in China, where I purchased it. It was a plastic tank with the head of Tinky Winky from the Teletubbies on it. Given the sweet and silly nature of the Teletubbies, this was as close to a toy version of cognitive dissonance as one would ever find.
Rad Repeatin’ Tarzan (1999)
Disney’s Tarzan was not intended to be this hilarious. The, we still believe, unintended action in this action figure was that when the lever was pushed on his back, his right arm moved up and down away from his loincloth, and Tarzan gave out his signature yell. It looked for all the world like poor Cheetah was getting spanked. This is still a hot collectible for those saddled with a sense of humor—or as some would call it, arrested development.
They were small, soft critters that sung in bizarre voices then you squeezed their tummies. Each sang a different song that could be changed by how long or how hard you squeezed the little guys. They became a huge hit with a very high annoyance factor, so moms tell us, which only heightened their appeal. More than 35 different ones were made before the craze went flat.
Breast Milk Baby (2011)
This lovely baby doll from Spain had a special additional feature. When the dolly’s “mommy” put on the halter with flowers where the nipples would be and held the doll’s mouth to it, the doll would make sucking sounds and actions. Helpful role play for make-believe mommies? Or just plain gross? It was a short-lived controversy, as the market voted a resounding, “no.”
When you’re 7, all things scatological have a level of comedy that often baffles adults. (Well, mom, mostly.) Kids can use the dark brown modeling compound to mold their own replica poos. (You can even mold corn pieces to put in it.) Hilarity ensues. At least in our offices—and hopefully in your home.