The History of Toys

Girls skip with hula hoops in park
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Toy manufacturers and toy inventors use both utility and design patents, along with trademarks and copyrights. In fact, many toys especially video games take advantage of all three types of intellectual property protection.

Toys as "big business" did not begin until after the 1830s, when steamboats and steam trains improved the transportation and distribution of manufactured goods. Early toymakers used wood, tin, or cast iron to fashion horses, soldiers, wagons, and other simple toys. Charles Goodyear's method for "vulcanizing" rubber created another medium for manufacturing balls, dolls, and squeeze toys.

Toy Manufacturers

One example of a contemporary toy manufacturer is Mattel, an international company. Toy manufacturers produce and distribute most of our toys. They also research and develop new toys and buy or license toy inventions from inventors.

Mattel began in 1945 as a garage workshop belonging to Harold Matson and Elliot Handler. Their business name "Mattel" was a combination of the letters of their last and first names, respectively. Mattel's first products were picture frames. However, Elliot started making dollhouse furniture from picture frame scraps. That proved to be such a success that Mattel switched to making nothing but toys.

Electronic Toys

In the early 1970s, Pong, the first patented video game was a great hit. Nolan Bushnell created Pong along with a company named Atari. Pong debuted in arcades and was soon ported to home units. The games Space Invaders, Pac-Man, and Tron followed. As technology advanced, the dedicated single game machine was replaced by programmable machines that allowed different games to be played simply by exchanging a cartridge.

Inventions in circuitry and miniaturization in the early 1980s produced handheld games. Nintendo, a Japanese electronics company, along with many others, moved into the video game market. Home computers created a market for games that were versatile, action-packed, challenging, and diverse.

As our technology progresses, so does the complexity and diversity of our amusements. Once, toys simply reflected everyday life and activities. Today, toys create new ways of living and teach us to adapt to changing technologies and inspire us to follow our dreams.

The History of Specific Toys

From Barbie to the yo-yo, learn more about how your favorite toy was invented


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Bellis, Mary. "The History of Toys." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Bellis, Mary. (2020, August 26). The History of Toys. Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "The History of Toys." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).