It was the golden age of board games, disco, and action TV shows, and you can relive every moment of it with these cool ’70s toys. You were having a blast beating your siblings in classic board games like Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots and Hungry Hungry Hippos, and video games were just getting started.
Mom and dad begged you to play with the ’60s toys they adored, but you were looking forward to the future every time you watched the Six Million Dollar Man while munching on the food you made with your Easy Bake Oven. It was a different time, and in some ways, a better time, but you have to admit, it’s hard to beat the nostalgia kick you get today while playing with your 1970s toys and watching Starsky and Hutch on Netflix.
If you were a kid in 1973 when Hasbro introduced Baby Alive, you probably wanted one for yourself. This tiny miracle baby doll could do almost everything a real baby could. She ate, drank, and, yes, pooped in her diaper. Baby Alive was in high demand by the mid-1970s. Hasbro even gave Baby Alive a voice in later versions. The popular toy is still available today in a variety of intriguing variations, including crawling and sneezing dolls.
The ubiquitous Big Wheels, which were shown to be safer than traditional tricycles, taught a generation of children motor skills. The toy was released in 1969 and remained popular throughout the 1970s and beyond as children across the country learned to ride a bike. There have been a few manufacturers of Big Wheels over the years, and they remain a kid and parent favorite.
On rainy days in the 1970s, time flew by because everyone was having so much fun playing Boggle. The classic game challenges players to find words and anagrams among the random letters that appear after shaking the machine. You only have a few minutes, so you’ll have to think fast.
Connect Four Board Game
Connect Four is an entertaining logic game. For more advanced players, it was similar to Tic Tac Toe, and the amount of fun they had with it probably led to one or two of them rage-releasing all the coins using the plastic pull stopper under it.
Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle
Ideal Toys debuted its popular line of tiny toy motorcycles in 1973, the same year the celebrity stuntman made a lucky 13 jumps on his Harley, including an epic leap over 13 vans to kick off the year. He crashed once, but that didn’t stop him or slow the sales of his merchandise.
Etch A Sketch
The Ohio Art Co. paid $25,000 to French electrician Andre Cassagnes for the rights to his new invention, the Etch A Sketch, in 1960. The aluminum powder drawing toy, which was released in the United States just in time for Christmas, was an instant success. Nonetheless, when Etch A Sketch commercials began airing in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the toy’s popularity skyrocketed. The Etch A Sketch that now fills toy store shelves is essentially identical to the Etch A Sketch that ruled the 1970s.
Micronauts existed before Transformers. Mego introduced articulated action figures in 1976, but they really took off in 1977, thanks to the sci-fi craze that swept the world after Star Wars. Mego famously declined the license to sell Star Wars toys, but the company may have found solace when Marvel Comics released a Micronauts title. All of the hype couldn’t save Mego from bankruptcy in the early 1980s.
Mattel Electronic Football
The Atari 2600, which was released in September of that year, was the revolution of 1977. As brilliant as that home gaming system was, it was expensive to play — $199, or about $800 in today’s money. Mattel’s 9-volt-powered handheld device was a crude representation of football, consisting of red rectangles on a black field, but it was far less expensive at $29.95. This gave it more hands. It paved the way for Game Boy and iPhone apps in many ways.
The Mag-Na-Doodle gave Gen Xers their first taste of the fleeting nature of creativity. The board was covered in iron shavings, and kids used a special pen to “draw” on it, but everything vanished with a single swipe of the bottom button.
Parker Brothers introduced the NERF Ball in 1970, and it was an instant hit because you could play with it anywhere. The ultra-lightweight ball, made of non-expanding recreational foam (NERF), was approved for indoor use. Advertisements promised that users would not be able to damage lamps, windows, or injure babies. The NERF football was a best-selling toy in the 1970s. Hasbro now manufactures NERF products, which are still popular.
It’s difficult to believe that home video game consoles have been around since the Pet Rock. Nonetheless, we recall video games before cartridges. You bought a home console and it only played one game, which was impressive enough. An Atari engineer proposed a home version of its popular arcade cabinet Pong that could be connected to a television set in 1974. Atari presented Home Pong to Sears in its Chicago skyscraper a year later, and the retail giant ordered 150,000 units for the upcoming holiday season. The consoles were initially labeled with Sears’ Tele-Games brand.
Gary Dahl debuted his Pet Rock in San Francisco, California, in August 1975. Millions of people bought into the craze in the months that followed, paying $3.95 for a smooth stone and its clever packaging. The packaging was what really sold Pet Rocks: each new pet came in a cardboard box with breathing holes and a “care and feeding” pamphlet. Although the toy inspired songs (“I’m in Love With My Pet Rock” by Al Bolt), appeared on “The Tonight Show,” and was mentioned in films such as “Office Space,” its 15 minutes of fame had passed by 1976.
Skateboarding dates back to the 1950s, but it wasn’t until Frank Nasworthy invented urethane wheels in 1972 that the toy took off. Nasworthy’s Cadillac Wheels wheels improved the ride by making it smoother, faster, and more comfortable. The first skate park opened in 1976, shortly after the wheels debuted, spawning a slew of copycat parks across the country and establishing skateboarding as a legitimate hobby and sport.
In 1976, the Kenner Company released a $11 toy that grossed more than $50 million. Stretch Armstrong was a 10-inch latex action figure that could stretch up to four feet long before snapping back into place. Stretch Armstrong remained popular until 1979, inspiring half a dozen spin-offs such as Stretch Octopus and Stretch X-Ray before fading into relative obscurity (although today collectors will pay over $1,000 for pristine Stretch Armstrongs).
Shrinky Dinks were first sold in a Wisconsin shopping mall in 1973 as a Boy Scout project. These thin plastic pieces were designed to be decorated, cut out, and baked in the oven. When heated, the material shrank and became hard and thick. Shrinky Dinks were wildly popular throughout the 1970s and into the mid-1980s, mesmerizing young children with their transformation, and are still available today.
Speak & Spell
Texas Instruments debuted the Speak & Spell educational toy at the 1978 Consumer Electronics Show, utilizing cutting-edge technology at the time. The device taught spelling and pronunciation of words using DSP (digital signal processing) and synthetic speech. Users would press words or letter combinations to hear and spell the words. The gadget, which appealed to both parents and children, was available in seven languages until the late 1990s, when it was replaced by more sophisticated electronic reading toys.
Star Wars Action Figures
Kenner began frantically producing movie-related toys in the aftermath of the blockbuster hit Star Wars in 1977. Sales skyrocketed when they released four action figures in 1978. Kids loved having their own Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, and R2-D2 figures. More characters appeared after that. Star Wars action figures were popular until 1985, and then again in the late 1990s as new movies were released. The popular toys are still manufactured, and original 1978 Star Wars figures are now collector’s items worth thousands of dollars.
If you grew up listening to toy commercials in the 1970s, you probably remember the jingle “Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down.” Romper Room, the television show, created egg-shaped characters with families, including a pet dog. Weebles were a hit with parents who liked their children playing with bright-colored toys that moved but didn’t break, thanks to their oval design that prevented them from falling and their durable nature. Hasbro still manufactures Weebles. Some vintage Weebles from the 1970s can fetch up to $100.
Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots
Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, based on a popular Chicago arcade game, was released in 1965 by (now-defunct) toy company Marx. The goal of the two-player game was to repeatedly hit a lever that allowed your opponent’s robot to “box” before they could knock your head off. The gameplay was incredibly simple but undeniably popular—today, Mattel produces a smaller version of the original for modern children.
Hungry Hungry Hippos
Fred Kroll purchased the rights to Hungry Hungry Hippos from Japan and brought the game to the United States in the mid-1970s. In 1978, Milton Bradley purchased the rights from Kroll and began selling the tabletop game. Although the game boards have changed slightly over the years, the goal has remained the same: use your hippo to gobble up as many plastic marbles from the center as you can. In the end, whoever has the most marbles wins.
The Six Million Dollar Man action figure
The first successful line of television-inspired merchandise was inspired by the 1973 hit “The Six Million Dollar Man,” specifically the 13-inch Steve Austin doll dressed in a red tracksuit. The original version of the toy, released in 1975, had cool features like a telescopic bionic eye and a right arm that could lift two pounds.
Easy-Bake Ovens have taught generations of children to bake by allowing them to bake millions of pre-mixed, “just-add-water” mini desserts using the heat of a 100-watt lightbulb. The toy first appeared on the market in 1963, but by the 1970s, a wood-paneled, avocado green oven had replaced the original teal model. As a nod to the company that created the dessert mixes, a Betty Crocker-branded oven appeared on store shelves in 1973.
Ants in the Pants
Ants in the Pants, essentially a Tiddlywinks clone, was released by Schaper Games in 1967 but did not gain popularity until the early 1970s. The object of the game was to “jump” all of the ants of a particular color into a freestanding pair of plastic pants before your opponents could do the same with their colors. Today, Milton Bradley manufactures the family game night staple.
These toys and games from decades ago are still famous, popular, and loved today. Grandparents give retro toys to their grandchildren and enjoy watching them play. Old memories of how happy they used to be playing with the same toys when they were kids flooded back. Nothing beats playing with vintage toys from the 1970s for bringing back fond memories.