It took 50 million Lego bricks to build the world’s fifth and largest Legoland, set to open this month in Winter Haven, Florida. The 150-acre theme park is just one piece of the $3.1 billion plastic-brick empire. To celebrate Lego and all of toyland, we take a nostalgic look at the last century in popular playthings.
Charles Darrow’s Monopoly was inspired by an early-20th-century game that showed how landlords take advantage of tenants. Today, Monopoly remains the same, but the players have changed: The lantern, rocking horse, and purse have given way to the dog, wheelbarrow, and horseback rider.
1938: View-Master 3-D Viewer
The stereoscopic toy was featured at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, just in time for the U.S. to use it in advance of World War II; soldiers used the images to learn to identify airplanes and ships.
1952: Mr. Potato Head
Upon introduction, this toy was missing an important piece: the potato. Kids had to supply their own vegetable to host plastic body parts until a toy potato became available 12 years later.
1955: Pez cartoon dispensers
Originally containing mints and marketed as an antismoking aid, Pez went fruit-flavored and added kid-friendly cartoon heads in 1955 with Santa Claus and Space Trooper models.
When Ole Kirk Christiansen began making wooden toys in 1932, he named his company Lego, short for leg godt–or “play well” in Danish. He introduced the now-iconic plastic mini-brick in 1958. Today, there are 2,400 shapes.
Created by a Danish woodworker, these not-so-pretty creatures were originally called “Dam Dolls.” Competitors started mass-producing trolls in plastic form in 1961, setting off an inexplicable craze that saw a resurgence in the 1990s. It took until 2003 for the Dam family to reclaim the copyright.
1964: G.I. Joe
Joe was introduced as national distaste for the Vietnam War was growing and dismal sales forced Hasbro to retire the soldier in 1978. He staged a triumphant return in 1982, thanks to shoppers’ newfound (and Star Wars-fueled) appreciation for action figures.
1986: American Girl Dolls
Originally a catalog-only business, American Girl introduced its first palatial store in 1998 in Chicago, encouraging kids and patient parents to purchase accessories and treat dolls to a $20 trip to the hair salon.
A combination of “watch” and the Japanese word for “egg,” Tamagotchis were digital pets that needed the love and care of their owners to stay “alive.” The resulting fervor was every grade-school teacher’s nightmare, but helped sell 70 million units.
After Tamagotchis, electronic pets went furry and 3-D. Each Furby came with a Furbish dictionary to help its owner understand its cries as the wide-eyed creature learned English. In just two years, nearly 16 million were sold.