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The Iconic Gifts and Toys for Kids from Each Decade
The grand tradition of gift giving is a beautiful way at Christmas to say many things. We thank people with generous giving, we love people through thoughtful gifts. Giving gifts has been a Christmas tradition for millennia, echoing back to the birth of Jesus when the Magi brought him gifts. Fast forward to the last century, and it’s interesting to see how gift giving changed with the times. Here’s a look at the most popular gifts—toys—through the decades, starting at the turn of the 19th century.
At the turn of the century, burgeoning technology was very exciting, and the Victor Talking Machine Company invented the first contraption to play music for people to enjoy. Later, this company became Victrola. Many children discovered a newly popular teddy bear under their Christmas tree in 1900. The early personal, hand-held camera by Kodak was another popular gift during the first decade of the new century.
Raggedy Ann & Andy burst on the scene in the second decade, the goofy, floppy rag dolls with yarn hair and big personalities. Another popular toy during the decade was the invention of the rocking horse for all the littlest cowboys and cowgirls.
The incredible staying power of many of the toys from the 1920’s gives credit to the innovation of the toy developers of the time. The iconic red Radio Flyer wagons, Tinker Toys, and Lincoln Logs were three of the most popular toys of that decade, and they can still be purchased as gifts today!
The 1930’s was the decade of the Great Depression, and gift giving adjusted accordingly. Gift giving became much simpler, giving an orange or homemade gifts or acts of service. Even an orange during the Great Depression, because it was out of season in the winter, was an extravagant gift.
Again, adjusting to current events the 1940s was contending with World War II, and many of the toys and gifts were war-themed: soldiers and toy guns. Soap was a popular gift in the 1940s because of its practicality. The ever-iconic Slinky was invented in the 1940s, and it remains a popular Christmas gift today.
Little People and Mr. Potato Head arrived on the scene in the 1950s. Match box cars, Gumby and Silly Putty also became common gifts to give during this decade. As the US recovered from war, gift giving was also bouncing back, but the gifts were small and open ended with lots of room for imagination.
The mechanized Chatty Cathy, doll talked her way into the homes of many young kids in the 60s, and the still-popular Lite Brite still sells well today. With a recovering economy, and the rise of the middle class, gift giving during this decade expanded.
The slow and strategic game of Risk confounded many households in the 70s. While the adults battled each other the kids were busy playing with new-on-the-scene Nerf balls, Uno and Etch-A-Sketch.
During the era of big hair and materialism, kids were getting the confounding Rubik’s cube, getting creative with forever-popular Legos, making friends with the brand-new Care Bears, and fighting and clawing over Cabbage Patch Kids.
The decade of the 1990s brought the rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the green dudes named after historic artists. The 90s also brought with it, the development of video game technology and the popularity of the Game Boy, Nintendo 64, and the high-maintenance Tamagotchi animals.
We rocked out to Rock Band in the decade of the 2000s, and rode around on Razor Scooters. With the proliferation of mass demand and mass production, many new toys arrived on the scene.
In the decade of 2010, the most popular Christmas gifts for kids got smaller, and way more expensive with kids asking for anything Apple. Not the cheap ones at the grocery store, but any iPod, iPhone, iPad would do the trick. The demand for hand-held gaming devices or music players was at an all-time high.
This decade continues with the theme of entertainment. Xbox and other gaming systems, along with all the accessories, has become a staple in most homes. Subscriptions to streaming services like Disney+ or Paramount+ keep the entertainment close to home.
Toys have changed and developed over the years. They have adjusted to the current events, and the country’s economy more than once. Many toys developed in the early part of the 20th century had incredible staying power, and continue to entertain creative kids today. However you give, do it generously and consider a Christmas ornament to commemorate that special toy.
Marvin C Smith said:
Thank you for a most interesting article. I am 86 years young and have lived through all the decades you describe. My family and I have had many Christmases both extravagant and spare. But I wouldn’t go back and change any of them. I have had Christmases as a child with my parents and Christmases as an adult with my children. All were precious and memorable.
Charlene Wolford said:
Just love all the thought put into this site and these ornament!! Quality that lasts!
Janet Coletto said:
I am so happy I came upon your site even though it was during this last week before Christmas. I lost my son a few months ago and I have not been in a holiday mood. Gift giving included. But then I found so many ornaments that brought back happy memories. I thought my family would love them. There were so many to choose from, but I started with the “ cannoli’. My son’s favorite holiday dessert. He would take them and hide them from family members ( who loved them as well ). It became a yearly tradition. I know the ornament will bring tears but I pray happy ones. Thank you for this. Old World Christmas will now become a new tradition to bring bac the old ❤️💚