With Christmas approaching, we thought it’d be fun to look back at some things you might have found under your tree as a kid in the 70s, 80s, or 90s. (For any Jewish readers, I realize that you get gifts for Hanukkah, but TV and movies have spent years telling me that y’all never get anything good.)
Our generation grew up with video games, and Atari basically started it all. The first non-Pong system was released in 1977. It cost $199 (about $900 today) and included the console, two joysticks, and the game Combat. You can find a good basic history of Atari here.
Some of us remember the video game crash of 1983, some of us don’t, but everyone’s familiar with what came three years later: the Nintendo Entertainment System. There were several different bundles over the years, but the most common is probably the Action Set, which included the “control deck,” two controllers, a Super Mario Bros/Duck Hunt cartridge, and the Zapper.
Cabbage Patch Kids. Somehow these uglyass things caused actual riots in 1983. Maybe your mom or grandma was throwing elbows down at Sears to get you one, but I always thought they were creepy. Also, Babyland General Hospital is a real place, which disturbs me in a way I can’t quite describe.
Created by a man who worked on Disney rides like It’s a Small World, Teddy Ruxpin hit shelves in September 1985 and caused a few stampedes himself. Then once you got Teddy, you had to go back to buy more cassettes and storybooks. Unless you were one of the kids who just used it to play Iron Maiden tapes.
If you were the right age during the 70s and early 80s, you probably had a Big Wheel. They required less skill and balance than a bike, but were somehow much, much cooler than a tricycle. For over a decade of summers, America’s driveways, sidewalks, and cul-de-sacs were full of kids speeding recklessly on Big Wheels. Check out the rest of these cool pics (and you can buy a Big Wheel, too.)
Invented by two Belgians in 1969, Pogo Bal (yes, that’s how it’s spelled) was released in the US in November 1986. I remember playing with these during recess even though our playground was asphalt. (Yep, asphalt.) If you’re feeling nostalgic, they actually still make these. Just don’t blame us if you get hurt.
This maddening little toy was invented in Hungary in 1974 and originally called the Magic Cube. It was released in the US as Rubik’s Cube in May 1980 and by the end of the year they were everywhere. The Guinness Book of World Records organized a “speedcubing” championship in March 1981 and the best-selling book that year was The Simple Solution to Rubik’s Cube. Which is obviously peeling off the stickers and reapplying them.
In 1995, Tyco started manufacturing Tickle Me Tasmanian Devil, Tickle Me Bugs Bunny, and Tickle Me Tweety. Then it lost the rights to Looney Tunes, but acquired the rights to Sesame Street, and Tickle Me Elmo was born in July 1996. And no one really cared at first. Then in October, Rosie O’Donnell featured the toy on her show and everyone lost their minds. By December, 1 million had been sold.
Originally released in 1963 and available in your choice of yellow or turquoise, the Easy-Bake Oven has managed to remain popular through several generations. Later, other colors and styles were offered, including avocado green with faux-wood. In the 80s, they looked more like microwaves. You can still buy one of these, but now they look kinda like weird space toasters.
One of the more confusing fads was the Pet Rock. Introduced in August 1975, by the end of the year, 2 ½ tons of them had been sold. At $3.95 each. That would be almost $20 today. What did people do with these when they got bored with them? Just toss them outside? It’s not like people are constantly finding old Pet Rocks around.
The mid-80s brought us Get in Shape, Girl! (As far as I recall, there was no equivalent for boys.) These were workout cassettes and accessories that arose from the popularity of aerobics and gymnastics. Sets included weights, a rhythmic ribbon, a jump rope, or weighted bangles and various accessories like leg warmers (of course!), a water bottle, and wristbands.
Based on a Japanese toy line, the Transformers appeared in 1984 and were so popular that Hasbro couldn’t keep up with demand at first. Most stores had sold out by Thanksgiving that year, so some of you may have been disappointed.
In 1997, we were introduced to Tamagotchi, from the Japanese “tamago” – “egg” – and “uotchi,” which means “watch.” So, Eggwatch. They were keychains with little video games in which you raised a pet from an egg. The original pets could die in less than a day, so kids started taking them to school, leading to them being banned in many schools.
If you grew up in the 80s, there’s a good chance you owned or at least played with He-Man and She-Ra action figures. Eventually there were tons of them along with several playsets, the coolest of which were Castle Grayskull and the Crystal Castle.