Here's what 10 popular toys looked like when they were released compared to what they look like now

A Barbie from 1959 vs. Barbies from the present day (2020)
The first Barbie doll was released by toy company Mattel in 1959. The dolls now come in a range of skin tones, body shapes, and genders.Christoph Schmidt/Picture Alliance via Getty Images; Daniel Karmann/Picture Alliance via Getty Images
  • Some toys are so popular that they stand the test of time.

  • Iconic playthings like Barbies, Hot Wheels, and Transformers have transformed over decades.

  • See how some of the most beloved toys have changed since they were released.

The Barbie brand included one doll when Mattel launched the iconic toy in 1959. Now, the toy comes in various skin tones, body types, and genders.

A Barbie from 1959 vs. Barbies from the present day (2020)
The first Barbie doll was released by the toy company Mattel in 1959.Christoph Schmidt/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

According to the History Channel's website, Mattel co-founder, Ruth Handler came up with the idea for Barbie after watching her daughter play with paper dolls of adult women. The doll was officially launched at the American Toy Fair in New York City on March 9, 1959, and cost three dollars, per the History Channel.

Since Barbie's debut, Mattel has given the doll hundreds of careers, including astronaut, doctor, and beekeeper, and added new characters to the doll's universe.

In 2016, the company introduced "tall," "curvy," and "petite" body types to the Barbie Fashionistas line, as well as new skin tones and hair colors. Mattel also added gender-neutral dolls and dolls that use a wheelchair and prosthetic body parts in 2019, making the overall collection more inclusive.

The Paddington Bear stuffed animal has remained a beloved part of British culture since it was first introduced in the 1970s.

Before and after: Paddington bear
Michael Bond with a pet cat and stuffed Paddington Bear toy in August 1976; A Paddington bear toy outside Buckingham Palace on September 9, 2022.Christoph Schmidt/Picture Alliance via Getty Images; Kirsty O'Connor/PA Images via Getty Images

Although Paddington made its first appearance in a 1958 children's book by British author Michael Bond, the first stuffed version of the bear wasn't available for another 14 years.

According to the Paddington website, a small toy company in the United Kingdom called Gabrielle Designs was given the rights to manufacture the bear in 1972. In 1975, Eden Toys acquired the license to sell Paddington in the United States and other parts of the world, the website states. The stuffed bear became widely known for his signature raincoat and hat.

Paddington gained popularity through the years and is now sold by different manufacturers in a number of styles and outfits. After Queen Elizabeth's death in September, mourners across the UK left more than 1,000 Paddington plushies in tributes to the late monarch, per USA Today.

The electronic game Simon was given several upgrades but it's still recognized by its signature colors.

Before and after: Simon game
Hasbro unveiled the Simon Air at the 2016 American International Toy Fair, which was fairly different from the game's original design.Patrice PICOT/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images; Business Wire/Associated Press

The famous memory game, released by the brand Milton Bradley at Studio 54 in 1978, quickly became part of the electronic game movement of the 1980s, according to Time magazine. Toy conglomerate Hasbro later bought the company and continued to distribute Simon.

Although the original version is still available, Hasbro released several new upgrades to the game in the last decade, such as Simon Swipe, Simon Air, and Simon Optix, which utilizes headsets to test memory. Still, the company continues to use the game's trademark colors: blue, red, green, and yellow.

The Slinky may have been invented by accident, but it still falls into the pantheon of famous toys.

Slinky in the 1940s vs. Slinky now
The Slinky's original form was a long, metal spiral. Now, the beloved toy is even used as decor.Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images; VCG via Getty Images

According to The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, mechanical engineer Richard James never intended to make a toy out of coiled metal pieces.

Per the museum's website, James was trying to make a spring for ship equipment when he knocked some of the prototypes off of a shelf. The spiral proceeded to "walk" down the stairs one by one — and the idea for the Slinky was born.

The first 400 Slinkys sold out in minutes after they were used in a demonstration at a Philadelphia department store for Christmas in 1945, according to the museum. The toy is now also made in colorful plastic varieties and in the shape of a dog, most notably seen in the "Toy Story" movies.

250 million Slinkys were sold by the end of the 20th century, per the museum.

 

Buzz Lightyear is just as popular in stores as he was on screen.

Buzz Lightyear in 1995 vs. Buzz Lightyear now
Buzz Lightyear's toy design has remained virtually unchanged since it was first released in 1995.James Keyser/Getty Images; Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Buzz Lightyear, the fictional spaceman first introduced to the world in the 1995 Pixar film "Toy Story," was first made into an action figure by Thinkway Toys.

According to a 2009 article by the Los Angeles Times, former Pixar chief creative officer John Lasseter insisted the toy be 12 inches tall because it was the same size Lightyear was in the movie.

The toy was a success, with Time magazine reporting that Buzz Lightyear was still selling out at toy stores in 2008. Although new versions were released to match the animated astronaut's new look in the 2022 Disney-Pixar flick "Lightyear," many figurines maintain his original features and shape.

According to the National Museum of Play, Mattel wanted Hot Wheels to become the top toy in their boys' division — the same way Barbie dominated the girl's department.

Hot Wheels when they were first released vs. Hot Wheels in 2018
Hot Wheels became streamlined and modernized — just as full-size cars did — throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.Watford/Mirrorpix via Getty Images; Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Mattel's co-founder, Elliot Handler, designed the die-cast cars with bright colors so they would stand out among other miniature automobiles in the 1960s, per Time magazine. The company also developed track systems for Hot Wheels to race on, helping the toy top the market.

Hot Wheels continued to succeed as new models were released each year, according to the Museum of Play's website. Mattel currently sells a number of Hot Wheels designs, collaborating with other enterprises like Mario Kart and Batman to create collectible figurines that are sometimes controlled by remote.

The mini-cars are still popular with kids, but they've also gained traction with adult collectors.

The Super Soaker was an unintentional design that became a symbol of summer fun.

Engineer Lonnie Johnson created the Super Soaker in 1989. The water gun is now used by children, adults, and mascots alike.
Engineer Lonnie Johnson created the Super Soaker in 1989. The water gun is now used by children, adults, and mascots alike.Thomas S. England/Getty Images; Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Engineer Lonnie Johnson came up with the idea for the Super Soaker while working with NASA in 1982, according to The Museum of Play's website. While developing a new heat pump that utilized pressurized water vapor, he hooked his contraption to his faucet and was inspired by the strong stream of water it exerted, per the museum.

Johnson made a model for the water gun, then called the Power Drencher, out of an empty soda bottle and PVC pipe. In 1990, he worked with toy company Larami to bring the renamed Super Soaker to shelves, according to the museum.

The toy went on to sell more than 27 million units in the first three years of production. The Super Soaker is still a hit, bringing Hasbro (who bought Larami in the 1990s) one billion dollars in sales on 175 different varieties since its inception, per the museum.

The global "Transformers" franchise wouldn't be where it is today without the robot action figures that started it all.

Transformers toys in the 1980s vs. now
The Transformers were adapted from similar toys made in Japan.Colin McConnell/Toronto Star via Getty Images; Zou Zheng/Xinhua via Getty Images

Transformers were first sold in the United States in 1984, Time magazine reports. The robot toys were modeled after the Diaclones and the New Microman, two toy lines from the Japanese entertainment company Takara, according to the outlet.

The figurines spawned a massive franchise of movies, television shows, conventions, and comics around the world. Through these ventures, the toys were modernized to give them a more technologically savvy look.

The laughing technology that made Tickle Me Elmo a hit predated the toy's debut.

Tickle Me Elmo in 1996 vs. Tickle Me Elmo in 2017
Tickle Me Elmo hasn't changed much since it was introduced in 1996.James Keyser/Getty Images; Charles Sykes/Invision for Hasbro/AP Images

In a 2016 article, Craig Hlavaty of the Houston Chronicle reported that the Tickle Me Elmo, based on the red Muppet from "Sesame Street," got its laugh from toy inventor Ron Dubren. Dubren made a stuffed animal called Tickles the Chimp that imitated the way children tickled one another during play.

Prior to being bought by Mattel in 1997, Tyco Toys acquired the license to design a line of "Sesame Street" toys. According to Time magazine, the company asked Dubren to use the giggling technology from his monkey on Elmo and the toy eventually became one of the hottest playthings of the 1996 holiday season.

Not much about the lovable, red puppet has changed since it first appeared on shelves, but modern varieties appear to have longer limbs and wider mouths.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was one of the biggest toy lines of the late 1980s.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the 1990s vs. now
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is another successful toy line entwined in a media franchise.James Keyser/Getty Images; Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for ReedPop

According to the Netflix series "The Toys That Made Us," per BuzzFeed, many toy companies rejected the idea of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toy line. The crime-fighting reptiles began as comic book characters, created by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman.

The pair struck a deal with Playmates Toys, who had never developed an action figure before. The original design of the toys included a tail, but it was removed because it looked too phallic.

The figurines continued to sell successfully after the release of the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" animated series and a 199o film, Time writes. More toys were made to reflect the turtles' ever-changing look, but "classic" versions of the action figure are still available for purchase.

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