In 1950, inventor Edgar Ellington was trying to create a waterproof sock that would help prevent soldiers from getting trench foot. He covered a regular sock in latex and then stretched it over his foot. Then, to check for leaks, he filled it with water and tied it off. The sock had sprung a leak! Ellington was so disappointed in his failed invention that he threw the water-filled sock against the wall...where it exploded with a satisfying splash. He immediately realized the potential his invention had as a toy and water balloons eventually became a staple of outdoor water wars everywhere.
(And trench foot was still a thing that soldiers had to deal with. But hey, water balloons are cool, right?)
Today Play-Doh can be found in preschools (and preschoolers' mouths) all over the country, but it was originally marketed toward adults!
Back in the 1930s, wallpaper was hugely popular, but almost everyone heated their homes by burning coal, which resulted in a lot of unsightly soot. The Kutol company created a doughy compound that was perfect for cleaning this soot off the walls.
Unfortunately for the Kutol company, vinyl wallpaper (which could be cleaned with soap and water) eventually came on the scene, and oil and gas furnaces replaced coal furnaces. The company almost went completely under, until a nursery school teacher gave some of the wallpaper cleaner to her students to play with. Although allowing children to play with cleaning supplies is probably not a great idea, the wallpaper cleaner was a huge hit!
Kutol then began marketing the dough as a toy called "Kutol's Rainbow Modeling Compound" until that same nursery teacher knocked some sense into them and got them to change the name to Play-Doh. And the rest is squishy history!
In 1871, William Frisbie opened The Frisbie Pie Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Students from nearby universities would throw the empty pie tins to each other (presumably after eating the pies) and shout out "Frisbie!"
In 1948, a man named Walter Morrison created a plastic version of the disc and eventually sold them to the toy company Wham-O under the name "Pluto Platter" as an attempt to cash in on the public's UFO craze.
Finally, Wham-O changed the name of the toy to Frisbee ”” a misspelling of the pie company that started it all (seriously, they couldn't do a little research?).
Bonus fun fact: After Walter Morrison died in 2002, his body was cremated and his ashes were mixed with plastic and molded into Frisbees.
In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt went on a hunting excursion in Mississippi. After three days of no luck, his scouts eventually tracked down an old bear and tied it to a tree before calling Roosevelt over. However, the president refused to shoot the trapped bear because he believed it would be unsportsmanlike.
This story of "Teddy" Roosevelt taking the high road soon made the rounds and impressed people all over the country (most of them didn't realize ”” or chose to ignore ”” the fact that the bear had been killed by the trackers anyway). Toy stores began selling stuffed bears with the name "Teddy bear," and they became wildly popular.
(If you want to learn about a similar toy that was wildly unpopular, check out Taft's response to the teddy bear: the Billy Possum.)
In 1952, Mr. Potato Head became the first toy ever advertised on network television ”” but he was not the friendly-looking spud we know today. The original toy consisted only of the plastic face pieces...and no potato! The idea was that kids would stick the plastic eyes and ears into a real potato (or other vegetable) and spend hours having fun playing with their food.
It wasn't until 1964 that Hasbro began including the plastic potato with the toy set, amid concerns of rotting vegetables (which are not a fun toy) and new safety standards which required the plastic pieces to be too dull to poke into a real potato.
Bonus fact: Mr. Potato Head came with a plastic pipe until 1987 when he gave up smoking and became the official "spokespud" of the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout (which is the exact opposite of what it sounds like).
In 1903, a woman named Lizzie Magie invented a board game called The Landlord's Game, which aimed to teach people about the potential dangers of capitalism and land-grabbing greed. The game featured play money, which players borrowed from the bank and used to buy deeds and properties located around the board. Sound familiar?
Lizzie's game was very popular among leftwing intellectuals and eventually caught on with a community of Quakers in Atlantic City. One night in 1932, an unemployed businessman named Charles Darrow was introduced to the game by some friends. Darrow was immediately taken with the game and, as he was desperate for money at the time, also taken with the idea of selling it. Parker Brothers bought a version of the game from Darrow, and (because the world is an awful, ironic, unfair place) Darrow went on to become a millionaire. Lizzie Magie, on the other hand, faded into relative obscurity.
If you're interested in learning more about Lizze Magie and the history of Monopoly, check out the book The Monopolists!
The Rubik's Cube is another toy that was never meant to be a toy. In 1974, Hungarian architect Erno Rubik created a cube model out of smaller cubes that magically held themselves together. He called it the "Magic Cube." But after adjusting some of the panels, he realized that he'd scrambled them up and was unable to get them back to their original position. That's right, he invented one of the world's most famous puzzles on accident. It took him over a month to solve his puzzle (which is crazy, considering this kid can do it in 4.90 seconds).
In 1943, an engineer named James Wright was trying to create a synthetic rubber when he instead created a soft, moldable putty. For the next few years, the putty was passed around among Wright's colleagues and presented as a novelty item at cocktail parties. Eventually, a woman named Ruth Fallgatter (who owned a toy shop) played with the putty and quickly realized its potential as a toy. Wright's "failed" science experiment went on to become a best-selling toy.
Bonus fact: The reason Silly Putty comes in eggs is because the first large batch was made and sold around Easter.
The Slinky is another toy that started out as a failure. In 1943, a mechanical engineer named Richard James was working to create springs that could keep sensitive equipment stable while at sea. He accidentally knocked some samples off a shelf and then watched in amazement as they "walked" down rather than falling. His wife Betty gave his accidental invention the appropriate name of "Slinky," and stairs have never been the same since.
If you were a child in the 1996 (and your parents loved you), you probably had a Tickle Me Elmo. But you almost didn't!
Toy inventor Roy Dubren decided to make a toy that would laugh when tickled by its owner. He created all the necessary technology and installed it in...a stuffed monkey. The laughing monkey didn't take off, but luckily for Dubren, the Tyco toy company asked him to apply the technology to a stuffed Elmo doll instead. The result? One of the most popular/terrifying toys of all time.
In 1913, inventor Charles Pajeau was watching a group of children play with pencils, sticks and empty spools of thread when he was inspired to create what would eventually become Tinkertoys. He then created several different wooden shapes that could be assembled in a variety of ways before finally displaying his toy at the 1914 American Toy Fair in New York City. Unfortunately for him, no one was interested.
Until, around Christmas time, Pajeau hired a number of little people to dress up as elves and play with the Tinkertoys in the display window of a Chicago department store. After that, the construction sets flew off the shelves.
In the year 1900, a surgical instruments mechanic named Erwin Perzy was trying to create a brighter light bulb. He was inspired by shoemakers who at the time would fill a glass globe with water and place it in front of a candle in order to magnify the light. The idea didn't translate very well to light bulbs, but one day he put some white semolina flakes into the bulb and watched as they floated softly down through the water. This reminded him of snowfall (duh), and he soon went into snow globe production. And then he realized that he was actually just a figment of Tommy Westphall's imagination.
Long before things like Gak, Slime and Zzand existed, there was a toy called Flubber. If you don't recognize the above package, it's probably because you were born after 1963. How do I know this? Read on, my friend.
After the film Son of Flubber came out in 1962, Hasbro and Disney teamed up to create a Flubber toy as a tie-in to the movie. It was a totally harmless compound made from synthetic rubber, mineral oil and green dye. Only in this case, "totally harmless" actually meant "very harmful." Within a few weeks of the toy's Christmas release, children were admitted to hospitals with head-to-toe rashes, sore throats and fevers. As it turned out, the Flubber toy caused folliculitis ”” a painful infection of the hair follicles.
But don't worry, Hasbro totally solved the problem. In this case, "solved the problem" means "made the problem worse." Hasbro recalled the Flubber and tried to incinerate it...but it wouldn't burn. So they tried to sink it...but it wouldn't sink. Finally, they buried it underground and paved over it to make a parking lot. (You know what they say: You don't know what you got 'til it's gone...just kidding; it's folliculitis.)
Colorforms were the perfect toy for kids who wanted all the fun of playing with stickers without any of the long-term staying power. They were invented when two art students named Harry and Patricia Kislevitz began experimenting with flexible vinyl. They wanted to create large-scale works of art, but couldn't afford to buy a bunch of paint. In 1951, they ordered rolls of vinyl in multiple colors and began cutting out fun shapes and sticking them to their bathroom walls. They quickly realized the potential for their discovery and got to work making Colorforms sets. The sets were originally marketed toward other adults and artists, but eventually kids fell in love with them and they were rebranded as a toy.
Bonus fact: Popeye was the first licensed character to get his very own Coloforms set.
Yes, we know bubble wrap isn't technically a toy, but the history behind it is so interesting that we couldn't leave it out!
Bubble wrap was invented in 1957 by two engineers named Al Fielding and Marc Chavanne. However, they were not trying to create a packing material ”” or a fun pop-able pastime. In fact, they were trying to create a fabulous new textured wall covering. Needless to say, it didn't sell very well. Three years later, they finally realized that their failed product would be the perfect way to protect fragile items during transport.
And shortly after that (we assume), the public realized that the real reason bubble wrap exists is to make fun popping sounds.