Confession time: I’ve probably spent a small fortune over my lifetime buying kitschy toys that remind me of a gentler, more innocent era in time. Lava lamps, Rubik’s Cubes, those little Evel Knievel stunt cycle action figures – you name it, I’ve owned all of those and many more.
Owning a nostalgic toy – or a dozen of them – is something I celebrate. I reject the notion of some philosophers who dismiss nostalgia as a denial of the present. Neither would I – as the popular song lyric goes – “trade all my tomorrows for one single yesterday.” Wave off all the cosmic commotion over living in the past and let’s just agree on this: It’s fun to have these fun little reminders from our younger days. It really can be that simple. Here are the items that still make me smile.
1940s: The Slinky
I still remember the words to the commercial jingle: “It’s Slinky, it’s Slinky. For fun it’s a wonderful toy. It’s fun for a girl and a boy.” Believe it or not, the first Slinky made its debut at a Gimbels department store in Philadelphia way back in November 1945.
Buy Now: Slinky Brand The Original Slinky Kids Spring Toy
1950s: Magic 8 Ball
“Oh Magic 8-Ball, will I be able to read this entire article without buying another one of you?” Answer: “Don’t count on it.” Though the idea of a fortune-telling billiard ball reportedly dates back to a “Three Stooges” skit from the 1940s, Mattel gets the credit for manufacturing the modern-day Magic 8-Ball in the ’50s.
Buy Now: Magic 8 Ball
1960s: Lava Lamp
An English engineer officially gets credit for inventing an “Astro Lamp” in 1963, but leave it to two Americans to discover it at a trade show, buy its rights and give the world the newly renamed Lava Lamp. Far out, dude!
Buy Now: Jambo 16-Inch Lava Lamp
1970s: Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle
In a time before social influencers were cultural icons, there was Evel Knievel. The motorcycle stunt performer wowed audiences with audacious performances, including jumping the fountains at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. In the ’70s, Knievel performed his stunts in front of sold-out crowds in some of the national’s biggest stadiums – breaking more than his fair share of bones in the aftermath. His image helped sell a estimated $125 million worth of toys during the decade, particularly this crank-up action figure and stunt cycle. It’s low-tech but high-imagination fun – something we all could use a little more of today.
Buy Now: Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle
1980s: Rubik’s Cube
The 1980s has plenty of iconic toys, but the Rubik’s Cube seems to have stood the test of time. Ernõ Rubik, a Hungarian professor, created the first prototype in 1974 to help his students understand three-dimensional problems. But it took until the ’80s for a toy manufacturer to turn his idea into a phenomenon. Since 1982, international competitions are held to determine the world’s fastest cube solvers.
Price: From $14.99
Buy Now: Hasbro Gaming Rubik’s 3X3 Cube