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A Look Back at 1970s Toys

As a boomer, I grew up in the 1960s and '70s. Sometimes I like to share some nostalgia from that time.

Remembering '70s Toys and Games

If you were a kid in the 1970s then you might have some fun remembering some of the games and toys you had. Of course, some of them are still around today, even if in a more modern format.

In this article, you can reminisce a bit and even watch some commercials for 1970s toys that take you back to that era. Be sure to add your favorites to our lists as we look back at board games, dolls and action figures, as well as all of the other ways we entertained ourselves as kids.

Basic 1970s Toys

The dolls I recall having in the early '70s were probably first introduced in the 1960s. A Baby First Step was one of these and was about 16 to 18 inches high and could walk although she sounded like a major home appliance when operating. I also had some Liddle Kiddles and Heidi and Jan dolls. Liddle Kiddles were quite small and Heidi and Jan topped out at about 3 inches. You could push a button on their stomach and their hands would pop up to say Hi.

The true '70s dolls I recall were Barbies, with a more modern look and greater flexibility than the old style dolls. I also had Crissy and Velvet who were probably around 18" high and had beautiful hair that you could style and adjust the length from shoulder length to floor. I also recall Dancerina dolls which could pirouette. I also had Dawn, a fashion doll that was quite a bit smaller than her mentor Barbie. Weebles were strange little round-bottomed characters who according to commercials would "wobble" but not fall down.

Some of the traditional board games were around in the 1970s; games like Monopoly, Life, Operation, and for the younger kids, Mousetrap. Uno became a popular card game for young ones and we played Pinochle. Other popular 1970s toys included outdoor games like the Slip N' Slide, basic stuff like Nerf balls, and even some of the first real electronic toys like Simon were introduced in the last few years of the decade. Twister was still around as was Dungeon and Dragons, a role-playing fantasy game that's probably the precursor to modern video gaming, became very popular with guys.

Some 1970s toys were nothing more than fads. Pet Rocks, mood rings, and Weepuls were examples. A Pet rock was merely a rock packaged nicely with a manual telling you how to care for it. It was around for only a short time, but wildly popular. Mood Rings, as most people know, changed colors in response to body temperature and supposedly alerted others to your mood while Weepuls were small craft like creations, made with a tiny, fluffy ball, large cut out feet pasted to the bottom, and beady eyes glued to the head.

We also had pinball machines, not the full-sized ones like in arcades, but they were more mechanical than those of today. They had a distinctive and solid feel as the marble was launched and bounced around. The ring of the bells was nearly as loud and clear as what you might hear on the midway at a fair.

See '70s Dolls and Games in Action

The Creative Side of 1970s Toys

The toys of the 1970s gave us plenty of opportunities to express our artistic side and to make our own creations. Some of the popular toys originated years earlier but were much loved anyway. LEGOs were huge and of course, still have a place in kids hearts today.

For those who loved to draw, we also had Etch-a-Sketch and later Magna Doodle. Spirograph added Super Spirograph and we could spend hours making colorful designs like the pros. Lite-Brite sets came along and added a bit of an electronic flair to things. Of course, Easy Bake ovens had originated well before the '70s but were still popular with the youngest of us.

We had knitting machines, weaving looms, and macrame sets that let us create hats, purses, belts and more. Probably one of the most beloved 1970s toys, however, started out as a Vac-U-Form and later a Vac-U-Maker (in the 1960s) and finally a Thingmaker. Although extremely dangerous by today's standards due to an exposed heating plate and sharp utensils, it was a powerhouse for crafting all kinds of interesting novelty items. You could create hard plastic objects from molds and rubbery creations from a die you filled with a mysterious "goop" solution. We could pass an entire afternoon creating an entire army of insects or a bouquet of "fun flowers". Creeple Peeple, Creepy Crawlers, and Fun Flowers were just a few of the options.

Electronic keyboards weren't something you had in every home back in the early 1970s but we did have chord organs which came with sheet music that didn't require you to know how to read music at all. You could play chords with the push of a button and play by numbers.

1970s Toys that Met Our Need for Speed

Before the days of video games, kids played with HO tracks. They're still around today, but they were more popular in the 1970s. Guys who really loved the sport would frequent slot car tracks to get their racing fix. HO tracks weren't the only possibility though. Hot Wheels were popular and Kenner's SSP Racers were also coveted. SSP Racers were simple devices with a ripcord that you pulled hard to allow it to race around at tremendous speed across the largest flat surface you could find.

Helmets weren't common in the 1970s, our lives were apparently at risk but we didn't know it. For the youngest kids, some 1970s toys offered them a great way of getting around. Big Wheels emerged as the "cooler" option versus a tricycle and the InchWorm allowed little ones to hop instead of pedaling for their locomotion. Kids who were a bit older loved Sting Ray bikes with their banana seats and monkey handlebars. So much more modern than the traditional cruiser bikes!

Skateboards emerged in the 1970s. It wasn't a big sport yet but kids started taking an interest. For those who really had a need for speed, mini-bikes were a popular gift and of course, go-karting was around as a sport for those who were more serious.

Video Games are Born

Most 1970s toys were less sophisticated electronically than many of the toys today. We had stereos. It often started with simple turntables with attached speakers. I also had a clock radio, and later a more elaborate quadraphonic stereo with a tape player and am/FM stereo. In the first half of the decade, teenagers often had eight-track tape players. Cassette tapes emerged and many of us also had cassette tape players that we could record on as well. Music came on vinyl records and tapes. CD's weren't around until the 1980s.

Video games didn't arrive on the scene until late in the 1970s. The first that I recall was an Atari game called Pong. Atari was huge from that point through sometime in the early to mid-1980s. Pong was a pretty basic game that resembled playing Ping-Pong or perhaps tennis on your home television. Atari, of course, started creating other video games at the end of the decade and Space Invaders was one that went on to great popularity after it's release in 1978.

Cameras were, of course, all film based rather than digital. I recall them as being more bulky and heavy and they generally weren't toys for kids, although I'm sure some company like Fisher Price had toy cameras that didn't actually do anything. What I do recall is that the Polaroid 1-step cameras came along at the end of the '70s, and many kids got their first camera in this form. They came with film and paper encased in a cartridge. Once that was slid in place and your flashbulbs were attached, you snapped a picture and it emerged from the front of the camera. You only had to wait 30 seconds or so for the image to gradually reveal itself.

© 2009 Ruth Coffee