There have always been popular toys that every kid hopes to own. I mean, who hasn’t identified with Ralphie’s fixation on the Red Ryder BB Gun in “A Christmas Story?” Some toys, like Barbie and GI Joe, span decades. Others, like the Pet Rock, quickly fade away.
The 80s saw toy crazes raise to the next level. It was a time when people became obsessed about a toy to the point of rioting in the stores (yeah, it really did get that crazy)! It was also a time when extended marketing took over the national consciousness. Here are some of the toys we couldn’t get enough of in the 80s.
Who knew that a 3x3 cube with colored squares could spark a craze that would still fascinate people nearly 40 years later? Hungarian Arno Rubik was an architect by trade when he helped create the “Magic Cube” in the 1970s. After a few tweaks, it was repackaged as Rubik’s Cube and hit the shelves in 1980.
People could not get enough of the brain puzzle of twisting plastic pieces to create solid colored sides. It was a badge of honor and esteem to solve the cube (i.e., solid colors on all six sides). And yes, people peeled off and replaced the colored decals to claim that they had “solved” it.
Rubik’s Cube was named Toy of the Year for 1980 in multiple countries. From 1980-1983, an estimated that 200 million cubes were sold worldwide. The design also sparked spinoff merchandise which included everything from keychains with mini-cubes to socks and hats, not to mention several books that promised the secrets to solving the cube.
If the early to mid-80s had a smell, it would be that of Strawberry Shortcake. Originally designed for American Greetings cards, the cheery, freckle-faced girl and her pals, all named for fruits or desserts, became a phenomenon due to one simple aspect: the dolls smelled like the fruits in their names.
Each doll had a pet as well. For example, Strawberry herself had a cat named Custard and Apple Dumplin’ had Tea Time Turtle. As with anything popular, the additional merchandise soon outpaced the original dolls. Just like Holly Hobby of the 70s, little girls not only clamored for the usual posters, stickers, and t-shirts but also for sheet sets and accessories like the Berry Happy Home.
They even garnered their own yearly television specials, where the word “very” was always replaced with “berry” (among other fruit puns).
Another cartoon originally drawn for American Greetings cards, the Care Bears were a bunch of loveable stuffed bears with symbols that represented their personalities on their bellies. It is interesting to note that the same artist worked on the initial conceptions for both Strawberry Shortcake and the Care Bears.
As with the dolls, the Care Bears were featured on various pieces of merchandise, starting with books and stuffed animals. The full franchise was launched in 1982 and was promoted as “the biggest character launch in the history of retailing.” They weren’t kidding.
It got to the point where Care Bears were everywhere, and everybody was eager to share which bear they identified with the most. It usually didn’t take much to figure that out, however, as people tended to wear the colors and insignias of their chosen bears. The Care Bears even got their own tv series that lasted for two seasons, as well as multiple movies.
While not exactly a toy, any list of 80s crazes that doesn’t include Trivial Pursuit is incomplete. A simple trivia game at heart, it became the subject of parties dedicated to playing, team events, and more than a few arguments over correct answers and cheating by stacking the question cards.
The object of the game was to move around a board answering trivia questions. Specific areas enabled players to obtain a wedge (that was another argument: were the pieces slices of pie, wedges, or chees triangles) that pertained to one of six categories. In order to win the game, a player needed to collect all six wedges, then move their piece to the center of the board and answer a final question (chosen by the other players).
The draw of the game was both the variety of questions asked across the six topics and the strategy involved in obtaining the wedges. History buffs would head for the yellow areas first, while Sports fans went for the orange. Naturally, the other players would pick a person’s least favorite subject for the final question, hoping to be able to catch up and win the game themselves.
Nothing defined the crazed reactions to toys in the 80s like Cabbage Patch Kids. These dolls were originally hand-stitched and created to be truly one of a kind. When they became popular and went into mass production, the manufacturers still maintained standards which ensured that each Kid was unique.
This is exactly why Cabbage Patch Kids were as in demand as they were; they did not all look alike and none of them had the same name. Each of them came individually named with their own birth certificates. In addition, Cabbage Patch Kids were not sold. Oh no, they were adopted. Every kid wanted their own individual doll, and they became an absolute “must have” present the year they were widely released.
Even though it is common place now, this is one of the first times that people lined up in advance of release of an item. Parents got into fights in stores, which ran out of dolls almost as soon as they were delivered. It is hard to do justice to how much of a mania these cherubic dolls caused, but Google “Cabbage Patch Kid Riots” and you might get an idea.
As with other characters, the Kids were splashed across merchandise (there were a staggering 150 licenses granted in 1982) which generated over $2 billion in retail sales in one year (1984) alone; that’s almost $5 billion in today’s market.
It was difficult to go to a friend’s house in the early 80s and not be inundated by at least one of the characters mentioned above. The characters were a huge part of what brought kids together…and this was only four years into the decade.