The History of Toys

history of toysToys have changed so much, little did we know that all the toys, games and technology that is so popular today, actually date back several centuries. We've collected facts, figures and information on toys dating back to 500 BC, our full History of Toys has a brief but insightful look at how toys have enriched history books nearly as much as any other man-made contraption. 

In our huge range of toys and toy sale, we try and offer the best products to suit everybody, which includes classic toys and all the latest hits and trends. You can find puzzles and games which date back years to VR headsets and Lego alarm clocks.

Toys from the “Early” Early Times

Toys have been around for many centuries, coming from a variety of cultures. The kite, for example, or the ball and yo-yo are supposedly among the oldest objects to be specifically designed and categorised as toys. Ever since history has been recorded, toys have varied from the simplest form – a stick hand-picked by a child to represent a hobby horse – to more sophisticated objects with movable parts.

It’s interesting to observe that remains of objects representing human and animal shapes, they date back to the Sumer civilisation, 2600 BC. However, the earliest recorded toy in human history comes roughly from the 500 BC era: a Greek reference to yo-yos that were made from metal and wood. An excavation of the Indus valley civilization from the 3000-1500 BCE period unearthed small carts, toy monkey and bird-shaped whistles.

The Kite has been a “plaything” in China since 1000 BC. In India, animal figures made of clay and other animal toys go as far back as 2500 BC. In fact, children from highly privileged Indian families used to play with elephants and horses made from bronze. In addition to this, Egyptian children from thousands of years ago used to play with dolls made from stone, wood and clay that even had movable limbs.

The Middle Ages, a time fraught with war and conflict, saw miniature weapons and soldiers as toys, even though they were initially used to plot war strategies. In more modern times, however, the latest warfare breakthroughs often reflect in contemporary toys – inspired by weapons and war machines of mass destruction, enthusiastically showcased in movies and science fiction comic books.

It’s interesting to know, and not surprising, that the ball has been among the most ancient toys for children and adults alike, given its widespread use in secular games. As well as this, the doll is also considered one of the most ancient toys known to man. Just about every culture has dolls or miniature versions of people – representing famous personalities or a sought-after cartoon character. Dolls from the early Roman era are allegedly tucked away safely in the graves of their proud owners, dating back to 3rd century AD.

the history of toys

18th and 19th Century Toy Revolution

Fast forward to the 18th century and beautiful wooden dolls went mainstream in England. For a fact, most toys that we see today have their origins buried in the late 18th century – stick horses, hobby horses, kites, dolls, puzzles, etc. you name it. 

By the dawn of the 19th century, technological innovations gave birth to paper printing. Jigsaw puzzles officially became a thing – printed paper glued to wood and then intricately cut into puzzle shapes. At the time, puzzles were actually seen as a fun intellectual past time, featuring well-known British kings and queens. In the early-mid 19th century also saw counters, teetotums (spinning tops used instead of dice), playing cards and dominoes – games loved as much by adults as they were by children. Thanks to rapid rail network growth, toy trains started to make an appearance.

Policy changes in the mid-late 19th century meant that more equipment was needed to educate children – the abacus is a good example. Near the end of the 19th century, toys saw mass production due to the industrial revolution, taking direct inspiration from it. Toy soldiers made from hollow cast lead were a crowd favourite. More complex toy figures were crafted, complete with clockwork mechanisms and high-quality fabric.    

The motorcar made an appearance for the first time in the early 20th century, giving rise to the toy car. Additionally, animals had been a source of inspiration for many toy makers – the toy bear was introduced, courtesy of German manufacturer Steiff. This came to be known as a teddy bear, owing to the then American President, Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt. The President earned the nickname because he had refused to hunt down a baby bear during a hunting expedition. Teddy bears have been mass produced in the US since then and the term “teddy” became common among toy bears all over the world.

kids playing with toys

Toys in the 20th Century

After the First World War broke out, an entire array of toys were produced, including military hospital toy soldiers. Leading onto the 1920s and 30s, characters like Mickey Mouse and Felix the Cat became popular; unique toy figures soon came about as merchandising.

During WWII, toy production somewhat took a step back, especially in terms of materials; cut out paper or card dolls were commonplace, since most materials were being used to manufacture weapons. In the mid-20th century, television sets made an appearance – owing to Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953, after which television set sales went rampant. The effects reverberated into the toy sector as the Coronation coach became a hot-selling item as a souvenir toy.

In the 60s, dinky toys, particularly those inspired by space travel (lunar space buggy) became widespread, following Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon. After this, interactive TV games from the 70s lead to the adaptation of ping pong – a technological development that would inspire and change toy production and design forever. 

The 80s were the era of space movies – toy vehicles and action figures from the Star Wars and Star Trek movies went rampant. While the 90s marked the introduction of the iconic Gameboy, Nintendo’s handheld gaming device.

kids playing play station

Modern-day Toys

Toys today have come a long way indeed - from micro pets and virtual pet Tamagotchis to souvenir toys that mark the start of the year 2000. Over the past 100 years, toys and the way we play with them are much different. Technological advancements in the 20th century further made it possible for manufacturers to build highly complex remote-controlled toy cars and aeroplanes that drive and fly practically as well as the real thing. Meaning children of today have the best possible playing experience!

Toys & The Future

Since children played with animal figures made of clay in 2500 BC, toys have changed so much, from yoyos and clockwork trains to jigsaw puzzles and Gameboys. New crazes are coming to the market every year, inventors are bringing a new wave of toys and games to people's reach, with Lol Surprise growing hugely in 2018. 

In the PoundToy office, we love Thomas toys and all the latest technology inventions over the past few years. We'd love to hear what your favourite toys were from your childhood and how they differ from what your children play with today. Let us know in the comments box down below... 

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