At Play on The New Frontier: The Toys of the 1960s, Part One
by: Michael Kabel
For all the turbulence and upheaval of the 1960s, it was still a time when children could still be kids, and the world of childhood was less sophisticated and pressured by outside forces. Children in the 1960s also had some of the best toys ever created. Indeed, many of the games and activities introduced in the decade became beloved classics. Many are still being made today! Presented here are the first five in a non-scientific gathering of greatest toys of the 1960s. As a working definition, these are items, kits, and sets that debuted on the toy and child market between 1960 and 1969.
10. Captain Action – lots of action figures have secret identities, but only Captain Action can lay claim to at least nine. The basic figure came in a Jet Age style costume with accessories. Children could then buy additional costumes that converted the figure into Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, The Lone Ranger, the Phantom, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, the Green Hornet, or several others. Released in 1966, the line lasted just two years. But like so many other vintage properties, the good Captain underwent a rival in the retro-crazy 90s and is currently about to be unleashed on toy shelves yet again.
9. Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots – these boxing robots have become so prevalent in popular culture that it's almost impossible not to picture them "knocking each others' block off." The Red Rocker and Blue Bomber robots could throw jabs and uppercuts when kids manipulated their controls, fighting it out in a plastic boxing ring until one of their spring-loaded heads popped up. Today the toy is still manufactured by Mattel, and a video game for the Gameboy Advance is also available.
8. Operation - Possibly the only electronic game that was more fun without batteries, Operation dared players to remove various objects from a "patient" on the game's operating table player board. Released in 1965 by perennial board game titans Milton Bradley, the game would buzz if players touched the metal sides with their metal tweezers. The patient, nicknamed Cavity Sam, also had a light up red bulb nose to signal players' mistakes. Aside from teaching kids to delicately remove small objects from tiny places, the game offered no educational value. Just the same, it continues to be made today, albeit with more sophisticated electronic parts.
7. Big Loo – This extremely rare toy robot marketed for just the 1963 Christmas season boasted an exorbitant price tag and a king's ransom of play feature riches. For a whopping $9.95 (in a year when the cost of a gallon of gas was just 30 cents), Big Loo the three foot tall "moon robot" included a sight scope, compass, light up red eyes, a handcranked voicebox with ten messages, a dartgun, a left arm that fired four miniature rubber balls, a working missile launcher on his both feet, a whistle, a Morse clicker (with chart) and a bell. He also squirted water from his navel and could bend over and pick up objects with his claw hand.
Big Loo ran on D-cell batteries and weighed over ten pounds. Only about 5000 were made, using very brittle plastic that aged appallingly fast. The high cost and possibly Loo's facial expression, which could politely be called "unsettling," contributed to the toy's failure.
6. Tammy – the teenaged girl next door and "the doll you love to dress," Tammy was marketed by Ideal Toys as the down-to-earth alternative to the more cosmopolitan (and more voluptuous) Barbie line of dolls and toys made by Mattel. The 12" tall Tammy line lasted from 1962 to 1966, enough time to include Tammy's entire family: Mom and Dad, brothers and sisters, even friends. Tammy's many well-constructed outfits easily slipped on over the basic doll shape. Today, she's considered a pioneering innovation in girl's dolls, highly sought after on the vintage doll market.
The top five toys of the 1960s are found in Part Two of this series.