History of toys

Share on Pinterest

Everyone loved toys when he/she used to be a kid. They were one of the most important aspects of growing up, and some people still cling to them even in their mature years, whether by collecting them or using them for different purposes. Throughout history, toys were constantly being changed, and they still evolve today. In fact, they have evolved in the manner that internet has become a universal toy which many kids use more and more. However, things used to be different only a decade or so ago when console video games ruled, and you have to be at a certain age to remember how things used to look like before video game revolution. The history of toys most likely goes as deep as to the beginnings of civilization, and some of the first unearthed toys date to around 3000 BC.

Ancient Greeks used to play with inflated animal bladders which served as balls of sort among else. Just by this example, it is quite clear that those times were quite different than what we have today. However, there were some toys which had survived this period and even exist today in similar or changed variations. For instance, knucklebones. They were actually made out of animal (mostly sheep) bones, but the way the game had been played remained similar to the way knucklebones’ modern variations fivestones or jacks are played.


Little horses on wheels made of clay were very popular in Greece during Geometric period which lasted from around 1000 BC to 700 BC. By imagining this, there’s a good chance one can figure out what the rest of children’s toys of early civilizations used to look like. Spinning tops, wooden and clay dolls and all kinds of different toys made out of wood, clay, wax or terracotta, including weapons, sticks and yo-yos.

Little Horse on Wheels (Child's Toy)

First known mechanical puzzle games were also invented in Greece, and their Roman successors further improved both puzzles and board games of the time. Even Indus valley civilization and ancient Egyptians had rather advanced toys for that period with latter ones playing with dolls made out of pottery, wood or stone which had a wig and movable body parts. The fact is that all these were handmade, hence, there were no identical toys and they were scarce, so not everyone could afford them. They were made from materials found in nature, and sometimes even kids themselves used to make them. Even before ancient civilizations, in prehistoric times, kids used to find a way to play. Stone age toys were mostly peculiarly shaped stones and animal bones, since production, in general, was still rather new feat at the time, let alone mass production which came at the turn of 20th century. But we are going ahead of ourselves.

ancient toys

Toys, just like pretty much anything else, stagnated during the middle ages when church seized control of most of the affairs of common men. That goes for Europe at least, since ancient civilizations further away from the old continent weren’t limited by silly superstitions of their spiritual peers. Proof for that can be found in all the toys invented in China during that period, most famous of which being the flying kite still enjoyed today. Bamboo dragonfly was used as a concept to create the helicopter, and Chinese also used all kinds of whistles, bamboo flutes, and marbles which were known since as early as Neolithic period (around 4500 BC).


Indians gave us one of the most popular modern board game Pachisi which dates to 6th century AD. Its contemporary counterparts are Parcheesi, Sorry!, Ludo and Mensch ärgere dich nicht. Then came renaissance and enlightenment period which saw Europe and its colonies finally catching up in the cultural sense and even surpassing other parts of the world to catch up for the loss of time. During the 16th century, for instance, wooden dolls became much more complex and sophisticated. Plenty of craftsmen used to make them and give them their own signature, and thus they became available to lower population layers as well.


The 18th century saw a rise in variety and quantity of toys produced. Children of the time had gotten a chance to play with new kinds of puzzles like John Spilsbury’s jigsaw puzzle from 1767. John Jefferys’ board games from 1750’s were predecessors of modern day Monopoly or Risk and used the same gameplay that modern day board games do.

Spilsbury puzzle

19th century made mass production available at last which meant that even more kids could get the chance to lay their hands on some of the games that were produced then. Kaleidoscope was invented in 1817 by Sir David Brewster and became instantly popular as Scottish inventor sold over 200,000 pieces of it within three months time, only in Paris and London, largest markets of the time. Middle of the 19th century saw the production of doll houses and porcelain dolls for girls and toy trains which reflected railway’s rise to prominence, for boys.

Porcelain doll

At last, the 20th century had opened up mass markets and nothing else remained the same after that. Toy after toy was becoming invented and the first half of 20th century gave us Meccano, die-cast toys, and railway sets. All this has to be accredited to Frank Hornby, English inventor from Liverpool which used simple ideas and his extensive knowledge of mechanics to create toys which are still being collected and played with today.


During the time of WWII, while whole global industry was oriented to everything else besides the toys, nothing new was produced, but from the ashes of war, new era emerged. For some time, we had stuffed animals, but then we got Mr. Potato Head and Barbie in the 1950’s, and Action Man figures in 1966. Danish company Lego started producing their recognizable interlocking plastic construction sets in 1950’s as well. 1970’s revolutionized the way in which children play and even offered new, fun way for adults to allow their inner child some fun time.

Mr. Potato Head

Mr. Potato Head

Pinball machines and arcades remained popular until mid-nineties when new generation of consoles based upon CD-ROM (read: Sony Play Station) technology replaced older 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System and 16-bit Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. With advancements in technology and lowering of Personal Computers’ cost, these commodities became available to almost anyone, and so were modern video games and social networks which are responsible for most of the lost time for today’s children. What comes after this? Only time will tell.

Share on Pinterest

Leave a Reply