How 10 Classic Toys Were Invented

Arto Alanenpää, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0
Arto Alanenpää, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0 / Arto Alanenpää, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

1. Lincoln Logs

John Lloyd Wright, son of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, invented this classic building set. The original instructions included plans for a replica of Abraham Lincoln's cabin, obviously, but also directions for building Uncle Tom's cabin.

2. Tinkertoys

After a stonemason saw kids building things with pencils and spools of thread, he got the idea for Tinkertoys.

3. Hula Hoops

Hula Hoops have been around forever in various formats, but the official Wham-O toy was invented in 1958. The inventors promoted it by going around to playgrounds and parks, giving children samples and showing them how to use it. That marketing campaign probably wouldn't work today.

4. Sea Monkeys

These little critters are actual live animals called brine shrimp. They were "invented" in 1957 by Harold von Braunhut, the man who invented X-Ray Specs. Brine shrimp are ideal for packaging because they enter a natural (shippable) state of suspended animation in certain environments. When kids release the "monkeys" into the prepared water, they "hatch."

5. Play-Doh

The sculpting clay with the trademarked scent was first sold as a wallpaper cleaner. It was rolled on the walls to remove coal dust.

6. Troll dolls

These ugly-cute dolls were created in 1949 by a Danish fisherman who needed a cheap Christmas gift for his daughter. He used sheep's wool for the hair. Thomas Dam's dolls caught on, which is why the original dolls were called Dam Dolls.

7. Slinky

The Slinky was invented by naval engineer Richard James. While he was working to develop springs that could keep ship instruments stable in choppy waters, he knocked a metal coil off a shelf. The coil did what a Slinky does: It stepped down to a stack of books, then to the table, and then to the floor, where it righted itself into a cylinder. James knew it would be a great toy and tests by neighborhood kids proved him right.


A precursor to the familiar LEGO brick, the plastic Self-Locking Building Brick was developed in the late 1930s by the British toy inventor Hilary Fisher Page. A decade later, a Danish master carpenter named Ole Kirk Christiansen examined the British bricks and designed a similar toy, sold in a set as LEGO Automatic Binding Bricks. LEGO comes from the Danish words leg and godt, which mean "play well." Christiansen later discovered that in Latin, LEGO means "I put together."

9. Raggedy Ann and Andy

The dolls were invented by writer and illustrator Johnny Gruelle. Raggedy Ann was created in 1915 for Gruelle's daughter. Gruelle reportedly named the doll after two poems from book by James Whitcomb Riley: The Raggedy Man and Little Orphan Annie. Ann inspired Gruelle to write stories about her adventures, and in 1918, Raggedy Ann Stories was released. Her brother, Andy, showed up in 1920.

10. Sock Monkeys

The sock monkeys that we have come to know and love today—the ones made with Rockford Red Heel socks—are thought to have come about in 1932. The distinctive red heel (the monkey's mouth) was given to the socks so customers would know they were getting authentic Rockford socks. When the Nelson Knitting Company discovered that their socks were being used across the country for this folk craft, they won the patent for the sock monkey pattern and started including it in the packaging of their socks.