A Brief History of Nerf (or Nothin')

iStock / popovaphoto
iStock / popovaphoto

The Nerf brand has been bringing kids foamy fun for over four decades now, but the company’s history might not be as familiar to you as the perfect technique for a crushing Nerfoop dunk. Let’s take a look at the Nerf nitty gritty.

It Was Supposed to Be a Volleyball Game

Although Nerf has become the leading name in spongy backyard warfare, its roots were decidedly less violent.

Inventor Reyn Guyer had enjoyed early success by creating the game Twister, and in 1968 he started Winsor Concepts to dream up new toy and game ideas. While working on a caveman-themed game, one of Guyer’s team members began bouncing one of the game’s foam “rocks” over a net. The designers realized that they were onto something and began developing a whole line of games based on foam balls.

Guyer initially took the game ideas to Milton Bradley, the company that had found a hit with his Twister invention. The game giant passed on Guyer’s creation, though. Undeterred, Guyer then pitched the foam games to Parker Brothers.


Mike Mozart, Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Parker Brothers wasn’t crazy about the actual games, but they loved the idea of a foam ball that kids could safely play with indoors. The company decided to market just the ball as its own toy. In 1969 Nerf made its debut in the form of the four-inch polyurethane foam Nerf Ball, which Parker Brothers dubbed “the world’s first indoor ball.” After the plain old Nerf ball became a runaway hit, Parker Brothers contracted with Guyer to make the wider array of foam games that he had originally envisioned.

The most memorable of these line extensions was surely the Nerf football, which bounced onto the scene in 1972. The Nerf football actually represented a bit of a technical change for the product line. Parker Brothers made the original Nerf balls by spinning foam on a lathe and cutting it with a piece of hot wire. Making the football, on the other hand, entailed pouring liquid foam into a mold. The resulting ball had a thick outer covering that helped it behave like an ordinary football.

Some of the other Nerf spinoffs failed to achieve the notoriety of the Nerf football. By the time the 80s rolled around, Parker Brothers had started making things like Nerf Pool, Nerf Ping Pong, and, of course, Nerf Table Hockey. The company even started a line of Nerful action figures that looked like anthropomorphic Nerf balls.

The Nerf brand has changed hands several times over the years. In 1987 Tonka purchased Kenner Parker Toys, the then-owner of the Parker Brothers brand, and in 1991 the brand moved again when Hasbro acquired Tonka. Hasbro has held onto the brand and helped it flourish; a 2010 Business Week report pegs the Nerf division’s annual revenues at $150 million.

“It’s Nerf or Nothin’!”

Nerf’s major coup for a whole generation of kids, though, was its introduction of foam weaponry. Sure, tossing a Nerf football around was fun, but shooting your buddies with soft foam balls? That’s real entertainment!


Jack Taylor / Getty Images

In 1989 Nerf debuted the Blast A Ball, small pinkish cannons that fired golfball-sized foam projectiles, but the 1991 introduction of the Nerf Bow and Arrow cemented the brand’s reputation as the armorer of kids everywhere. The 90s saw Nerf further expand its array of blasters into guns that fired missiles, balls, and suction-cup darts.

The blaster line is still buoying the brand’s sales; in 2009 Nerf even reintroduced the familiar old ad slogan “It’s Nerf or Nothin’!” The weapons are more technologically advanced now, though. The Raider Rapid Fire CS 35 has a capacity of 35 suction darts; the newer Nerf Stampede ECS is a fully automatic blaster that cranks out three darts per second. These toys sound a bit more sophisticated than the old Blast A Ball. (Although my brother and I can attest that the Blast A Ball was great for whacking each other even once its ammunition had been lost.)

All of this extra firepower has come at a price, though. In 2008 Nerf had to recall its N-Strike Recon Blaster after at least 46 reports of kids sustaining injuries while firing the gun. The blaster’s plunger firing mechanism had a nasty tendency of catching users’ skin as it flew forward, which let to welts and bruises on kids’ faces, necks, and chests. [Taylor Lautner image credit: © RAY STUBBLEBINE/Reuters/Corbis]

What does "Nerf" mean?

Some sources claim that “NERF” is an acronym for “Non-Expanding Recreational Foam,” but that story seems too good to be true. Reyn Guyer’s personal website explains that Parker Brothers named the balls after the foam that off-road drivers use to wrap their rollbars.

And while we’re asking questions, what happened to the original prototype Nerf ball? Tim Walsh had the answer in his terrific book, Timeless Toys: Reyn Guyer held onto it. Each year his family uses it as an ornament on their Christmas tree.

10 Splendid Gifts for Royal Family Fanatics

Funko/Amazon
Funko/Amazon

Between the never-ending publicity surrounding Meghan Markle and the long-awaited third season of The Crown on Netflix, Americans seem to be tuning into the intimate goings-on of England’s most famous family now more than ever. From corgi-covered socks to a Kate Middleton fashion coloring book, here are 10 brilliant products to help you showcase your passion for all things royal.

1. Royal Windsor Monopoly; $56

windsor castle monopoly
Winning Moves Games/Amazon

Forget Baltic Avenue and Marvin Gardens—take your tiny top hat on a tour of the Windsor grounds, from St. George’s Chapel to Eton College. This edition of Elizabeth Magie’s classic board game still has many opportunities for taxes, bankruptcy, and jail, but with an undeniable air of sophistication.

Buy It: Amazon

2. Corgi Socks; $7

corgi socks
Hot Sox

Celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s long-standing love for corgis by sporting some of the smiling puppers on your very own two feet.

Buy It: Amazon

3. Princess Diana Funko POP! Doll; $9

princess diana funko pop doll
Funko/Amazon

While you’re waiting to see Emma Corrin portray Princess Diana in season four of The Crown, treat your toy shelf to a Funko Diana doll, clad in her iconic black gown. There are more royal Funkos, too, like Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Harry, and Kate Middleton.

Buy It: Amazon

4. Twinings Earl Grey Tea; $9

twinings earl grey tea
Twinings/Amazon

Twinings has been the official tea supplier of the Royal Household since the 19th century, and according to former royal chef Darren McGrady, the Queen likes Earl Grey the best. If you really want to mirror the monarch’s preferences, add a splash of milk—but skip the sugar.

Buy It: Amazon

5. Royally British Mug; $16

royally british mug
Victoria Eggs/Amazon

What better way to sip the Queen’s favorite tea than from a teacup bearing symbols of her kingdom? Not only is this 12-ounce bone china mug hand-illustrated with Balmoral Castle, Windsor Castle, and Buckingham Palace, it also features all of the UK’s national flowers: England’s rose, Wales’s daffodil, Scotland’s thistle, and Northern Ireland’s shamrock.

Buy It: Amazon

6. Kate Middleton Royal Fashions Coloring Book; $4

kate middleton fashion coloring book
E.R. Miller Designs

Kate Middleton manages to stick to the many royal family fashion rules while still stepping out in some impressively voguish ensembles. Add your own polychromatic flair to her most memorable looks in this coloring book, with special appearances by Prince William and more.

Buy It: Amazon

7. How to Speak Brit; $16

how to speak brit book
Avery/Amazon

Though the royal family doesn’t likely deign to speak the slang of the masses, How to Speak Brit also contains plenty of posh phrases, along with explanations of how they came to be. This dictionary-slash-cultural-study is handy for anyone who watches Downton Abbey, The Great British Bake Off, or any other British television series or film.

Buy It: Amazon

8. LEGO Buckingham Palace Set; $72

lego buckingham palace set
LEGO/Amazon

This 780-piece buildable version of Queen Elizabeth II’s primary residence includes a double-decker bus, black cab, and the Victoria Memorial. It also comes with a booklet on the design, architecture, and history of Buckingham Palace.

Buy It: Amazon

9. Royal Carriage Jewelry Box; $17

qifu royal carriage jewelry box
Qifu/Amazon

We can’t all roll up to special events in a gold-embellished stagecoach, but we can store our jewelry in one. The Fabergé egg-inspired design of this carriage makes it a perfect mantelpiece decoration, too.

Buy It: Amazon

10. Buckingham Palace Jigsaw Puzzle; $30

buckingham palace jigsaw puzzle
Gibsons/Amazon

This 1000-piece puzzle depicts the scene at Buckingham Palace during the Queen’s birthday celebration. In the image, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip are trotting off to Horse Guard's Parade for Trooping the Colour, the Queen’s annual inspection of the military.

Buy It: Amazon

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