Two months ago, if someone said the words “fidget spinner,” you’d look at them like they had two heads. But in those short 60 days, fidget spinners have taken the world (and internet) by storm, creating a new tiny toy fad for everyone from high-energy kids and stressed out college students to grown-ass adults still trying to figure out what the point is. They come in all different shapes and sizes, and are sold everywhere from gas stations to high-end online shops.
While some people relegate them to the same uncool standards as fedora hats and vapes, there’s no denying that fidget spinners are A Thing and, like the Pokémon Go’s, Silly Bands, and Razor Scooters before them, they might be here for a while. When they’re gone, they’ll likely end up on the same nostalgia heap as the rest of the hype toys that have had their day in the sun over the past few decades.
Still, it’s fun to look back over the fidget spinners of yesteryear to reminisce over what kids were playing with back in the day. Here are eight of our favorites:
Manufactured and released in 1993 by Ty Warner Inc. (later renamed Ty Inc.), Beanie Babies lit the toy world on fire in the mid to late ’90s in a way no one could have imagined. What started as quite literally a sack of fabric filled with plastic pellets eventually morphed into something absurdly sought-after, obscenely collectible and worth hundreds of dollars a piece. Literally.
Not only did they release extremely limited special edition bears like Garcia the Bear (in honor of the late Jerry Garcia) and Princess the Bear (for Princess Diana), but people founded actual monthly publications about the beanie bag world.
If you were alive for the Great Beanie Babies Gold Rush, you remember that it seemed for some time that Beanie Babies were establishing themselves as a form of back-alley currency. People quite literally invested in them. And when it all came crashing down in the late ’90s, those same people lost out on millions. Oops.
Before there were smartphones, Instagram and Candy Crush, there were Tamagotchis. If you never owned one, they were basically little digital pets. Users would need to play with them, give them attention, feed them, discipline them and even clean up their poop. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realize they were actually pretty damn annoying.
Nevertheless, they were extremely popular because they fit conveniently in one’s pocket or on a key ring and served as a welcome distraction from schoolwork or other real-life responsibilities. Everyone wanted one, and the craziest part is that, at one point, it seemed like everyone had one—as of 2010, over 76 million units had been sold worldwide.
In fact, this past April (20 years after its original release), the Tamagotchi proved so popular that it got a complete re-release.
Yo-yos were a staple in schools throughout the ’90s, although they’ve actually been popular since way back in the 1920s. Although yo-yos are simply constructed toys without many bells and whistles, the main drawcard is that you can do so many tricks with them – and that’s what made them such popular playground fare.
Yo-yoing is a serious sport, too: according to Wikipedia, the World Yo-Yo Contest has been dominated by the Japanese, who took home 71 World Titles over the past 22 years.
Magic 8 Ball
Magic 8 Balls are one of those things that everyone, no matter one’s age or location, will recognize immediately. While we typically think of them was more of an ’80s or ’90s cultural phenomenon, the Magic 8 Ball as we know it actually came to be in the mid 1950s, after an extensive period of trial and error and some luck from its developers, Albert C. Carter, Max Levinson and Abe Bookman.
Fun fact: the Magic 8 Ball started as The Sysco-Seer, and was housed in a cylindrical device, and then later a crystal ball. It was only after the folks from Chicago’s Brunswick Billiards saw it and commissioned the inventors in 1950 to make the beloved toy we know and love today from black-and-white 8-balls.
The Magic 8 Ball was such a cultural phenomenon that it even landed itself in the top 20 picks on TIME’s “All-TIME 100 Greatest Toys” list.
Etch A Sketch
Another member of TIME’s “All-TIME 100 Greatest Toys List”, the Etch A Sketch is a household name, first invented and released in the 1960s by André Cassagnes and the Ohio Art Company. You know it as a little red rectangle-looking thing with a big flat gray screen that fills with black lead when you start twisting the two white knobs on the bottom of the red square. The knobs control up, down, left and right movement, and when you’ve concocted your masterpiece, you can just shake it and the image goes away. Poof. It’s like Snapchat, but not for nudes.
It doesn’t sound all that interesting and, if I’m being honest, it isn’t. But it is one of those novelties that’ll definitely keep people entertained for a minute, much like fidget spinners are today.
Back when the Etch A Sketch was first release in the early 1960s, it was a massive hit, selling over 600,000 units in its first year alone. It has been inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame, was added to the Toys Industry Association’s (yes, that’s a thing) Century of Toys List, and is 100% a household name.
A staple amongst hippies and stoners, the humble hacky sack has been entertaining grungy types in the West since the ’70s.
The conceit is simple: it’s a ball full of sand or plastic pellets, and you kick it around as long as possible without it touching the ground. There’s not much to it, but hey, fidget spinners aren’t exactly mind-blowingly complex, either.
Making this list was easy because there isn’t an item on it everyone isn’t already familiar with, and when you want to talk about toy phenomenons, not referencing Pokémon is absolutely criminal. I mean, hell, Microsoft Word even recognizes Pokémon as an autocorrect term—ask me how I know that.
The problem is, Pokémon has seen so much success throughout the world, it’s hard to pinpoint just one of their things. Everybody remembers Pokémon cards, which were actual currency in the late ’90s and early 2000s. We all know about the games that’ve been played on everything from the original Game Boy (Pokémon Red, 1996) to Nintendo 3DS (Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, 2017). For those not keeping count, that’s over 20 years. Feel old yet?
And most recently, we’ve seen the Pokémon Go craze, which turned the world on its head for about a month last summer. For those who don’t recall, people went absolutely batshit over it. People got into fatal car accidents, people got robbed, and there were literal stampedes over “rare” non-existent Pokémon. They were the best of times and the worst of times.
Believe it or not, there was a time in world history—perhaps not even that long ago—when people used to find joy – real actual joy – in doing physical activities. The Skip It is the perfect example. It was little more than a bunch of colored plastic that slips around a person’s ankle, and is then spun around and skipped over. The coolest thing about them was that they came with a counter. And that was honestly it.
But it took the world by storm. In fact, in the early 1990s, Skip-It’s then-CEO described the time period as “The Skip-It Rennaissance”, because sales literally doubled over the prior decade’s. Parents loved it because it encouraged kids to go out and do things, even if that thing was just jumping up and down a bunch of times. Kids loved it because they didn’t know any better and couldn’t send nudes on Snapchat yet.
Skip-It did try for a re-release in 2013 (knuckles deep into the smartphone revolution) and sales were expectedly dismal. But hey, it was fun while it lasted!
Of course, how could we forget our beloved, creepy-ass friend, Furby. These furry little electronic gadgets, released in 1998 by Tiger Electronics, were kind of a weird mix between an owl, a porcupine and a gremlin. Best of all? For the times, they were cool because they had motion sensors that helped them know when they were moved, when someone was looking at them and so on. Other than that, they didn’t really do much else.
But the demand for them was insane. In fact, during their three-year heyday from 1998 to 2001, over 40 million units were sold—over 27 million of which were sold in just one 12-month period. While they retailed for around 35 bucks, it wasn’t uncommon for them to fetch hundreds of dollars a pop on the resale market because supplies were so scarce.
Probably the last great viral toy craze of the ’90s, Furby’s might be gone, but we’ll never, ever forget them.
It seems like in the age of the Fidget Spinner, Chatter Rings would be a very welcome second cousin of sorts. The toys are really simple, and comprise nothing more than a ring of thick metal and four or five weighted beads.
The user takes the beads, spins them very quickly around the ring to get them spinning, and then starts spinning the ring to keep the beads from stopping. The sound is suuuuuuuper satisfying, and they’re actually quite a bit of fun if you can get your hands on a set.
They were absolutely massive in places like New Zealand, Australia and parts of the Asian Pacific in the ’90s, but they never really made a huge splash in the States or Europe. If you’re an Aussie or Kiwi, though, these were likely a huge part of your childhood!
On the topic of toys, Barbie’s Ken just got a new diverse makeover.
- Lead image: Xavier Rossi