Remember back to when you were a kid and around your birthday, or holidays, all you could think of was what “swell” toy you were going to get as a gift? Yes, “swell” was the equivalent of the word “cool” today; its usage popularized by “The Beaver”, his brother, Wally, and their friend Eddie Haskell. Kids continuously updated their list of “swell” toys, as new ones came out, so parents, relatives, or Santa Claus would know their gift picks. In case you might have forgotten all the swell toys that used to be around from 1958 to 1968 – and still are – 5 of the most asked for Boomer-toys to remind you.
1. Barbie. Who could forget Barbie with her skin tight clothes, skimpy bikinis, and body proportions that caused anxiety about body-image in generations of women for years to come. Barbie was a product of the Mattel Company, launched in 1959, and was named after one of the company co-founder’s (Ruth Handler) daughter, Barbara Handler. Her official birthday is March 9, 1959 (a Pisces) and came into the world wearing her signature zebra-stripe, strapless swimsuit, in either a blonde or brunette version. In 1989, more money was spent on Barbie clothes than real women’s fashions. Barbie’s fictional name was Barbara Millicent Roberts. She turned 50 in 2009, making her 54 today. Original issue Barbie’s are valuable collector items.
2. Ken. Barbie’s super-fit and handsome boyfriend – also a Mattel creation, named after the Handler’s son, Kenneth, but patterned after the likeness of her husband. Like his girlfriend Barbie, Ken had a fictional name, Kenneth Carson, and was born in 1961 making Ken 52 today. Apparently, Barbie was dating a younger man whom she met on the set of a TV commercial, so their story goes. Ken’s fashion statements were just as important as Barbie’s, shaping boys and men’s fashions for generations. Ken came with permanently molded on underwear, jewelry, and many different outfits to reflect his at least 40 different occupations. The first African American Ken was debuted in 1968 with his counterpart Barbie-like girlfriend Christie following in 1969.
3. GI Joe. Another popular asked for toy for boys, GI Joe was the Hasbro Company’s more “macho” version of Ken, dressed in his commando gear and ready for action. He was launched in 1964 and was sold overseas as Action Man, making Joe 49 this year. GI Joe and his team were experts in the martial arts, weapons and explosives and were always at war with the evil Cobra Command who sought to take over the Free World through terrorism. Where are you now when we need you, GI Joe?
4. Etch A Sketch. If you had this toy you felt like you could do magic. You could draw a picture by turning either of its 2 knobs which disbursed aluminum powder, and then make it disappear in a snap. It came on the toy scene, a product of the Ohio Art Company in 1960 – the peak of the Baby Boom. It is still sold today. It was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1998 and was included with the 100 most memorable toys of the 20th century.
5. Easy Bake Oven. Bet you didn’t know that those little plastic packets of cake frosting that came with Easy Bake Ovens actually inspired real cake manufacturers to put ready made cake frosting into pouches and cans? For little girls everywhere who wanted to be just like Mom, the original Kenner toy, now made by Hasbro, the Easy Bake Oven was THE “toy” to have. The original models back in 1963 used an incandescent light bulb to “bake” cakes. There have been 11 different models of Easy Bakes, but today’s version uses a real heating element instead of the old light bulb. Its popularity has fallen off some since. Yet, back in its heyday, Easy Bake Ovens had sold upwards of 25 million units – to girls and boys alike.