Yes, it’s real. There is a National Toy Hall of Fame. And why not? In the history of toys, some stand out as exceptional. These are toys that are timeless but also unique or progressive for their place in history. They’re often so good, so ubiquitous that we take them for granted. We’re talking about toys like Alphabet Blocks, the Hula Hoop, View-Master and Etch A Sketch. Established in 1998, and acquired by Strong National Museum of Play (‘The Strong’) in Rochester in 2002, the National Toy Hall of Fame includes games too, like Twister, Nintendo Game Boy, Dungeons & Dragons, and Chess. The term ‘toy’ is interpreted quite loosely all-around, as illustrated by the 2008 induction of the Stick, (yes, the kind from a tree).

As we’d expect from any hall of fame, inductees meet stringent selection criteria: icon-status, longevity, discovery (fosters learning, creativity, or discovery through play), and innovation. These products are game changers (pun intended). Just 62 toys are in the collection to date, with only 2 or 3 additional toys inducted during a typical year. You’ll be happy to know that Super Soaker made the cut (inducted 2015).

As a current-day toy designer, I’m thrilled to glean some lessons from these classics. So hop on a Swing (inducted 2016) or kick back in your Radio Flyer Wagon (inducted 1999) and let’s consider a few favorites and why we love them so much.

Crayola Crayons

This star is like a rainbow star. And it has a frame. I thought I was going to make a (normal) star, then this popped into my head. I made a rainbow star. I’m going to draw a rainbow heart if I have a little time.    – Andrew, 7

With crayons, the options are endless, so they offer a new mental and creative experience each time the kiddo gets a new drawing idea. Individuality is the name of the game. And at two bucks for 16, just about every kid has crayons: they’re a great equalizer. Crayola sold their first boxes of crayons in 1903, and they cost five cents.

Erector Set

They are cool because you can make whatever you want and you can also make stuff that moves.    – Jonas, 8

Remember this one? For your ‘8-88 year-old,’ this is pre-mechanical engineering at its best. At the core of this toy is the experience of focus. It’s enthralling and even a bit meditative to build an Erector contraption. When Erector Sets were advertised in 1913 newspaper ads, STEM for girls wasn’t on anyone’s radar: “Hello, Boys!” the ads began, “Make lots of toys!”

 

Stick

I can draw with it.    – Bea, 3

I can throw it in the sky.    – twin sister, Lula, 3

No, you didn’t misread. And it’s not a code word for a Pokémon character. Just a stick. Probably the oldest toy of all time, this one is 100% about imagination. Even in our tech-obsessed world, a child’s exposure to nature enhances “social, emotional, and physical health,” according to the National Association for Education of Young Children (NAYCE).

Mr. Potato Head

I love that it will surprise me that Mr. Patootie Head has toys in his back.     – Eva, 4

Mr. Potato Head started out as a Styrofoam head back in the 1950s. Mr. P has many current day iterations; did you know you could order him (or her!) with necessary fixin’s to be a Viking, knight, fairy or mermaid? Mr. Potato Head is all about the silly factor. Mr. Potato Head was the first toy ever advertised on TV, in 1952.

Hot Wheels

I have a lot of cars. I have black and blue. Black is fastest.    – Noah, 3

Rolling things is an obvious hit with kids, and Hot Wheels does a great job of not dumbing down their product. The vehicles look real, which is a huge value-add and helps make them timeless. Mattel wanted an authentic look, so hired a real car designer from Chevrolet to lead their Hot Wheels design team.