In 1974, Barbie’s little sister Skipper was portrayed hitting puberty. With a flick of her arm, Skipper grew three-quarters of an inch, slimmed and grew “a modest pair of breasts,” outraging parents and the National Organization for Women.

Other dolls that raised objections included Puerto Rican Barbie; Share-a-Smile Becky, who was in a wheelchair; and Dentist Barbie, skewered in The Times by Maureen Dowd. When Christie, an African-American friend of Barbie’s, was introduced in 1968, she was criticized for her vapid prerecorded phrases.

In 1993, a group of guerrilla artists calling themselves the Barbie Liberation Organization went so far as to swap the voice boxes of G.I. Joes and Barbies and place them back on store shelves.

Mattel hoped the doll would “broaden girls’ vision of what’s possible” with its “Barbie for President 2000,” complete with a Girls’ Bill of Rights.

Critics included Patricia Schroeder, a former Colorado congresswoman and onetime presidential candidate, who wrote in an Op-Ed: “Portraits of past presidents tell us that being a hunk is definitely not a job requirement. So why should we feel great about a message that says a woman can go to the White House if she looks like Barbie?”

Toy soldiers


G.I. Joe on display in 1982.

Don Hogan Charles/The New York Times

The toy soldier has been at the mercy of changes in the adult world, increasing in strength and complexity during national militarization, but stumbling when war becomes too real or unpopular. Toward the end of the Vietnam War, some stores even refused to stock war-related toys. This was a particularly delicate problem for Hasbro, the makers of G.I. Joe, which was carefully branded “America’s Movable Fighting Man.”

In 1988, The Times’s editorial board warned about the effects of G.I. Joe and He-Man saturation in young minds. But as time wore on, it didn’t appear to matter much for G.I. Joe. A Hasbro representative told The Times the company was seeing “mostly adult sales” of the toy by 1998.

The hula hoop


The hula hoop craze twirled through the United States in 1958. Children and adults spun the hoops around not only their waists but also their arms, necks, chests, shoulders and legs.

Eddie Hausner/The New York Times

The hula hoop startled the world in the summer of 1958 with its simplicity and the gyrations required to keep it aloft. By fall, the hoop had spread to London, Paris and Tokyo — where the allure was tempered when the toy was blamed for injuries, burns and a death.

In the spring of 1959, the hula hoop was already being labeled a short-lived fad with the rise of the Diavolux and, in 1961, the yo-yo.

In the aftermath of their fall from the hip, hula hoops became a cultural reference point for things in decline, with furniture, female jockeys and other items or people claimed to be going the way of the hula hoop.

In 1988, hula hoops surprised everyone, including the manufacturers, with a surge in popularity. As our reporter Richard W. Stevenson wrote:

The sociological significance of the Hula Hoop in 1988 remains open to question. Perhaps the rediscovery of the hoop by members of the aging baby-boom generation is an expression of yearning for lost youth. Perhaps it is a way of getting some low-impact, aerobic exercise in an age of ever-increasing health consciousness. It could even be that, after years of video games, Lazer Tag and computer-driven teddy bears, children have a new appreciation for simple toys.

Cabbage Patch Kids


Cabbage Patch Kids on display in 1990.

Chester Higgins/The New York Times

Whether it was the schtick of adoption papers, the individualization of each doll or a psychological need to provide care, Cabbage Patch Kids quickly outpaced their cohort of gentle toys on the market in 1983.

By November they were in fierce demand, with some customers willing to paying twice the regular price. The news media scrambled to profile the inventor, and other doll makers stepped forward claiming credit. Nancy Reagan, the first lady, was questioned about her source for the coveted dolls, but kept it a secret.

The next year, there was a camp for Cabbage Patch Kids, and stores started stocking up in October. As Christmas neared, the dolls were scarce, and their birthplace in Georgia had become a place of pilgrimage. On Christmas Eve, parents were still on waiting lists for Cabbage Patch Kids that would never arrive in time. The toy’s decline finally came in 1985, when Teddy Ruxpin and others toppled the squishy megahit, whose sales exceeded half a billion dollars before the craze waned.

The Rubik’s Cube


Rubik’s Cube, photographed in 1980.

Keith Meyers/The New York Times

The Rubik’s Cube, “a fiendishly hard puzzle that requires you to align cubes of the same colors,” as The Times described it in 1980, was intended as a practical gift for adults in a nation still in a malaise, but was quickly adopted by children, who had more patience.

The first person to try her skill publicly with the cube in the United States was Zsa Zsa Gabor, who was hired to promote the creation of her fellow Hungarian, Erno Rubik, a teacher of architecture and design in Budapest.

At 13, Patrick Bossert became the youngest author on the New York Times best-seller list with his book “You Can Do the Cube.” By 1982, trend spotters declared that the Rubik’s Cube was being overtaken by E.T. and video games.

The first video games


Atari video games on display in New York in October 1981.

Dith Pran/The New York Times

By 1982, home video games rivaled the profitability of the film business. Home game consoles and cartridges settled into steady but less drastic growth in the late ’80s. Home computers stepped in as competition, and dolls and teddy bears grew more sentient and chatty.

In 1988, Nintendo, a 99-year-old playing card company from Japan with a deep bench of beloved arcade game characters (Donkey Kong and the Mario Brothers), released a home game console that took over 80 percent of the market in one year. And the next year, Nintendo released the Game Boy in competition with the Atari Portable Entertainment System and cemented its hold on consumers.

Or at least for a little while. The target audience is nothing if not fickle.


This child seemed a little reluctant to accept his present from Santa at an employees’ party at Brooklyn Hospital. The hospital also had a party for patients in the children’s section.

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