History of Toys
During the excavation of an ancient Sumerian city, figurines of humans, animals and leather balls were found, which date back to 2600 BC and are considered toys. At the same time, children in other parts of the world probably played with similar toys. For example, clay elephants and horses on wheels found in India date back to 2500 BC, and clay dolls with movable limbs found in the Ukraine were made in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC.
The earliest written historical reference to toys dates back to about 500 BC and is associated with Greece. It is a kind of yo-yo made of wood, metal or painted terracotta. However, it is believed that the yo-yo originated much earlier in China. The Chinese are also credited with the creation of the kite, which remains popular even though it was known as a toy as early as 1000 BC.
Later, toys were made of copper, bronze and precious metals in India, ivory, amber and even marble in ancient Greece and Rome, and in Ukraine, clay toys were decorated with paintings and colored clay and turned into true works of folk art.
And as we think about what toys our descendants will be exploring in a millennium, it's worth recalling the history of some of today's most popular cult toys, both those that have become classics and those that are still gaining popularity.
The name LEGO is an abbreviation of two Danish words, leg Godt, which means play well. This is not only the name, but also the basic principle of play. Over the past 85 years, the company has come a long way, from a small carpenter's workshop to a modern global company that is now one of the world's largest toy manufacturers.
In the 1930s, Ole Kirk Christiansen set up a workshop in the village of Billund, Denmark. The company produces ladders, ironing boards, stools and wooden toys. The founder's son, Godtfred Kirk Christiansen, starts working in the business at the age of 12. The company produces its first wooden LEGO duck and sells the first Kirk's Sandgame construction toy.
In the 1940s, the LEGO factory suffered a devastating fire, but production soon resumed. The company bought the first plastic injection molding machine in Denmark and developed the first prototype of interlocking LEGO bricks in four basic colors. Another 10 years later, the company launched the revolutionary LEGO System of Play platform and began its global expansion.
Founded in 1932 and now owned by the grandson of founder Kjeld Kirk Christiansen, LEGO has an impressive history of success. The British Toy Retailers Association named the LEGO construction set Toy of the Century.
Despite many improvements, the basic product remains the traditional LEGO brick. Over the decades, the sets have become more complex and thematically diverse. Medieval, space and urban themes were popular in the eighties and nineties, but in recent years, Lego has acquired the rights to produce toys for major franchises. There are Lego versions of Star Wars, Harry Potter, Minecraft, Lego Disney, Super Mario, Spiderman, and even Stranger Things.
In 2022, LEGO developed a series of figures dedicated to Ukrainian paramedics and servicemen. The prototypes of the toys are Alina Mykhailova, a soldier of the Right Sector Ukrainian Volunteer Corps, Kateryna Halushko, a paramedic of the Hospitallers, and Hanna Arkhipova, who serves in the 93rd separate mechanized brigade Kholodnyi Yar.
In addition to standard Lego bricks, the company also introduced Duplo, which are larger building blocks designed for a younger audience, and Lego Technic, which includes gears, axles and functional mechanisms.
Recently, the famous toy has successfully entered the world of movies, television, and wildly popular video games.
The official story goes that in 1959, Ruth Handler watched her daughter play with paper dolls and re-enact situations from her adult life. That's how the idea of creating a realistic 3D doll was born. Ruth shared this idea with her husband, Elliot Handler. Together with Elliot's business partner, Matt Manson, they founded Mattel and began producing the revolutionary Barbie.
According to legend, Barbara Milicent Roberts (or Barbie doll) was born in a town in Wisconsin and was initially positioned as a teenage fashion model studying in college. However, the doll's appearance was more reminiscent of the glamorous pinup girls of 1950s German comic books: a slender, long-legged blonde or brunette with bright makeup and a bathing suit.
The public greeted the female revolutionary with a cold shoulder. The first doll was sold for just three dollars. Despite the unsuccessful start, Barbie has remained a bestselling toy for more than six decades, as evidenced by the millions of dolls sold worldwide.
During this time, Barbie herself has changed many times, depending on social demands and cultural traditions. She meets her husband, Ken, and has friends. In 1967, the first black Barbie was released, and later Barbie models were developed: a businesswoman, an astronaut, etc.
Under the pressure of criticism for promoting idealized standards of beauty, Barbie becomes shorter and thinner. Mattel creates girls with different bodies, individual characteristics, disabilities, and a variety of races and nationalities. The manufacturer offers a choice of 9 body types, 35 skin tones and 94 hairstyles.
A special line from Mattel is the Inspiring Women series, which features legendary women from the past and present. They include artist Frida Kahlo, singer Ella Fitzgerald, NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, Olympic fencing champion Olga Kharlan, and supermodel Adwoa Aboa.
Today, the company has developed a model with artificial intelligence. Thanks to its built-in camera, microphone, speakers, and Wi-Fi module, the doll communicates with a human and promotes self-learning during the game.
The Barbie brand has a number of successful franchises, including cosmetics, book publishing, stationery, TV series, and video games. In 2015, Barbie began appearing as a video blogger on YouTube, and in 2023, a movie starring Margot Robbie was released that became a trend even before its premiere.
Almost 10 years ago, against the backdrop of an unprecedented rise in civic engagement in Ukraine, a few brave souls decided to create a toy start-up: to make mechanical models of 3D puzzles out of plywood that could move when assembled by themselves.
It was 2014, when the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine ended with the re-election of the government, and Russia took advantage of the situation to annex the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The enthusiasts started with a small production facility with a few laser machines.
Today, UGears is a company of unique wooden mechanical 3D construction kits, puzzles and toys sold in 85 countries. In its early stages, UGears raised over $400,000 on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter and received pre-orders from 3,000 building enthusiasts around the world.
UGears is unique in that it is possible to assemble a mechanical device that moves independently without glue or special tools. The company signed a contract with Walt Disney, becoming the first brand in 22 years to keep its name on packaging.
In 2022, at the beginning of Russia's all-out war in Ukraine, the company's warehouse in Ukraine burned down. But the Ukrainians managed to restart production to fulfill export contracts. UGears has released an exclusive collection, The Age of the Brave: Bayraktar, Tractor, Ghost of Kyiv, and Liberation of Snake Island.
What makes these models special is that they move using rubber bands, gears, and gravity – no batteries or electricity. They are assembled without glue or other tools.
The triumphal procession of Ukrainian toys around the world continues.
My Little Pony
The cute ponies with colorful manes were invented in 1981. Since then, the toy line has been updated several times with new, more modern looks and features. Each new look, developed by the American toy company Hasbro, is referred to by collectors and fans as a generation.
Cartoons about little ponies make the toy especially popular. Released in 2010, My Little Pony has become a cult favorite, especially among girls, from the very young to teenagers.
Invented by Erno Rubik in 1974 and named after the inventor, the puzzle is still an iconic toy for children and adults around the world. Since 2003, the World Rubik's Cube Association has been organizing and holding competitions and events dedicated to the Rubik's Cube. Speedcubing is a popular pastime where people compete to see who can assemble a Rubik's Cube in the fastest time. The current world record is held by 21-year-old Max Park of the United States, who completed a 3x3x3 Rubik's cube in 3.13 seconds.
Today, new models of toys are being developed all over the world every day and though the list of popular ones may be long, the impact of each toy is hard to overestimate. For children and many adults, some toys never go out of style as they are associated with pleasant memories of absolute happiness.