Toys from the 1960s may not have been on the top of wish lists for kids in the 1970s … but we ended up with them anyway while pining for the new stuff.
Whether they were classic toys that were still being sold on retail toy shelves, or whether they came express from a local garage sale or hand-me-down pile, these oldies provided an ample supplement for our toy supply.
But there was usually a downside … missing parts … broken pieces … creepy dolls.
They were all rampant.
When it came to toys, though, you pretty much took what you could get.
And when it came to what you could get, these ten toys from the 1960s seemed to be everywhere, and they haunted our childhoods.
(Date of origin in parentheses, if known.)
Jarts (Ye Old Medieval Days?)
Also known as yard darts, Jarts have been around forever, it seems, though there has been a ban on their sale in the United States since at least the 1970s.
Hard to say, really. Some folks seem to have an objection to allowing kids to play with weighted, aerodynamic weapons that you launch into the sky and then wait to come down while the plebes scurry for safety down below.
Ostensibly, you’re supposed to make rings out of the hose/tube things that came with the kits originally, forming a sort of target on the ground.
In reality, most of us got our Jarts (or still get our Jarts) from garage sales or as hand-me-downs, so stuff is missing.
And that means the targets can be a little less well-defined.
Mr. Potato Head (1952)
This is one of those toys that was actually still available in stores and popular when I was a kid … and even when my kids were kids.
But, as you can see in the video below, the concept for Mr. Potato Head was first presented to kids as some sort of hideous Franken-tuber thing that must have led to all sorts of nightmares and almost surely at least a few horror novels.
The really “haunting” part about Mr. Potato Head, though, are the lost pieces.
No matter if you bought this thing at a garage sale, or at K Mart, or if you found it jammed between the seats of that 1977 Pinto your dad picked up at Randy’s Auto, there are body parts missing.
And let me tell you … it’s frustrating and disturbing to go through life with your little plastic, lumpy “doll” sporting one eye, an arm in one earhole, hair for a mouth, and a bunch of empty sockets.
That butt-trunk thing does little to help you keep stuff together, either.
Mouse Trap Game (1963)
The Mouse Trap game was a tough one.
I mean, what kid wouldn’t be mesmerized by all the whiz-bang gadgetry packed into that one little swatch of tabletop magic?
None I know of.
Problem was, no self-respecting parent would actually pay good money for this hunk of Rube Goldberg wannabe madness. Not only would their kids lose vital pieces within the first fifteen minutes and waste all that coinage, but they might actually want their parents to play along.
Of course, most of those defenses would come tumbling right down when little Tommy spied a copy of this monster at the local garage sale for a quarter or less.
How could you deny him?
You probably couldn’t, but it’s a path to doom.
Because, you know, all you’re doing is buying that other parent’s heartache out from under him, and setting yourself up for a late, late night of sobbing when your kid realizes that 74.1% of the pieces are missing.
You’ve been warned.
Operation Game (1965)
So, Operation suffers from the same malady that many of the others on this list do — lots of missing parts that go missing the moment you open the box.
And if you buy the thing second-hand or have it handed down, you’re taking on someone else’s toy debt.
But even beyond the regret of half-toy sadness, Operation ratchets up another favorite childhood sensation … abject anxiety.
It wasn’t enough that our braces were the size of bike tires or that our hand-me-down clothes didn’t fit or that we had dried Spaghetti-Os juice on our faces.
Nope, we had to spend our play time in mortal fear of a loud buzzer and a flashing red nose light that announced our failures to the world.
And there was always that thought in the back of our minds that this toy might actually electrocute us.
Corn Popper Vacuum (1957)
This is a classic kids toy that has been helping kids hone their domestic skills for more than six decades now.
The problem is, this is a little kids toy. And when those little kids outgrow this baby, their parents put it in the garage sale pile.
And then … well, some poor six-year-old schlep ends up on the yard sale circuit with his mother, and in a moment of desperation after trouncing through scores of sales with nothing but clothes, the corn popper vacuum starts looking pretty good.
It’s the kid equivalent of beer beauty.
In the end, the poor, unwitting child ends up at home with a toy meant for a toddler, and it usually has the teeth marks and pablum stains to prove it.
Usually comes with a side of derision and ridicule from siblings, friends, and maybe even a father or two.
Etch A Sketch (1960)
Don’t get me wrong here — Etch A Sketch is great.
And the technology was amazing for the time, allowing kids to create endless doodles all from one little pad of magnets and metal shavings wrapped in plastic casing.
But there were some problems …
First, it was damn near impossible to draw anything but boxes and maybe smiley faces, unless you were a Picasso of the Knobs. Even then, making ends meet was tough.
And as Etch a Sketches aged, they started to leave behind little clues about their past. A hunk of blocky tree here, a snippet of scribbly dog there, and soon there was little room left for new creations.
It was the original screen burn-in.
If you did manage to create a masterpiece, you either retired your Etch a Sketch, or you shook it up and lived on memories.
And, if you landed a garage sale or hand-me-down model, all bets were off — as were the knobs in a lot of cases.
Little Miss No Name (1965)
In full disclosure, I don’t really remember this doll … but I remember other dolls that were apparently inspired by this one.
Lonely, forlorn, desperate feeling.
I mean, come on — Little Miss No Name??? And if you found this tyke in a junk bin at a garage sale … good lord, she was just thrown away!
Awful stuff, and a sort of mascot for our latchkey generation.
Electric Football (1948)
I’m 97% sure that electric football games have never been available for purchase anywhere other than a garage sale, or maybe — very slight possibility — at a flea market.
It’s an awesome toy, though. It has …
Big, colorful playing field
Little foam footballs
So, like, pretty much everything — on paper, at least.
In real life, there are problems, like missing and broken plastic players, missing foam footballs, electrical shock, numb hands from touching the vibrating field.
And then there is the “action” … set it all up (approximate time 10 minutes), turn on the switch, watch the guys either gel into a ball of plastic or jitter around the field aimlessly, wait until someone touches the ball carrier, shut off the switch.
Do it all again.
Like A Tale of Two Cities with an extra jolt.
Push-Button Mini Puppets (whenever Hell was founded)
You could buy these mini-puppets at the back of a truck stop near the bathrooms where the long-haul guys decompressed …
Or you could buy them at garage sales.
If you got them new, they were tight and squeaked when you popped the bottom of the base. And if you pushed it just right, the figure would collapse completely, like maybe Mickey got into the rat poison again.
If you got them at a garage sale, things were probably a little looser. Maybe some of the strings that ran up inside the thing were even broken. Or maybe had been broken and then got restrung, but probably not quite right.
Either way, these puppets were a consolation prize when you couldn’t get or afford a real toy, and they were nightmare fuel.
Easy-Bake Oven (1963)
I’m treading on sacred ground here. I get that.
And the Easy-Bake Oven is great. You can make real food, and it tastes pretty good. I have several firsthand experiences over the last 40 years or so to back that up.
But these are not cheap, so the average 1970s kid wasn’t likely to land one of their very own, first-run. Especially the average boy, but that’s a story for another day.
What we could do, maybe, was finagle a garage sale model.
But like most of the items on this list, the garage sale version of Easy-Bake is a dollars-to-doughnuts favorite to be missing parts.
Only, those “parts” in this case are going to be the foodstuffs you need in order to actually make stuff.
And good luck getting your bargain basement parents to pony up for replacements.
So … which toys from the 1960s were your favorites? And did you get them first-run, or were they hand-me-downs of some sort or another?
Do, say, Colorforms make your list?
And kids from the 80s didn’t get off easy, either — check our list of five popular toys from the 1980s that still haunt big-hair kids today.