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National Toy Hall of Fame Inducts 3 Classics for 2022

Lite-Brite, Masters of the Universe action figures and the top are latest entries

Hall of Fame toys Lite-Brite, He-Man, and a top
Alamy/Getty Images

Three toys — the top, Lite-Brite and Masters of the Universe action figures — were inducted Nov. 10 into the National Toy Hall of Fame at a ceremony held at the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York.

The three inductees were among a dozen classic toys competing this year for entry into the hall of fame, hoping to join 77 previous inductees, including Clue, Scrabble and Rubik’s Cube.

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While the top is “as old as civilization itself,” Christopher Bensch, vice president for collections at the Strong museum, noted in October when the 12 finalists were announced that the 1980s classic Masters of the Universe has also “greatly influenced the world of play.”

The hall of fame was established in 1998 to recognize toys that have inspired creative play and enjoyed popularity over a sustained period. Each year, new honorees are inducted — based on the advice of a panel of historians, educators and other individuals — that exemplify learning, creativity and discovery. 

The nine finalists not selected for the hall this year were bingo, Breyer Horses, Catan, Nerf toys, the piñata, Phase 10, Pound Puppies, Rack-O and Spirograph.

Here’s more about the three new inductees and the nine other finalists.

1. Bingo

The game, which traces its roots to a 16th-century lottery game in Italy, is simple enough. In America, players are given a printed card with a grid containing 25 numbered squares. The object is to be the first to complete a vertical, horizontal or diagonal line on your card from numbers randomly selected by a caller.

First played as “beano” at carnivals in the United States, it was popularized as bingo in the 1930s by a salesman from New York, Edwin S. Lowe, who stumbled upon it at a carnival in Georgia. Lowe hired a mathematician to devise more than 6,000 unique combinations for his bingo boards. It’s become a popular way for churches and charities to raise money, according to the Strong museum.

2. Breyer Horses

Designed to adorn a mantelpiece clock for Woolworth’s in 1950, the original hand-designed plastic horse was an instant hit with shoppers in Chicago. Breyer Molding Company was flooded with requests and the rest is history, according to the company. The model horses remain beloved collectibles, particularly among young equestrians.

3. Catan

A German board game created by toy designer Klaus Teuber in 1995, Catan involves players establishing settlements on an island by spending resources earned through trade and rolls of the dice. Over 40 million copies have been sold worldwide in more than 40 languages, according to the company.

4. Lite-Brite

The original Lite-Brite produced in 1967 came with 400 plastic pegs in eight colors to be arranged on a black background that would light up to reveal free-form creations or designs from enclosed templates. The toy from Hasbro has gradually changed. Newer models are smaller, making them more portable, and may include LED lights. There are also apps available for smartphones and tablets that emulate the colorful light play, according to the Strong museum.

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5. Nerf toys

Introduced in 1969 as the “world’s first official indoor ball,” the foam ball was developed by native Minnesotan Reyn Guyer (also inventor of Twister) who licensed it and its many Nerf offshoots to Parker Brothers. Guyer had envisioned a variety of Nerf games — starting with volleyball — but Parker Brothers wasn’t interested in them at first, selling the Nerf Ball as a stand-alone toy. It was an instant hit, with millions sold in the first year, according to Hasbro, which now holds the license.

After its initial success, Parker Brothers expanded the line to include Nerf football, Nerf basketball and Nerf disc — and eventually, Nerf shooting toys.

6. Masters of the Universe

If you grew up in the 1980s, He-Man and Skeletor need no introduction. These iconic action figures were the center of Mattel’s Masters of the Universe collection. Although the toys debuted in 1981, the franchise’s popularity exploded with the animated series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, which ran for two seasons starting in the fall of 1983 and included 130 episodes.

7. Piñata

Made of paper-mache and often filled with candies, coins or small toys, piñatas are a common feature at kids’ birthday parties. While blindfolded, the children take turns swinging a stick in hopes of bursting open the toy and exposing the treats inside. Commonly associated with Mexican culture, the piñata may have its origins in China as part of a New Year tradition.

Historians suggest that Marco Polo may have brought the tradition to Europe, where it was adapted to celebrate Lent. However, other historians note that a similar tradition existed in Mexico, where the birth of the Aztec god of war, Huitzilopochtli, was celebrated with the breaking of a clay pot filled with tiny treasures, according to Mexconnect.com.

8. Phase 10

In 1982, 22-year-old Ken Johnson — inspired by the success of Uno — invented a rummy-style card game of his own while living at home in Detroit. The game, which requires players to advance through 10 phases (or melds) to win, remains popular around the globe as it celebrates its 40th anniversary. In fact, Mattel published a special edition boxed set of Phase 10 this year.

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“I’m excited to partner with Mattel to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Phase 10,” Johnson said in a statement. “Since inventing the game in 1982, it’s brought me so much joy to see how this game has become a multigenerational family tradition over the years, transcending languages and cultures to bring people together all over the world.”

9. Pound Puppies

An assembly line worker at Ford Motor Co., Mike Bowling, says the idea for Pound Puppies came to him while thinking how much his daughter loved the doll she received at Christmas. “That’s when it dawned on me that the two things people were most passionate about were their children and their pets. As I considered the pets I had loved, I remembered that every one of them had come from ‘the pound.’ That was the eureka moment, the moment the dream came to life,” he said in an interview with PeopleOfPlay.com.

Rather than simply selling a plush toy, Bowling decided that children would adopt it. Tonka sold more than 2.5 million Pound Puppies in 1985, the year they were introduced in the United States. An animated series further reinforced the commercial power of Pound Puppies, according to the Strong museum.

10. Rack-O

Milton Bradley in 1956 introduced this classic card game, in which players receive 10 cards from a deck of 60 that are placed in a rack as received. The goal is to have the cards arranged from lowest to highest by taking turns drawing a card (or taking one from the top of the discard pile) to replace a card in the rack. The company behind the game was founded by Milton Bradley. Its namesake, who grew up in Massachusetts, created The Checkered Game of Life in 1860, which sold 40,000 copies in its first year, according to the New England Historical Society.

11. Spirograph

The toy designed by British engineer Denys Fisher was first exhibited at the Nuremberg International Toy Fair in 1965 and introduced in the United States in 1966 by Kenner. The original set included 18 plastic “gears” that helped guide colored pens in geometric patterns to create “a million marvelous patterns,” the company advertised.

Educators found in the set a tool for improving hand-eye coordination and for developing creativity, design and spatial thinking and planning, according to the Strong museum. A 1967 edition of the toy is part of the Smithsonian’s collection, although it is not currently on display.

12. Top

Certainly the oldest toy among this year’s finalists, the top continues — in a variety of forms — to entertain children and adults today. Ancient Greek pottery shows women playing with tops more than 2,000 years ago, and modern kids play with this classic toy still, according to the Strong museum. Wooden tops made by Channel Craft in Pennsylvania can be purchased at retail stores and some museum shops.

National Toy Hall of Fame Inductees

Currently there are 80 toys in the National Toy Hall of Fame. Find the full list here.