23 Nostalgic Gifts from Every Decade
Get ready for a fun trip down memory lane. You'll recognize some of these gifts from Christmases past—and might even still have them today!
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The gifts everyone had to have
Can you remember the presents you’ve received over the years? Some of them bring back cherished childhood memories, while others make you chuckle. And what about that box in the attic? That nostalgic gift could be worth a tidy sum of money today! Read on to see if your favorites made this list.
World War II led to strict limitations on the production of clothing, media entertainment, and toys. Yet the Slinky, a simple toy made from coiled springs, mesmerized children and adults after it was demonstrated just before Christmas at Gimbels department store in Philadelphia in 1945. “What walks down stairs alone or in pairs and makes a slinkety sound? A spring, a spring, a marvelous thing. Everyone knows it’s Slinky!”
Bubbles also became a thing in the ’40s. Before this, kids might have blown bubbles over a pan in the kitchen, but of course, you couldn’t take this fun to go. Chemtoy (an unfortunate name for a toy company) created a bubble solution with handy wands of all different shapes and sizes. Kids took their little bottles of soapy bubbles out of the kitchen and into the world.
Delicate, embroidered handkerchiefs were also immensely popular in 1948. Although Kleenex was invented years earlier, the paper rations during the war halted tissue production. According to Vintage Everyday, Macy’s sold 300,000 handkerchiefs that year for 33 cents apiece. While those handkerchiefs are probably long gone, look around your house to see what ordinary things you have lying around could be worth money.
Household pests became pets when Uncle Milton’s Ant Farm was introduced. It was fascinating to watch the busy ants go about their day through a framed glass case, making trails in the sand, and interacting with one another.
In this decade, adults and kids were also smitten with singing cowboy Roy Rogers and his pretty cowgirl partner, Dale Rogers. As a result, there were heaps of merchandise devoted to the wholesome duo. Kids could dress head-to-boot as Dale or Roy. And adults coveted themed watches, clocks, and even dinnerware.
While a Paint-by-Numbers Kit may sound quaint to us now, it was new in the 1950s, and people loved it because suddenly anyone could paint like Michelangelo. That’s what the Paint-by-Numbers creator envisioned when he created the kits. Turns out, back in the 16th century, Michelangelo designated sections of his famous ceilings to his students, and pre-numbered sections helped them stay true to his vision. Don’t miss the secret messages in these 10 famous paintings.
If you were part of the peaceful protests and didn’t have a beaded curtain, a beanbag chair, or a peace sign on your wall, then at the very least, you probably had a Lava Lamp—the quintessential groovy decor for any hip bedroom in the ’60s. People fixated on the wavy and swirly globs of colorful wax that evoked a hypnotic “psychedelic” vibe—and those looking for a retro vibe today still do.
Etch-A-Sketch, the doodler’s delight, was so popular during the holiday season of 1960 that according to Time, the factory kept churning them out until noon on Christmas Eve. Two knobs controlled the horizontal and vertical lines, but an Etch-A-Sketch hot shot aced curved lines to create temporary masterpieces. A few shakes and the picture disappeared.
Barbie made her debut in 1959, but in the ’60s, Barbie got herself a Dream House, oodles of accessories and fashions, and a boyfriend named Ken. For kids who preferred action figures, G.I. Joe the American hero came suited up for duty—and in some households rivaled Ken for Barbie’s affection. By the way, these 13 vintage Barbies are worth a fortune today.
The Baby Alive doll was so real, you could give her a bottle or spoon-feed her…and she would poop it out in her diaper. Kind of cool and creepy at the same time, especially if the timing was off and you heard her do her business when the lights were out. The dolls are still made today, and some have a voice to let you know you’re on diaper duty.
There was no hiding your emotions if you got a mood ring for a gift in the ’70s. The liquid crystal in the ring was heat sensitive and turned a specific color—a dead giveaway as to how you were feeling. Blue meant happy, black meant upset, and golden-yellow was insecure. Too bad there was no color for “hangry” back then.
“Breaker, breaker one-nine. Anyone got your ears on?” If you recognize that phrase, you or your parents probably had a CB radio. It was the social Internet of the ’70s, and you didn’t have to be a trucker to have one. A cool handle (screen name) and some CB lingo, like “smokey at exit 7” to alert drivers of state police waiting to nab speeders, and you could anonymously chat with people across the country. Check out another 29 things a 2000s kid will never understand.
“Just a few more clicks and I’ll get it,” except you didn’t. The Rubik’s Cube was (and still is) addictive, frustrating, and exhilarating. Kids and adults took their turns at attempting to unscramble the seemingly never-ending combinations to make each of the six sides a solid color.
Also on everyone’s must-have list in the ’80s: a Koosh Ball. This small rubber ball with squishy spikes might have looked like a colorful porcupine, but it was ouchless, easier to catch, and more portable than a traditional ball. Koosh Balls were stowed in just about everyone’s backpack, locker, or desk, and tossed in school hallways, carpool lanes, and playgrounds everywhere.
The Sony Walkman was a totally tubular way to listen to tunes on cassette without being tied to big headphones connected to a stereo or—barf—listening to the radio when your parents were within earshot. Adults loved it, too: No more boring jogging sessions or train commutes. Check out these nostalgic photos of kids playing before smartphones and technology took over.
A variety pack of Scrunchies meant you could have the quintessential ’90s accessory for your hair or even pile them on your wrist and wear them as bracelets. Far more fashionable and comfortable than a simple hair tie, the Scrunchie formed a loose ruffle when twisted and didn’t give us a migraine from being so tight.
Five bucks wasn’t too much for a cute toy made of PVC pellets and stuffing. Beanie Babies started with nine cute animals stuffed with PVC pellets and stuffing, so you could pose them however you wanted. Some of the originals were Legs the Frog, Chocolate the Moose, Splash the Whale, and Brownie the Bear. Demand initially spiked because they weren’t sold at the local Walmart. Parents and kids could only buy them in independent toy shops.
But those ’90s gifts arguably paled in comparison to this next one. In 1996, it wasn’t uncommon to see people walking out of Kmart with black shopping bags. That’s because the adorable, laughing Tickle Me Elmo had created a consumer and media frenzy. If you were lucky to get one, you definitely didn’t want to advertise it on your way to your car. These are the childhood collections that could make you rich.
You cringed at the idea of a person wearing a blanket with sleeves in public, yet everyone in the commercial did seem warm and happy. Maybe you would wear it just at home…with the drapes closed. Who knows if the Snuggie was a massive success because it was a secret guilty pleasure while couch-surfing or because of the free publicity from late-night jokes and skits. What we do know is that when Oprah wore one on her TV show in 2009, everyone in the audience got one.
Riding a sleek Razor conveyed that you not only had independence but also style. Safe for kids and sturdy enough for adults, it was the iconic collapsible mode of transportation for teens to ride to school or meet up. Adults who rode the clunky manual scooter of yesteryear hopped on the Razor, too—only now, it was to get to the subway or the pub. Razor reports a whopping 13 million electric scooters sold around the world since 2000. Here are some more things you’re never too old for.
Whether you got it as an office gag gift or bought it as a legit tool to reinforce your New Year’s resolution to tone up, the Shake Weight was a huge “As seen on TV” hit. It was the infomercial you couldn’t turn away from. What could provoke more jokes and giggles than an attractive model shaking an oscillating dumbbell? With its sexually suggestive nature, the infomercial quickly led to hilarious late-night jokes, memes, and, of course, the unforgettable, gut-busting Saturday Night Live parody.
Even if you’re more of a dog person than a cat person, you’ve probably played Exploding Kittens at some point. It’s the kind of fast-paced, strategic card game that makes you laugh so hard, your cheeks hurt. But look carefully if you want to drop one in your cart. There’s a kid-friendly version and an explicit version for grown-ups.
How many Silly Bandz can a kid stretch and wrap around their wrist and up their arm? More than you want to pick up off the floor later. Sold in theme packs (like the alphabet, zoo, dinosaur, princess, etc.), they were inexpensive and sold anywhere there was a cash register. Believe it or not, these childhood toys are now worth thousands.