Robots & Space Toys
Undeniably, the favourite toy of the 1950’s was the Robot. Strong, with X-ray eyes and fire-shooting chests, Mr Atomic, Robby and Mr Mercury could take on the forces of evil.
In no time, the film and TV industry turned their minds to bringing robots to the large and small screens in classics such as Forbidden Planet (1956) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).
Add to a child’s imagination, a mixture of tin plate, sound effects, grinding gears, flashing lights and controls, and you had the perfect recipe for a world full of fantasy and adventure.
Space toys reached the peak of their popularity between the late 1940’s and the 1960’s. The vast quantity and range of toys available was a direct reflection of man’s progress in, and pre-occupation with, space exploration during an exciting era culminating in the lunar landing 1969.
Japanese manufacturers produced the largest range of robots, rockets, flying saucers and other odd, futuristic spacecraft.
Elsewhere, other companies world-wide produced space related items in tin and plastic, but none with the same flair as the inventive Japanese toy makers. Later on, during the 1970’s and 1980’s, toy-makers in China, Russia, Taiwan and Hong Kong cashed in by copying the early Japanese designs, mostly using plastic.
Children’s television series began to appear in the late 1950’s depicting space themes. One of the earliest was Dan Dare who was a futuristic Space Captain, originally portrayed in the Eagle comics and this was, without doubt, the inspiration for the boom in space toy manufacturing to come.
One man was to lead the field in space-related children’s programmes – his name was Gerry Anderson – and he was responsible for Torchy the Battery Boy, The Adventures of Twizzle, Stingray, Fireball XL5, Joe 90, Captain Scarlet, Thunderbirds, Four Feather Falls, Space 1999 and, later on, Terrahawks and Space Precinct.
Many companies realised the commercial potential of producing toys in conjunction with these series – Dinky producing die-cast vehicles such as Penelope’s FAB 1 car (Thunderbirds) and Century 21 Toys, who came up with a series of large plastic battery-operated space-craft (mainly Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and Joe 90).
Later, in the 1960’s, Dr Who was first screened on BBC television, and toys relating to this have proved a huge merchandising success for various manufacturers – toys are still being produced today in conjunction with the series, such as talking Daleks, action figures and action suits.
By far the greatest commercial success of all though in space toy sales came with the Star Wars merchandising following on from the film – a vast range of related items, mostly produced by Kenner, flooded the world market.