Early this year The Strong’s National Museum of Play announced twelve finalists for induction into the 2021 National Toy Hall of Fame.  The contenders included nominees from previous years, including American Girl dolls, the Battleship board game, billiards (including pool), Cabbage Patch Kids dolls, the Fisher-Price Corn Popper, mahjong, Masters of the Universe action figures, piñatas, the Risk board game, sand, The Settlers of Catan board game, and toy fire engines.

Only three would take their honored places in the Hall this year when they were announced at a ceremony this week at The Strong in Rochester, New York.  The National Toy Hall of Fame recognizes toys “that have engaged and delighted multiple generations, inspiring them to learn, create, and discover through play.”  Criteria for induction include: Icon-status (the toy is widely recognized, respected, and remembered); Longevity (the toy is more than a passing fad and has enjoyed popularity over multiple generations); Discovery (the toy fosters learning, creativity, or discovery through play); and Innovation (the toy profoundly changed play or toy design).  A toy may be inducted on the basis of innovation without necessarily having met all of the first three.  So what made this year’s cut?  American Girl Dolls, the Risk board game, and sand–yep, look out Anakin Skywalker, your least favorite thing is one of the favored playthings of this world.

The Hall of Fame, which began in 1998, is celebrating its 23rd year.  Reviewing the 75 previous inductees should provide you with an incredible flashback of nostalgia: alphabet blocks, the Atari 2600 Game System, baby doll, Baby Nancy doll, ball, Barbie, bicycle, Big Wheel, blanket, bubbles, Candy Land, cardboard box, chalk, checkers, chess, Clue, coloring book, Crayola Crayons, dollhouse, dominoes, Duncan Yo-Yo, Dungeons & Dragons, Easy-Bake Oven, Erector Set, Etch A Sketch, Fisher-Price Little People, Frisbee, G.I. Joe, The Game of Life, Hot Wheels, Hula Hoop, jack-in-the-box, jacks, Jenga, jigsaw puzzle, jump rope, kite, LEGO, Lincoln Logs, Lionel Trains, little green army men, Magic 8 Ball, Magic: The Gathering, marbles, Matchbox car, Monopoly, Mr. Potato Head, Nintendo Game Boy, paper airplane, pinball, Play-Doh, playing cards, puppet, Radio Flyer Wagon, Raggedy Ann and Andy, rocking horse, roller skates, rubber duck, Rubik’s Cube, Scrabble, Silly Putty, skateboard, Slinky, Star Wars action figures, stick, Super Soaker, swing, teddy bear, Tinkertoy, Tonka Trucks, Twister, View-Master, Uno, and Wiffle Ball.

Which of these 12 toys would make your list for 2021?

The beauty of all these toys?  We did some of our own research and about 95% of them are still available for today’s generation of kids.  Just click the toy name above and you’ll find most available at Amazon right now.  Want to spoil your kid and get them one of each of the 78 toys in the Hall (or donate a set to your local community center)?  It’ll cost you about $1,840.

That total is skewed a bit by the more expensive toys on the list:  the current equivalent of the Atari 2600 and Nintendo Gameboy, a bicycle, a dollhouse, the out-of-production 1958 Baby Nancy Doll, an Easy Bake Oven, Lincoln Logs, Lionel Trains, roller skates, and the new inductee American Girl dolls.  Yet 14 toys in the Hall can be purchased for less than $5.00, 31 toys cost less than $10.00, and 60 of the 78 toys in the Hall cost less than $25.00–most of the classics are pretty affordable!  And if you want to save your money, how about getting your kid a cardboard box, a paper airplane, a kite, and a stick for Christmas this year–they’re pretty much free.

What do you think is missing?  How about Spiro-graph?  The Fisher-Price telephone and See ‘n’ Say?  Shrinky Dinks, Colorforms, and the Kaleidoscope?  Finger paints?  The sprinkler?  Playskool cobbler’s bench and mailbox?  Hello Kitty?  Past nominees yet to be inducted include Care Bears, Lite Brite, My Little Pony, Nerf, Pez, Playmobil, pogo stick, Operation, Pac-Man, pots and pans, scooter, Slip ‘n’ Slide, stilts, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers, and the simple top.  The Fisher-Price Corn Popper has had the most nominations without making the final list.

Here are the Hall of Fame’s descriptions of each of this year’s nominees:

American Girl Dolls
Created in 1986 by educator and newscaster Pleasant Rowland, the 18-inch American Girl dolls (and their accompanying books) explore America’s social and cultural history.  Each doll comes with a unique narrative that fits her era, such as Molly McIntire, who is waiting for her father to return home from World War II.  The Pleasant Company released the My American Girl line of dolls in 1995 (originally under the name American Girl Dolls of Today) and designed them to look like their owners.

Battleship
Originally a pencil-and-paper game, Battleship’s inspiration began with similar two-person strategy games in the late 19th century. Various manufacturers printed paper versions beginning in the 1930s and Milton Bradley’s 1967 plastic adaptation became a hit. The game was among the first board games to be computerized in 1979, and today countless electronic versions exist.  

Billiards
Billiards is a blanket term for many different cue sports, but pool—or pocket billiards—is the most common term in the United States. The game evolved from earlier European outdoor games, like croquet in the 14th and 15th centuries, and became extremely popular in the 1800s. While the dedicated poolhalls of yesteryear may be mostly gone, billiards remains a popular form of adult play in arcades, restaurants, bars, and entertainment centers.

Cabbage Patch Kids
When Cabbage Patch Kids launched in 1979, they offered American children a soft, cuddly playmate in a world of hard toys and cold electronics. Consumers could not get enough of the dolls, each with its own name, its unique, lumpy rounded face, and adoption papers. They became the must-have holiday toy of 1983 and generated massive demand, paving the way for later holiday crazes around Tickle Elmo, Beanie Babies, and Furby. For more than 40 years, these dolls have expanded children’s notions of play and fantasy, of beauty and belonging.

Fisher-Price Corn Popper
Fisher-Price introduced the Corn Popper in 1957, calling it an amusement device for young children. Parents quickly discovered that by pushing the device, children could strengthen gross motor skills, and it has become a staple toy for toddlers ever since. The bright, flying balls and popping sound also help to stimulate the senses, promoting curiosity and discovery.

Mahjong
Mahjong (also known as Mah-Jongg) evolved from 18th and 19th-century gambling card games in China. Variations spread to Korea, Japan, and other areas of Asia before becoming popular in the United States in the 1920s. Standard Chinese Mah-Jongg played like American gin rummy but was changed in the 1930s when the National Mah Jongg League established more formal and limited rules. According to the 2021 book Mahjong: A Chinese Game and the Making of Modern American Culture, the game caught on with Hollywood starlets, high-society, middle-class housewives, and immigrants and “signified both belonging and standing apart in American culture.”

Masters of the Universe
The Master of the Universe line of action figures, which includes the iconic He-Man and She-Ra, traces its popularity to maker Mattel’s use of comic books, television, and the big screen. The cartoon series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, which ran from 1983 to 1985, created a cohesive, fantasy world that allowed Mattel to introduce new characters and new toys to the line. Over the years, Mattel has paired the brand with everything from toothbrushes to sleeping bags.

Piñata
As the centerpiece of a party game, a piñata is a paper mâché object filled with small toys, confetti, fruits, candies, or coins and raised high with rope. Both children and adults can play; while blindfolded, players swing a stick and try to break open the piñata and shower guests with the treats inside. Commonly associated with Mexican culture, the object may date back to early 13th-century China. Although there is an inherent impermanence to the piñata as a plaything, it has been and continues to be used in religious and secular celebrations all over the world.

Risk
Based on the French game Le Conquete du Monde, Risk translates the hobby of wargaming with miniature figures into a mass-produced war and strategy board game. First published in the United States in 1959, Risk challenges players to control armies and conquer the world. The game’s innovative mechanics ignited renewed interest in strategy games in the 1970s and continues to influence the board game industry.

Sand
Sand may be the most universal and oldest toy in the world. Educator Maria Montessori has argued that sand “is only one substance that the modern child is allowed to handle quite freely.” Children recognize sand as a creative material suitable for pouring, scooping, sieving, raking, and measuring. Wet sand is even better, ready for kids to construct, shape, and sculpt. Sand provides unique opportunities for tactical, physical, cooperative, creative, and independent free play.

The Settlers of Catan
The Settlers of Catan, now called “Catan,” was first published by Kosmos in Germany. It’s one of the first German-style board games to find widespread popularity outside of Europe. It is a cooperative game in which players representing settlers establish a settlement on an island by spending resources, which are earned through trade and rolls of the dice. It’s been called the “game of our time” by the Washington Post, is sold in more than 30 languages, and has won multiple international awards in game design.

Toy Fire Engine
Although toy fire engines have evolved in materials, design, and technology over time, the benefits of play with these vehicles remain the same. A child might use a toy fire engine to explore role playing by assuming the position of a firefighter or person in danger. A child might spin the wheels or extend the ladder to test the capabilities of a toy fire engine. This variety of possibilities allows a child to practice communication skills, cognitive flexibility, and to explore risk, technical competence, and emotional fortitude.

Anyone can nominate a toy for induction into the National Toy Hall of Fame.  An internal museum advisory committee comprising curators, educators, and historians reviews the submitted nominations and determines which toys meet the criteria for selection.  A national selection committee then reviews the list of toys that meet the criteria. Each national selection committee member votes for his or her top toy picks for induction.  The votes are then tallied, with the toys receiving the most votes making the cut for induction into the National Toy Hall of Fame.

You can find out details about classic toys, the process for selecting finalists and more at the Toy Hall of Fame website.

C.J. Bunce / Editor / borg