You know, those things that everyone is doing or everyone has to have.
My wife and I were talking about this the other day, and it got me thinking about those fads or trends that had touched my life since the 1950s. I can’t think of anything that I ever went crazy for in terms of “gotta catch em’ all,” but I know there were many that I crossed paths with over time. There are far more than these listed in various places, but these are some of the ones that crossed my path in some way or other.
The Coonskin Cap
We lived in a 5-floor walkup in New York City. I loved sending one of these down the stairs. The problem was, when I was 7, I foolishly attended a double-feature horror show with my cousins, and for longer than I’m proud to admit I was terrified that this lady lurked in the shadows under the stairwells. It sort of dampened the enthusiasm for spending more time than I had to on the stairs.
In 1959, I learned the Chipmunks’ Christmas song by heart, and of course I had to have a hula hoop. It was fun for a day or two. But they’re still a thing, apparently.
I got one of the early ones, and the Super Ball really did bounce, but mine started flaking apart after a while. I guess they got the kinks worked out eventually. These were very hot when they came out; peak production reached over 170,000 Super Balls per day, but the maker knew it was a passing fad. “Each Super Ball bounce is 92% as high as the last,” said Wham-O VP Richard P. Knerr. “If our sales don’t come down any faster than that, we’ve got it made.”
The Duncan Imperial Yo-Yo
Yoyos are a very old toy, but Duncan really hit the nail on the head when they came up with these shiny, premium units with a metal spindle that allowed the toy to spin freely. I remember mine was red, and I had one of the butterfly versions as well. These are still pretty hot in some sectors; watch the absolute masters go at it.
These were probably the bane of parents and K-12 teachers when they came out. When you really got them going, they made a racket that sounded like a machine gun. Apparently they were prone to shattering, which I never experienced, but they should have come with wrist guards because when you did it wrong, you’d get whacked and it hurt. These were taken off the market in the 1970s. Wikipedia has some interesting history behind these.
These were created in 1970, during the Vietnam War. Those who wore one pledged to continue doing so until the person they represented came home. They were very popular on the campus of the University of Utah; I wore mine for years until it was almost devoid of chrome plating, and it ultimately fell apart from metal fatigue. There are still many military personnel missing, and they deserve to be remembered.
In the 1970s I had a couple of these (in the most hideous polyester faux-tartan imaginable) just because they were cheap, if I recall correctly.
Cabbage Patch Kids
These toys, still available, are the first ones that really became a nationwide madness, as far as I can recollect. They were so hot they spawned the Cabbage Patch Riots, a precursor of later Black Friday rampages. I only know of them because I had a young daughter at the time, and of course she wanted one. Fortunately, the madness had subsided (mostly) by the time she was old enough to appreciate one.
Pogs, or milk caps, used to be found sealing returnable glass bottles of milk, often delivered from the dairy. When the paper or foil cap was removed, the “pog” was taken out to unseal the bottle.
In the 1990s, the game of Pogs was commercialized, but it had become an entertainment for the young before that. Not unlike marbles, pogs were placed face down and the player would toss a heavy disk at the stack, causing them to scatter. Any pogs that landed face up belonged to the player.
My oldest son was very good at the game and had quite a collection.
I had one. The object was to feed and care for your little blob until it grew into an adult. You’d give it food, clean up its poop, and basically take care of it with needs and attention. It would beep at you when it wanted something. Mine “died.” Enough said.
Imagine playing horseshoes with deadly weapons. That’s what lawn darts were.
These things were lethal. In 1987, a young girl was killed, and between 1980 and 1988, 6,100 people had been sent to the emergency room. They were banned in 1988.
Ty made a lot of money on these little understuffed animals, but almost nobody else did. People collected them like crazy, hoping that the “discontinued” ones would increase in value and make them rich. Only a very few actually became worth anything, and only to die-hard collectors (although during the height of the craze, people were flipping Beanies for ten times their purchase price, and at one point almost 10% of sales on eBay were linked to Beanie Babies. Like anything else, an item is worth only what some s̶u̶c̶k̶e̶r̶ collector will pay for it. Like most others, the fad crashed, and today, surviving Beanie Babies are worth about 50 cents apiece. A few of these ended up in our kid’s stockings at Christmas time because they were cute.
Nehru Jackets, Beatle Boots, and Madras clothing.
These were items that were popular when I was at a prep school in New England in the ’60s. A lot of kids had them.
The interactive toy that scared the pee out of the NSA. These little critters came with an infrared port that allowed them to recognize the presence of another Furby; they would, at that point, hold conversations in “Furbish,” a language of agglomerated nonsense syllables. As time went on, however, Furbies began to start speaking English, and as time went on, the amount of English increased. Authorities in certain government agencies decided that these little critters could act as spies, but Tiger Electronics, the maker, said,
Furbies didn’t have recording devices at all. Rather, the manufacturer had pre-programmed some English into the toy’s memory, and as the Furby “aged,” it began to use those words more and more — but there was no way for it to add new, “heard” words to its vocabulary. A Tiger executive told the media that “the NSA did not do their homework” and exclaimed that “Furby is not a spy!” (Now I Know)
We had a few of these scattered around the house. They could be quite startling if they began to talk without provocation.
I could go on. Invisible dogs, pet rocks, psychedelic posters, lava lamps, you name it. If you’re interested in a long walk down memory lane, here is a pretty comprehensive list of fads and trends from the 1830s to present. And it’s a given that in the very near future, there will be another “hot new thing.”
Edit: How could I have forgotten Care Bears? Here’s my little buddy with his Weighted Companion Cube (don’t talk to me about mixed metaphors), wishing all my friends and family a wonderful 2019. We had a lot of Care Bears over time, and most of them came back to me as my children grew up. (Fortunately, I never did.) The vast majority were sold to collectors on eBay, but Tenderheart, a 1986 original, is mine forever.
This was not a fad, really, but it was a fairly intriguing item for propellerheads in the mid ’60s. I wanted one, but at the time $25.00 seemed a bit too much for something that would die in a year.
The Old Wolf has spoken.