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Holiday Gift Guide: Hall of Fame Toys, with a Twist

Got kids on your list? HISTORY combed the National Toy Hall of Fame for 'icon-status' playthings—and then paired each with a fresh take on the classic.

Way back when you were a kid, you likely asked Santa for a Magic 8 Ball. Or a teddy bear. Or Hot Wheels. Or a baby doll. And today’s kids? When they climb up on the jolly bearded guy’s lap in 2018, their lists often include…a Magic 8 Ball. A teddy bear. Hot Wheels. A baby doll.

When it comes to playthings, classics stand the test of time. Consider the National Toy Hall of Fame, housed in New York’s Strong museum, which has inducted 68 items to date. This year’s class: Magic 8 Ball, Uno and pinball.

“All the toys in the National Toy Hall of Fame have longevity and what we call ‘icon status’—they’ve been consistently on the market for at least several decades and practically anyone who’s grown up in North America would recognize them, even if they never owned or played with them,” says Christopher Bensch, vice president for collections at the Strong, home to the National Toy Hall of Fame. “And every one of the toys, games and other inductees offers exceptional play value—those qualities of learning, discovery, imagination and socialization that make you want to go back to the toy time and time again. They’re not the kind of items that you get for your birthday and wind up shoved under the bed and forgotten five minutes later.”

To simplify your holiday toy shopping (and offer a fun trip down memory lane), we’ve rounded up classic hall-of-fame playthings, along with some fun new twists on the standards. None is likely to end up gathering dust bunnies.

HISTORY recommends products our editors think you’ll like, and if you buy something through our links HISTORY may get a small share of the revenue. Prices may fluctuate.

magic 8 ball

CLASSIC: Magic 8 Ball

Hall of Fame induction date: 2018

Got questions? Of course you do. Maybe that’s why, since 1946, kids and adults alike have delighted in this black-plastic handheld oracle, which serves up answers to yes-no queries with a shake of its internal 20-sided polyhedron. “You can ask questions of a Magic 8 Ball all by yourself,” says Bensch. “But it’s much more entertaining to do it in a group and laugh or exclaim over the answers together,” he says. Ages 6-12, about $5, Amazon.

NEW TWIST: Kangaroo Mystic Emoji Ball

“Magic 8 Ball has been rebranded with umpteen different licensed properties, from the Muppets to Homer Simpson to SpongeBob SquarePants,” Bensch says. So how do you add even more fun to the classic game of fortune? Add emojis! The Magic 8 Ball for the texting generation includes 12 new answers like “LOL for Sure,” “Yeah Dude!,” “Ask Grandpa” and “Geez Not Sure.” Ages 3 and up, about $8, Amazon.

What were the hot Christmas toys through the decades? Click here to find out. 

hot wheels

CLASSIC: Hot Wheels Gift Pack

Hall of Fame induction date (Hot Wheels): 2011

Kids (and, yes, many adults) have been collecting and racing Hot Wheels cars since its first mini muscle cars vroomed into toy stores in 1968. Why? Maybe it’s the super-specific 1:64 scale. Or the authentic sporty die-cast details, based on real auto designs. (Mattel hired Chevy designer Harry Bradley to craft the look.) Or maybe it’s just that universal need for speed—with something that fits in little hands. Ages 3 and up, about $9.50, Amazon.

READ: These rare Hot Wheels cars trade for thousands of dollars—if you can find them.

NEW TWIST: Hot Wheels Corkscrew Crash Trash Set

For Hot Wheels fans who want to accelerate. This looping criss-cross race track comes with one vehicle and is full of gnarly twists, hairpin turns, motorized boosters and, of course, plenty of space for careening, fly-off-the-track crashes. Perfect for any young Mario Andretti or Danica Patrick in the family. Ages 5 and up, about $50.00, Amazon.


CLASSIC: Radio Flyer My 1st Wagon

Hall of Fame induction date (Radio Flyer): 1999

First, Italian immigrant Antonio Pasin hand-made his red wagons and peddled them on the street. When he started mass-producing his Radio Flyers in 1930 (original price: $3), the classic pull-along toy sold at a rate of 1,500 a day during the Great Depression, according to the Toy Hall of Fame. These days, it’s still a perfect way for little ones to tote their favorite stuff. Ages 3 and up, about $15.50, Amazon.

NEW TWIST: Step2 Whisper Ride Touring Wagon

Talk about versatility: This durable three-in-one wagon can seat two kids (complete with seat belts for little escape artists in the family), features a removable canopy and cup holders and folds flat for storage. And—bonus!—it also works for Mom and Dad when they need help hauling stuff around the yard. Ages 18 months to 4, about $120, Amazon.

stuffed animals

CLASSIC: Aurora World Coco Teddy Bear

Hall of Fame induction date (teddy bears): 1998

Named for and inspired by President Theodore Roosevelt (after he refused to shoot a bear that trackers had caught and lashed to a willow tree), the plush teddy bear has cemented its place as the most popular plush toy in U.S. history. This 10.5-inch version is soft, shaggy and sports a natty red ribbon—just as a teddy should. Ages 3 and up, about $9.50, Amazon.

READ: The history of who invented the Teddy bear.

NEW TWIST: Pomsies Interactive Pets

These cuddly talking, light-up plush toys not only tell you when they’re cold, hungry or tired. Pomsies react when you pet them—their eyes light up, they shiver, sneeze and make more than 50 sounds, from giggles to grumbles to purrs. Their twisty tails can be wrapped around wrists, backpacks or even hair. And then there’s their cool freeze-dance mode. Ages 3 and up, about $15, Amazon.

train set

CLASSIC: Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer Ready-to-Play Train Set

Hall of Fame induction date (Lionel trains): 2006

With vintage ad campaigns like “Everybody is happy when it’s a Lionel Train Christmas” and trains that “made a boy feel like a man and a man feel like a boy,” Lionel trains have been an American staple for more than a century. (During the 1950s, Lionel sold two-thirds of all toy trains in the United States.) Continue the tradition with this remote-control locomotive with three train cars and a working headlight. Ages 4 and up, about $89, Amazon.

NEW TWIST: Fisher-Price Thomas & Friends Super Station

All aboard! Based on the uber-popular Thomas the Tank Engine book and TV spin-off series, this train station, which can be connected to other Thomas sets, comes with Thomas and his locomotive friends Percy, James and Harold—plus a helipad, turntable and crane. The playset can be configured multiple ways to fit your play space. Ages 3 to 7, about $89, Amazon.

baby doll

CLASSIC: JC Toys La Baby Doll

Hall of Fame induction date (baby dolls): 2008

The first commercial baby dolls appeared in the mid-1800s, and they’ve been perennial hot sellers ever since. The 11-inch-long La Baby is soft for cuddles, hand-washable and comes in a variety of ethnicities. Ages 18 months and up, about $13, Amazon.

NEW TWIST: Baby Alive! Real As Can Be Baby

If that mute, saucer-eyed old-school baby seems to be missing...something...then Baby Alive! might just have it. With 80 facial expressions and noises aplenty—giggling, gurgling, slurping and burping, to name a few—she is responsive to your child’s voice and touch, making feeding, snuggling and other caretaking activities more realistically engaging. Includes removable outfit, hat, bib, blanket, bottle and pacifier. Ages 3 and up, about $77, Amazon.

star wars

CLASSIC: Playskool Star Wars Galactic Heroes Millennium Falcon and Figures

Hall of Fame induction date (Star Wars action figures): 2012

Since the first Star Wars movie launched in 1977, the film’s action figures, vehicles and accessories have earned a spot on toy shelves across the world—including in the National Toy Hall of Fame. This two-in-one Millennium Falcon playset pays homage to the classic Episode IV escape scene with Han Solo, Chewy, R2-D2 and the famous feisty smuggling ship. Ages 3 to 7, about $40, Amazon.

VIDEO: Star Wars prompted an unprecedented retail bonanza—and an epic Christmas merchandise fail.

NEW TWIST: LittleBits Star Wars Droid Inventor Kit

Know a kid into Star Wars and coding? Strike gift-giving gold with this award-winning customizable robot-inventor toy that comes with a slew of easy, block-based coding missions. You’ll need an iPhone or Android to operate the droid. Ages 8 and up, about $69, Amazon.


CLASSIC: Barbie Beach Cruiser

Hall of Fame induction date (Barbie): 1998

The original teen fashion model hasn’t waned in popularity much since its 1950s debut—and neither have her sleek accessories like the Beach Cruiser, perfect for trips to the seashore with Ken or Skipper. (The first Barbie vehicle: a 1962 Austin-Healey roadster.) Ages 3 years and up, about $34, Amazon.

GALLERY: Barbie through the ages.

NEW TWIST: Barbie Care Clinic Vehicle

Over the decades, Barbie has explored scores of empowering careers, including that of doctor. With this ambulance/hospital playset, kids can “perform” X-rays, vision tests and exams, use working lights and a siren and even run a gift shop. Ages 3 years and up, about $45, Amazon.

building set

CLASSIC: Tinkertoy 30 Model Super Building Set

Hall of Fame induction date (Tinkertoys): 1998

Dating to the early 20th century, these construction toys continue to attract young engineers with simple spools, flags, washers and rods that can be crafted into imaginative creations. This Tinkertoy set includes 200 colorful parts—perfect for teaching STEM concepts at home. Ages 3 and up, about $50, Amazon.

NEW TWIST: K’NEX Thrill Bionic Blast Roller Coaster Building Set with Ride It! App

Take those STEM skills to the next level with this K’NEX set, complete with 809 parts and pieces and a motor, that lets you construct your own coaster. Once it's built, download the app to take a ride on the coaster in virtual reality (VR cardboard viewer included). Ages 9 to 14, about $119, Amazon.