Space toys encompass everything from robots to rockets to ray guns. Primarily associated with the tin and plastic toys of the mid-20th century, space toys reimagined and replicated the hardware used by matinee movie idol Buster Crabbe, who played Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers in the 1930s, as well as William Shatner, who portrayed Captain Kirk on “Star Trek” in the 1960s, and Harrison Ford, who inhabited Han Solo in the “Star Wars” films of the 1970s and ’80s.

Beyond space toys tied to high-profile entertainment franchises, many collectors are quite happy to get their hands on objects that live only within the universe of toys. These include tin and plastic flying saucers and battery-operated robots, many produced in postwar Japan, with generic names like Atomic Rocket, Rocket Racer, Robotank, Capsule 5, and Mr. Atomic, which was “A Cragstan Toy” from the 1950s made by Yonezawa.

The craze for Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon toys in the 1930s was actually spurred by the comic strips and radio shows for these outer-space adventurers, which preceded the movie serials. According to toy ray-gun collector Justin Pinchot, the first space gun was offered as a premium in 1933 by Cocomalt, a brand of powdered chocolate milk, which sponsored the Buck Rogers radio show. This early gun was made of cardboard, but in 1934, Daisy Manufacturing created the first metal space pistol for Buck Rogers, the XZ-31. By 1937, Marx had released the Flash Gordon Radio Repeater, a lithographed-tin gun that made a clicking sound when the trigger was pulled.

After World War II, space toys proliferated as the public became increasingly interested in the promise of technology, whose terrible power had been displayed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and space exploration. Companies such as Buddy L, Ideal, Hubley, J. E. Stevens, and Kenner made space toys out of everything from lithographed tin and paper to diecast metal, molded plastic, and even wood. In addition to Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon items, toys bore the name of “Tom Corbett, Space Cadet,” which was a popular TV show in the 1950s. Space toys based on TV shows such as “Lost in Space” and “Star Trek” followed in the 1960s, while the stand-alone line of Major Matt Mason toys and action figures from Mattel appeared in 1966.

The biggest American space-toys franchise remains “Star Wars,” which was released in movie theaters in the spring of 1977. Toy maker Kenner had won the rights to produce “Star Wars” toys, but its initial line of four action figures (Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, and R2-D2) was not ready in time for the Christmas shopping season. To make the best of this potential marketing catastrophe, Kenner sold what was essentially an empty box, which it labeled as an "Early Bird Certificate Package." The missing 3 ¾-inch figures were mailed to customers a couple of months later.

“Star Wars” would go on to inspire all manner of toys, from Kenner playsets of the famous Cantina on Mos Eisley and the Ewok Village on Endor, to LEGO podracers, which were released in 1999 in conjunction with “The Phantom Menace.” Between 1977 and 1985, Kenner produced more than 100 “Star Wars” action figures, the rarest of which is Yak Face, which was not sold in the United States. In 2002, LEGO made its first minifigure with shorter legs to approximate the modest stature of Jedi master Yoda, while in 2008 LEGO produced its largest set, a 5,000-plus piece version of the “Millennium Falcon,” Han Solo’s legendary spaceship.

LEGO and other companies such as Monogram and View-Master also produced space toys that were based on fact rather than fiction. Naturally, these focus on the real space explorations of NASA, whose astronauts and vehicles are favorites of model-makers and LEGO fanatics alike. Examples range from Apollo modules from the 1970s to Space Shuttles of the 21st century...

Of course, space toys are not just an American phenomenon. In Great Britain, space toys based on the exploits of Dan Dare and Dr. Who were manufactured by Palitoy, Chad Valley, and others in the 1950s and ’60s. Some of these basic designs were good enough to be recycled as Italian space toys. But the leaders of postwar space toys were the Japanese, who made tin toys an art form with their flying saucers, rocket ships, and extraterrestrial robots.

Some of the most collected Japanese manufacturers include Masudaya, Nomura, Hashimo, Horikawa, Union, Asahi Toy, Bandai, and Tomy. Many of the brightly colored, lithographed tin space toys these companies made were wind-ups, while others were powered by batteries or friction. And some like the Yonezawa Atom-Car and Atom Jet blurred the line between model cars and space toys.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Toyraygun.com

Toyraygun.com

One of the most comprehensive vintage toy raygun reference sites, with lots of detailed descriptions and great phot… [read review or visit site]

Attic of Astounding Artifacts

Attic of Astounding Artifacts

Danger... warning! This small but lethal site by 'Doc Atomic' showcases an excellent collection of out-of-this-worl… [read review or visit site]

Museum of Childhood

Museum of Childhood

Embrace your inner child on this website from the Victoria and Albert Museum, filled with high-quality images and i… [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Atomic Disintegrator Toy Cap Gun-1950’s Hubley Die Cast-excellent ConditionDaisy Buck Rogers Atomic Pistol Space Ray Gun Post Wwii Toy Weapon Works GreatHiller Atom Ray Gun 1940's-50's Toy Water Squirt Pistol "men In Black" AtomizerVintage 1930's Daisy Mfg. Buck Rogers 25th Century Toy Ray Gun (super Cool!!)Scarce Dan Dare Space Shooting Rocket Ship Target Game C1950sVtg Rare Daisy Lunar Jet Pop Gun Space Ray Gun Model 1011 Works Great!Rare Nickel/copper Daisy Buck Rogers Disintegrator Pistol Toy Space Gun Works!1930s Hubley Atomic Disintegrator Space Toy Die Cast Cap GunLego Marvel Super Heroes Guardians Of The Galaxy Milano Spaceship Rescue 76021 Flash Gordon Sparkling Rocket Fighter Tin Windup Toy MarxLost In Space Jupiter 2 PlaysetVintage 1977 Star Wars Death Star Space Station Playset From KennerVintage Lego Toy Plastic Figure People Bundle Assortment Woman Pirate AstronautLionel "helios 21" Spaceship, Unused, Complete, Original Box, Circa 1964, Rare!!Major Matt Mason Space Discovery Set Complete!! RareRare Mego Mystery Astronaut Sealed In Bag1959 Revell Westinghouse Atomic Power Plant Model KitLego Series Vintage Space Man Men Like Benny Lego Movie Mini FigureVintage Star Wars Millennium Falcon Spaceship 1978 With Box Kenner 1966 Mattel Major Matt Mason Captain Laser W Box Works Includes All Accessories Star Wars Slave I Boba Fett's Spaceship Vintage Collection Exclusive 1Dirt Oval 1/8 C&m AtomicMajor Matt Mason Xrg-1 Glider Mint On Card!Herpa 1:500 Nasa Boeing 747sca With Space Shuttle "discovery" NgB/o Planet- Y Space Station 1960's Japan By Nomura Toys Ltd. ( Working )Vintage Major Matt Mason Astronaut Toy Figure With Helmet & Back Pack - TalkingKenner Silverhawks Maraj 1987 Telepix Space Ship Vehicle Spaceship Vtge Space Toy Paya X-11000 Under License Midori Japan Batt. Op. Orig. Box NoresVintage 1960s Mattel Major Matt Mason Space Astronaut Figure Space Sled & HelmetVintage 1967 Captain Lazer(laser)-major Matt Mason Action Figure-mattell-working1966 Mattel Early Major Matt Mason No Broken Wires-helmet- Trac-excellent Vintage Marx Toy Johnny Apollo With SpaceshipMasudaya Japan Flying Saucer Tin Toy Battery Operated 1960's VintageLost In Space Jupiter 2 Polar Lights Model Kit Open BoxSpace Ship Rocket & Jet Unused Model Book Toy C1954Vtg Rare Daisy Lunar Jet Pop Gun Space Ray Gun Model 1011 For Parts Or RepairVintage Us Navy Radar-rocket Ship Keystone Wood Toy BoatDc Direct 1:6 Scale The Flash Gordon 13" Dc Comics Batman Deluxe Action Figure Revell Model Kit: Apollo And Gemini Spacecraft1955 Boy Riding A Rocket Ship Figural Red Cross Award Statue By MpcStar Wars Death Star Space Station From 1979 Complete All Original "nice"Rare 1960's Battery Operated Magic Color Moon Express Tin Toy W/box Rocket ShipCount Down Inc. Vintage 16" Apollo Saturn V Rocket W/ Launch Tower & CrawlerLego Cuusoo Nasa Mars Rover NibGi Joe Adventure Team Atv Moon Rover & AstronautTin Friction Space Guerrilla Combat Ray Gun 1960s Yoshiya Nomura Flare Ko Rare Vintage Tin Toys-tin Space GunK-line Die Cast Nasa Rocket Booster Flat Cars With Original Boxes No ReserveLego Space Classic One Man Space Ship #918 (1979) 100% Complete Disney Little Einstein's Pat Pat Talking Rocket Ship With 6 FigurinesSnoopy Astronaut, In Box !Rare Vintage Prototype? 1950's Space Toy Tin Lithograph Rocket Patrol Car Vintage Revell Apollo Lunar Module 1/48 Scale Model Kit Misb 1968Weta Workshop F.m.o.m. Ray Gun Limited Edition1960’s Modern Toys X-07 Surveillant Space Ship B/o €Vintage Board Game 1965 Lost In Space Tv Show Milton Bradley Nm 100% Complete Vintage 1978 Milton Bradley Electronic Star Bird Space Ship In Box Trek RocketPolar Lights/playing Mantis, "lost In Space" The Jupiter 2Gi Joe 12" Space Astronaut Bubble Helmet Classic Scifi Custom Dragon Sotw 1:6Lot Vintg Captain Midnights Secret Squadron Manual Cosmic Ray Gun Space Patrol