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    

Payload Pilot Astronaut Figure 1987 Gi Joe Defiant Space Shuttle Nasa CobraVintage Buck Rogers Atomic U-238 Pistol Ray GunBuck Rogers Xz-38 Disintegrator Ray Gun Pistol Copper Space Toy Circa 1930'sVintage Mattel Space: 1999 Large Eagle 1 Spaceship From 1970'sSpace Capsule W/ Floating Astronaut Wbox By Modern Toys Japan, No ReserveVintage Estes Apollo Saturn V 3 1/2 Foot Model Rocket KitBuck Rogers 1934 Xz-31rocket Pistol Toy Ray Gun Vintage UsaAtomic Disintegrator ToyVintage Buck Rogers Atomic U-238 Pistol Ray Gun (another One)Vintage Mattel Major Matt Mason Rocket Launch Pak Mint On Card / SealedMattel 1980 Vultan Action Figure From Flash Gordon With Wings! Super RareCorgi Aa33504 Nasa Nb-52 With X-15, Edwards Afb, Ca, 1959 Vintage Man In Space Major Matt Mason Figure Mattel 1966 With Card # 6300 Vintage Gijoe 1964 Action Pilot Astronaut Accessories Nasa Hgu Test Pilot 1/2 Scale Flight Helmet Incredible Detail! Snoopy AwardBuck Rogers Xz-38 Disintegrator Ray Gun Pistol Painted Space Toy Circa 1930'sVintage 1950's Hubley Atomic Disintegrator Cap Pistol Space ToyScarce Dan Dare Space Rocket Ship Pop Out Book C1960sLego Movie Benny's Spaceship & The Flying Flusher (no Box)The Six Million Dollar Man Astronaut Steve Austin 8" Figure Retro/vintage/megoLego Airplane Middle Cabin Base 60022 Cockpit SpaceshipVintage Mattel Vertibird 1971 #5972 Astronaut Rescue Early Set Box Unopened NibS351. Vintage: Silver & Red Colored Clicker Trigger Space Gun By IrwinRare Rocket Tin Space Ship Turbo Jet Mechanical Money Bank W. Germany 1950s1963 Lionel 6407 Mercury Capsule Car With Rare Astronaut Missile Variation, Vg+Vintage Atomic Disintegrator Cap GunVintage 1966 Mattel Major Matt Mason Astronaut W/helmet And Sled, Belt, BackpackVintage Major Matt Mason & Jeff Long Usa AstronautsVintage Major Matt Mason Blue Strap Red Dots W/helmet Mattel 1966 Great Wires Quisp Space Gun Plastic Ring Cereal Premium 1966 Blue Quaker Oats VgSpaceship Miniatures Lot 199 Metal +30 Plastic Micro Machines? Star Wars? Trek?The Lego Movie Benny's Spaceship, Spaceship, Spaceship! 70816Vintage Japanese Tin Litho Lunar Expedition Space ToyG1 My Little Pony Naut Vintage Costume Wear Astronaut Spacesuit Moc Mip Rare HtfOriginal 1964 Vintage Gi Joe Talking Astronaut Painted Red Hair Slot ShouldersLego Ideas Nasa Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover 21104Lego 70816 - Benny's Spaceship, Spaceship! From The Lego Movie - SealedAurora " Flying Saucer " Kit { Please Read! }Nasa Nice Liquefied Hydrogen 33k Gallon Unibody Tank Car Mth Premier Mint NibnrVintage Chein Mechanical Banks Atomic Clown OriginalMajor Matt Mason Space Crawler Works!Atomic Whiplash Brushless Boat ( 3 Motors Included)Historic Nos Pb Apollo 1/10 Nitro 2wd R/c Car .15ci 235mm $1 No Reserve Vintage 1978 Milton Bradley "star Bird", Sb-450 Electronic Space Ship. ExcellentThe Lego Movie Benny's Spaceship, Spaceship, Spaceship! 70816Vintage 1966 Mattel Major Matt Mason Astronaut W/helmet And SledLego Minifigures Lot Series 1 Crash Dummy Spaceman 2 Roman Soldier 7 Aztec MoreApollo Scale Model Kits By RevellLego Lot Of Space Ships And Space Pieces! Nasa (#94)Midgetoy SpaceshipG.i. Joe Life Magazine Mecury Astronaut Buzz Aldrin Edition. 35th Anniversary.Dinky Toys Space Shuttle NasaIdeafly Apollo QuadcopterThe Lego Movie Benny's Spaceship, Spaceship, Spaceship! 70816Captain Action Playing Mantis Lot: Ming Flash Gordon Kato And Green Hornet1930’s Wyandotte Buck Rogers Metal SpaceshipVintage Buffalo Toys 1930's Windup Futuristic Tin Space CarVintage 1960's Mattel Toy Co. Major Matt Mason Space Helmet1964 Vintage Gi Joe 12" Action Figure *hasbro* Dressed *astronaut* Silver BootsImaginext: Space Station, Vehicles & Figures Lot Loose