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]

The Wheelmen

The Wheelmen

This elegant tribute to turn-of-the-century bicycling includes memorabilia, photographs, and an index of 3140 bicyc… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Space Ray Gun Disintegrator Pistol Toy Shogun Warriors Mattel Raydeen Dragun Lot Of 5 Jumbo Machinder Uni-fiveVintage 1960’s Mattel’s Major Matt Mason Man In Space Station Nr1950's Vintage Daisy Zooka Pop Pistol Buck Rogers Space GunVintage 1960’s Mattel’s Major Matt Mason Man In Space Crawler Nr1969 Centuri Apollo Saturn V Model Rocket Kit Ks-12 Unused W/ Launch ControllerVintage 1950s Deco Hubley Atomic Disintegrator Space Ship Ray Cap Gun Pistol Toy1950's Japan Ko Toys Flying Saucer Spaceship Z-26 Tin Litho Friction Rare #bu4D Vtg 1960s Park's No. 551 Apollo Two Stage Rocket Water Toy In Original BoxVintage 1950s Tin Litho Spark Gun Japan - Space Ray GunLost In Space Roto Jet Gun Prop1930s Buck Rogers In The 20th Century Large Rare Space Map Marx Tom Corbett Space CarU.s.a.-nasa Gemini Space Vehicle Tin Battery Toy Original Box MasudayaLot Of 4 Postwar Lionel O Gauge 671rm-2 Red Atomic Motor Brush PlateVintage 1960’s Mattel’s Major Matt Mason Man In Space Figures & Stuff NrVintage~1977~1984~1985~star~wars~potf~last~17~htf~b~wing~pilot~coin~blaster~set~Nasa X-44a Experimental Rare Pre-production Prototype Large Scale Museum Model1950's Rocketship Bank, Ceramic, Excellent !1950's Japan Tn Toys Space Gun S-58 Tin Litho Wind-up Ray Gun Pistol Rare #bu32 X Space Toy S & E Japan Usaf Battery Op. + Space Rocket Express Orig.box WindLarge Lot Mattel Major Matt Mason Playset Parts Accessories Man Space StationMajor Matt Mason Blue Strap No Broken Wires W/ Helmet Silver Collar Red Dots1950's Marx Rex Mars Planet Patrol Tin Litlo Wind-up Ray Gun Rifle Way Cool #bu1Mattel’s Major Matt Mason Man In Space Satellite Launcher Plus Bonus Nr1960s Diecast Rocket Space Ship Excellent Complete With Key Mint Unused Edge TipBattlefleet Gothic Planet Scenery Diorama Bfg 40k Space Ship Craft Planets MoonVintage~1985~star~wars~potf~last~17~afa~85 Nm+luke~skywalker~stormtrooper~outfitRare Atomic Rocket/modern Toys/japanVintage~1984~12~1985~star~wars~droids~cartoon~r2d2~popup~pop-up~lightsaber~saberLegos Nasa Apollo Saturn VLego® Ideas Nasa Apollo Saturn V Rocket 21309 (factory Sealed) Lego Ideas Nasa Apollo Saturn V 21309Lego Space Ideas 21309 Nasa Apollo Saturn V Rocket In HandLego® Nasa Apollo Saturn V 21309Lego Nasa Saturn V Rocket #21309 (mint Condition Box) +free 50 $ Hotel Gift CardLego® Nasa Apollo Saturn V 21309Vintage~1977~1984~1985~star~wars~potf~last~17~htf~general~lando~calrissian~pilotLego Nasa Saturn V Rocket #21309 (mint Condition Box) +free 50 $ Hotel Gift Card50s Plaxall Official Captain Video Space Hemet Toy In The Original Box Rare !!Vintage~1977~1984~1985~star~wars~potf~last~17~r2d2~popup~saber~lightsaber~droidsVintage 1976 Mattel Space: 1999 Eagle 1 Spaceship In Original Box - Not CompleteGi Joe: At – Vintage – Adventure Team: Atomic Man Mike Powers On CardVintage Space Ray Gun In Box: Indivisible Particle SmasherMystery Space Ship With Moon Men & Spacemen & Manual Marx In Original Box 1960Vintage Remco Seaview Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea Submarine Playset VehicleVintage Ideal Motorized Astro Base W/ Astronaut Vehicle Space Age Toy W/ & Box1970s Gi Joe Astronaut Hidden Missile Discovery Set In Box #j-82Vintage~1977~1983~1984~kenner~star~wars~luke~skywalker~jedi~knight~gree~saber~ 1968 Colorforms Alien Outer Space Men Alpha 7 With Custom Base !! Matt MasonRevell. Item #04841 International Space Station. 1/144 Scale. Db-vjTeam Associated Rc10t4 Stadium Truck Roller Proline Atomic Apollo/saturn V Launch Platform By Count Down, Inc In Original Unopened Box.1937 Tootsie Toy Buck Rogers Venue Duo-destroyerGi Joe Astronaut 1996 1997 Bundle1960's Original Vintage Tin Toy Moon Traveler Apollo-z Nomura Toy JapanNice Size Vintage Gi Joe 1964 Adventure Team Lot Gummy Head At Atomic Man L@@k@!Vintage~1977~star~wars~luke~skywalker~rare~raised~bar !~lightsaber~saber~set~12 Vintage~1985~star~wars~potf~luke~skywalker~stormtrooper~outfit~black~blaster~gunCox .049 Powered Flying Saucer Vintage And Rare