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    

$$ Rare!~vintage~1977~1984~1985~kenner~star~wars~potf~last~17~yak~face~coin~cardVintage~1977~1978~1979~kenner~star~wars~vinyl~cape~jawa~blaster~gun~stand~lot~12$$ Rare!~vintage~1977~1979~1982~1983~kenner~star~wars~rotj~card~carded~boba~fettVintage~1977~1984~1985~kenner~star~wars~potf~last~17~yak~face~staff~stand~lot~12Scarce Original Tin Litho B/o Space Commando Robot Masudaya & Modern Toys JapanDan Dare Eagle Comic Space Man Rocket Toy Pocket Watch C1950sVintage~1977~12~kenner~star~wars~htf~pink~luke~skywalker~"n"~lightsaber~variant~Revell 1/96 Apollo Saturn V Model RocketVintage Planet Of The Apes Cornelius Zira Dr. Zaius Gorilla Soldier + AstronautStar Trek Vintage 60s Remco Astro Helmet, Cap Gun, And Frisbee Toy LotVintage Major Matt Mason (jeff) FigureVintage Space 1999 Eagle One Ship, Mattel 1976 Revell Atomic Space Explorer Solaris 1:156 Remco Usa Super Car W/box% 1950's Astronaut Space Helmet Rca Victor Set In Original Box1960s Tin Toy Friction Friendship 7 Space Capsule Made In JapanWalt Disney Strombecker Space Station Model 1957Vintage Buck Rogers With Official Pin Helmet And Starfighter Mint In Box Hg ToysLot Of 5 Vintage Lido Captain Video Play Set Alien / Robot Plastic Toy FiguresVintage 1958 Tin B.o. Satellite In Orbit Space Toy, Horikawa, Japan / Cragstan1952 Captain Video Lido Interplanetary Space MenVintage Project Sword Task Force No.1 Friction Rocket Ship Century 21 Rare ColorVintage 1960's Jane Apollo Astronaut Marx Nasa 8" Figure - Johnny Apollo Gemini Astronaut 12" Model By Revell 1967Vintage-1964-hasbro-12"-gi Joe-talking Astronaut Space Suit HelmetVintage Bandai Japan Monorail Space Ship Slot Car Style SetLionel Post War # 2020 6-8-6 Steam Turbine Atomic Locomotive **works**estateVintage Gi Joe 1960's Hasbro Rare Apollo Moon Shot Collection Figures Weapons1950's Murray Atomic Missile Pedal CarZeroid Robot 3 Different Zobor Zogg Zintar Battery Ideal Space Toy 1968Mattel Major Matt Mason Working Firebolt Space Cannon W/box, Figure & Lunar TracRare Vintage Tps Champ On Ice Skating Bears Tin Litho Windup Toy Works JapanRare 1970s Vintage Japan Pellet Gun Kaiju Godzilla Pachi Mip Japanese Vintage Vintage Cereal Toys Premiums Kelloggs / Peter Pan Jigpuzzles Space Rocket ShipHasbro Gi Joe 1966 Astronaut SetVintage Space 1999 Eagle One, Die Cast 1976 #924Vintage Masudaya Japan Space Ship Tin Toy Nasa Space Shuttle By MtVintage Remco Hamilton's Invaders Horrible Hamilton Bug Monster Large 1964 Tlc:) 1966 Amt Star Trek U.s.s. Enterprise Space Ship Model KitVintage Marx Flash Gordon Tin Wind Up Rocket FighterMattel Major Matt Mason Sgt Storm /w Sled, Jet Pack And Cat TrakLittle Einstein Rocket Ship W/sound And Lights Circa 2006 Disney1947 Lone Ranger Kix Cereal Atomic Bomb Ring Mattel's Man In Space: Major Matt Masons Sgt Storm Blue! W/cat Trac. Super Rare!Lionel Postwar #6805 Atomic Waste Car - Estate Sale ItemVintage Rare Friend Ship 7 Spaceship Tin Litho With Astronaut Sh Japan Friction Atomic Disintegrator Cap Pistol -box Only2016 Sdcc Exclusive Funko Dorbz Flash Gordon And Ming The Merciless In HandVintage “old Store Stock” Roman Space Robot Battery Operated With Original BoxVintage Messenger From Space Plastic Spaceman On Motorcycle Made By IdealVintage 1957 Astro Mfg Berzac Creation Rocket Ship Coin Bank With Original TipLego Toy Story Buzz's Star Command Spaceship (7593) Complete1975 Revell 1/48 Tranquility Base With Apollo 11 Lunar Module *nmib*2002 Hasbro Life Gi Joe Mercury Astronaut John Glenn Action Figure Mib1960's Mattel Major Matt Mason Figure With Moon SuitVintage Gi Joe Adventure Team Mike Power Atomic Man Hasbro 1975 U.s.a.Vintage Remco Seaview Atomic Submarine Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea Toy1967 Mattel Matt Mason Battery-op 12" Captain Lazer Figure W Weapons & Gear2007 Hot Wheels - Dairy Delivery Luna Lu - Limited - Super Rare - Moon Star NasaSpace Toy; Japan, Satellite Auto-spin Roulette Coin Bank Box/vintage 1950s 1960s