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]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Tinplate Space Ship Usa Nasa Apollo Mt Modern Toys Japan Battery OperatedNomura - Space Commando Astronaut Made In Japan. Tinplate Space Ship Tank Yoshiya Ko Toys Japan ClockworkTinplate Space Ship X5 Mt Modern Toys Japan Battery Operated Sim Fireball Xl5 Rare Buck Rogers 25th Century Daisy Xz-31 Toy Ray Gun. Still Works Great!!!Gi Joe Vintage Adventure Team Spacewalk Mystery Set W/ Astronaut & Original Box**extremely Rare Color** Pez Space Gun 1950's ***gold***Buck Rogers Space ShipVintage Tinplate Mettoy Firebird Space Ship Friction Drive Sim Dan Dare EagleSanei Japan Tin Friction Atomic Jet Drive Indy Race Car 8.5" Excellent With BoxTinplate Space Ship Tank Mt Modern Toys Japan Clockwork1959 Revell S Space Station H-1805-498 Built, Glued, Missing Pieces, PartsSuper Rare & Htf Ideal Futuramic Take Apart Space Ship 1954 Very Nice Example 1966-67 Mattel Major Matt Mason Space Station 100% Complete With Original BoxFour Horsemen Outer Space Men Deluxe Wave 2 - Colossus Rex Figure - ColorformsVintage 1966 Remco Lost In Space 3d Action Fun Game 761 Cbs Tv Series RareSpace Rocket Ship 306 W/box Automatic Toy Co Tin Litho Friction WyandotteFosta Made In Usa Plastic 1950s Rocket Bank Vintage Collectible Spaceship 1950's Marx Captain Space Solar Scout Ray Gun Rifle Revell 1957 Xsl-01 Manned Space Ship. Boxed. High Grade. Revell Original Xsl-01 Spaceship Plastic Model KitHuge Lego Lot From 90's 6989 M-tron Magnetizer & 6985 Spaceship Space & MoreVintage Toy 1930s Daisy Buck Rogers "25th Century " Space Ray Gun Rare Four Horsemen Outer Space Men Deluxe Wave 3 - Gamma-x Figure Colorforms Gamma XVintage Star Wars Slave 1 Boba Fett Spaceship 1980 Original With Box Esb KennerVintage Original Action Man Atomic Man Complete Will Stand 1654Revell 1/96 Scale Apollo Saturn V, Model Kit Space Rocket SealedExtremely Rare 1950s Japan Asahi Friction Concept Dream Gm Turbine Tin Space CarSkk Sinsei Red Futuristic Space Car Tin Remote Battery OperatedLost In Space - The Chariot - Plastic Model Kit - Moebius - Skill Level 3Vintage Tinplate Space Ship Flying Saucer Ufo Terre Mars Earth Paris Sfa W9021960s Hasbro Gi Joe W Astronaut Outfit Lot Of 6 Capsule Foot Locker Accessories Mrc 1/12 Project Mercury Capsule Spacecraft By Atomic City #ltd Toy Stamp & 1960s Mattel Major Matt Mason Sgt Storm Figure W Blue StrapsVintage Tin Old Shooting Star Space Toy Ray Gun Rare Antique Not Marx NrOriginal '67 Aurora '69 Revell Astronaut Pro Built & Pro Painted Model By Villa Vintage Cragstan Flying Saucer W/lighted Engine Battery Operated Japan Tin ToySkylanders Trap Team Light Rocket Ship Trap - Rare - Hard To Find Vintage Tinplate Space Ship Explorer Mt Modern Toys Japan Friction DriveIdeal Captain Action Mib Flash Gordon 1966 First Issue, 100% Original, No ReprosFour Horsemen Outer Space Men Wave 3 4 Commander Comet Mystron Electron Alpha 7Ltd Toy Stamp & Vintage Mattel Major Matt Mason Lot Of 3 Action Figures 6" Y37Star Wars Electronic Millenium Falcon 2004 Spaceship, Mib, Mint In Box, UnopenedVintage Don Knotts Prop Space Outfit. Reluctant AstronautCenturi, Not Estes Flying SaucerSideshow 12" 1/6 Planet Of The Apes Taylor Astronaut Action Figure Loose!Huge Lot 1966-68 Mattel Major Matt Mason Toys - RareVintage Mattel Major Matt Mason Astro Trac In Box, Excellent Shape!Original 1 1/2" Blue Rope For 1978 Kenner Star Wars Death Star Space StationAtomic City Models 1/12 Eva Pod With Figure1968 Mattel Major Matt Mason Gamma Ray Gard Pak NocLot Of Losi Micro Parts, Atomic Mods, Aluminum, Tires, Bearings, Wheels1/24 The Chariot From "lost In Space" By Moebius ModelsSchylling Toys Zathura Tin Zorgon Rocket Ship Collectible Toy Spaceship W BoxLionel 671 - 2020 1946 Version Steamer Atomic MotorVintage Tin Toy Rocket Ship Battery OperatedHot Wheels Pop Culture Real Riders Flash Gordon Volkswagen Vw T1 Drag Bus!Vintage X-16 Space Patrol Flying Saucer Battery Op. 1960's1950s Archer Space Play Set 10 Inch Hard Plastic Convertible Space CarEarly Version Of Major Matt Mason