When Hasbro brought the Transformers to the United States in 1984, the toys were an overnight sensation. A generation of children raised on “Star Warsaction figures and Atari video games were thrilled by the idea that an everyday car or truck could turn into an awesome robot superhero.

Transformers got their start in Japan, where robots were viewed as benevolent creations. Starting in the late 1950s, the country that had been devastated by nuclear bombs in World War II took to spinning stories, in manga and anime, of giant robot protectors controlled by humans. The genesis of transforming robots dates at least to 1965, when Ozamu Tezuka, creator of Astro Boy, introduced the character of Magma (called Goldar in the U.S.), a gold sentient robot that could transform into a rocket.

Magma was followed in 1967 by a television character named King Joe, an evil alien robot formed from combining four ships, and 1974’s anime hero Getter Robo, made of three jets that could be connected to make three different robots.

The first true transforming robot toy appeared in 1975. This five-inch-tall diecast metal toy, produced by Bandai’s Popy, was based on the TV anime series “Brave Raideen,” whose hero was a giant robot. Though sentient, Raideen allowed himself to be piloted by a human, and he could change into a bird-like jet called Godbird. American kids got to play with their first transformer, dubbed a “two-in-one warrior,” in 1978, when Mattel sold Raideen as a part of its Shogun Warriors line.

After Raideen, transforming robots were all the rage in Japan, populating anime and live-action TV series in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Many of these robots were eventually repurposed as U.S. toys and cartoon characters meant to compete with the Transformers franchise. For example, the giant Dairugger XV robot, introduced in a 1982 anime, was formed from multiple cars—U.S. kids eventually came to know Dairugger XV as Voltron, Defender of the Universe.

That same year, another human-piloted giant robot called Valkyrie, which realistically transformed into a jet, appeared in the “Super Dimension Fortress Macross” anime. By 1985, “Macross” was combined with 1983’s “Mospeada” and 1984’s “Southern Cross” transforming robot animes to become the “Robotech” TV series in the United States. Meanwhile, the Popy company got in on the transforming robot action, releasing a series of toys called Machine Robo in 1982, which would be released by Tonka in the U.S. in 1984 as the Gobots.

The Transformers brand actually originated from a 1970s spin on G.I. Joe. In 1972, Japanese toy company Takara introduced a 12-inch android version of the popular soldier/adventurer action figure called Henshin Cyborg, with a transparent robot body and metallic head. In 1974, the company reduced this robot to a 3 3/4-inch action figure and dubbed him Microman. Two years later, action figure powerhouse Mego introduced Microman figurines and their vehicles to U.S. kids as Micronauts...

At the beginning of the ’80s, Takara updated its popular toy series and released it as New Microman, with a spinoff called the Diaclone line. Takara produced two transforming car robots for this new line, each piloted by one-inch Microman figures. These vehicles eventually became the Transformers’ Autobot heroes we know now as Ironhide and Sunstreaker. Similarly, 1984’s Diaclone Battle Convoy, a toy semi-truck, became Transformers good guy Optimus Prime.

In 1983, another Takara spinoff of Microman called MicroChange introduced kids to miniature vehicles and robots that transformed into lifesize household items and weapons. Many of these robots would also be made into Tranformers. The Walther P-38 Gun Robo, resembling a hand gun, became the evil Megatron, while Cassette Man, which resembled a tape, became Soundwave. MicroChange also featured what Takara called Mini Car Robos, made to look like “penny racer” cars. Many of these, too, would become a part of the Transformer line as mini Autobots: Cliffjumper, Bumblebee, Gears, Brawn, Windcharger, and Bumblejumper.

Taraka attempted to sell these toys in the U.S. in 1980, first under the Diakron and then the Kronoform brands. But because the company was unfamiliar with how to market its products in the U.S., by 1983 these early ventures had failed.

Fortunately, that was not the end. In 1983, Hasbro representatives attending the Tokyo Toy Fair signed a licensing deal to sell MicroChange and Diaclone robots in the United States. Right away, Hasbro collaborated with comics publisher Marvel and animators Sunbow Productions to develop a story that would bring these two toy lines together as the Transformers—the cartoons and comics would serve as marketing tools for their products. Because these Transformers were sentient, the tiny Diaclone pilots were eliminated.

The basic story they came with goes like this: The Transformers are not man-made machines. In fact, they are actually a prehistoric alien race from the planet Cybertron that long ago split into two warring factions—the Autobots and Decepticons. A spaceship carrying these creatures had crash-landed on Earth four million years ago, where the robots lay dormant until they are awakened in 1984. The Decepticons, led by Megatron, proceeded to pillage and dominate the comparatively weak humans. Optimus Prime and his Autobot friends took on the role of protecting human society.

Transformer toys made between 1984 and 1993, called Generation One by collectors, are considered by some to be the only “true” Transformers. Some like Optimus Prime tranformed into cars and trucks, while others like Megatron turned into oversize objects such as guns. Still others transformed into jets or dinosaurs—these Dinobots were introduced in Japan by Diaclone in 1984.

One of the most popular Transformers, Decepticon Soundwave, converted itself into a contraption that looked like a Sony Walkman—Autobot Blaster became a boombox stereo. Characters such as Ravage and Rumble took on cassette-tape shapes that were designed to fit into Soundwave's and Blaster’s decks. Meanwhile, a 1985 Transformer called Shockwave transformed into a toy laser gun, and those known as triple changers had three modes—Astrotrain could be changed into a train or a space shutlle, Blitzwing became a tank and a jet, and Broadside transformed into both a jet and an aircraft carrier.

Hasbro also introduced lines of "combiner" Tranformers. Sold separately, they could be attached to one another to make an even bigger robot. For example, when put together, the five Technobots could be arranged to form Computron, and the Constructicons come together to make Devastator. Meanwhile, the Throttlebots came out in a smaller Matchbox-car size. The U.S. Transformers concept was repackaged for Japan, too—by 1985, the U.S. versions ended up destroying the Microman and Diaclone lines.

The 1986 American animated film “Transformers: The Movie” brought in new characters and eliminated earlier ones. At the same time, Hasbro changed many of the toys for cost-cutting reasons, removing expensive die-cast metal parts and making the transforming components less complicated.

The Transformers craze had mostly faded in the United States by 1990, but in 1993 the Generation Two toys were launched. These were mostly repainted version of the old toys with extra weapons and accessories that made cool sounds. Eventually, though, Takara was enlisted to redesign many of the toys, including Megatron, who became a tank instead of gun. Still, this new line didn’t capture the imagination of its target audience and was discontinued in 1995.

Concurrently, the mid-1990s popularity of Japanese giant-robot anime films like the “Gundam” series and “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” restored interest in transforming robot toys. This prompted Hasbro to relaunch the Transformers again for its 1996 Beast Wars series, which switched from humanoid to animal-like robots, including a rat (Rattrap), a cheetah (Cheetor), a razorback (Razorbeast), a tarantula (Tarantulas), an iguana (Iguanus), and a wasp (Waspinator). Megatron became a Tyrannosaurus rex, while Optimus Primal was a gorilla.

Around 2000, vehicle Transformers returned in the form of the evil Vehicons fighting the good Maximals. After that, more Transformers car-robot animated series were released, and Hasbro produced a couple of revamped toy lines to go with them, including Robots in Disguise, Armada, Energon, Cybertron, and the more general Transformers Universe. A 2003 toy series called Alternators actually looked like name-brand cars and trucks, made to a 1/24 scale—these were discontinued in 2006 but are popular with collectors today.

To mark the 20th anniversary of Transformers in 2004, Takara produced a special Optimus Prime for the U.S. collectors’ market. This die-cast robot was based on the original G1 semi-truck character, made of die-cast metal and featuring a complex changing process. For this Masterpiece Editions line, Takara has put out an honorary reproduction every year, including Megatron, Starscream, and Grimlock.

In 2006, Hasbro launched the nostalgic Classics line, which featured improved, better articulated versions of the G1 toys—these eventually became absorbed in Transformers Universe. That same year, the company took many “Star Wars” vehicles and re-imagined them as Transformers for its Crossovers line—in 2008 it did the same with Marvel superheroes.

The Transformers franchise received yet another boost with the 2007 release (and 2009 sequel) of Michael Bay’s smash hit live-action movie, “Transformers,” starring Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox. Naturally, toys were made to go with the film were sold alongside the Transformers Animated line, which was based on the yet another new animated TV series.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

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]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Transformers Custom Masterpiece Optimus Prime Mp 10 U.s. Tru Japanese Version Unreleased Transformers Stunticon Dragstrip Prototype Generation 2 G2Transformers Masterpiece Optimus Prime Mp-10 Toys R Us Exclusive Not Sdcc Unreleased Transformers Generation 2 Optimus Prime Combat Hero Blue Repaint Takara Diaclone Lancia Stratos Turbo Vintage 1984 Marlboro TransformerBigbadtoystore Damaged & Defective Takara Transformers Mp (masterpiece) Lot #5Unreleased Transformers Generation 2 Megatron Combat Hero Camo Repaint Complete Transformers Masterpiece Rodimus Prime Toys R Us ExclusiveTransformers 1984-88 G1 Lot Of 41 Robots Scorponok Predacons Whirl Prime More FsTransformers Soundwave Masterpiece Mp-02 MisbTakara Transformers Masterpiece Rodimus Convoy Mp-09 Mp09 G1Transformers Vintage G1 Lot With Weapons Original Hasbro Takara 1980's Optimus~rare~ Vintage 1986 Transformers Headmaster Decepticon Base Scorponok W/ BoxG1 Transformers Bluestreak And Mirage Ngb Afa 85 (pre Rub/no Gray Borders) MisbTransformers Tfc Hercules With Rage Of Hercules Add-on Misb~rare~ Vintage 1987 Transformers Headmaster Autobot Base Fortress Maximus W/ BoxTransformers G1 Afa 85 Wheeljack MisbVintage Popy 1981 Godaikin Gardian Bandai Super Robot Takatoku Made In JapanLot Of 20 Transformers G-1 Soundwave Blaster Prowl Sureshot Rodimus Ravage MoreG1 Transformers Masterpiece Megatron Mp-5 Mib Takara Tomy Mib Japanese Transformers Masterpiece Thundercracker Tru Toys R Us Exclusive Misb Vintage G1 Transformers Optimus Prime Misb G1 Transformers Movie U.s. SellerDinobots Special Edition Action Set Transformers Sdcc 2014 Hasbro ExclusiveTransformers United Bruticus Maximus With Fansproject Crossfire02sp Add On MisbTransformers G1 Afa 90 Hot Rod Misb!!!Vintage G1 Transformers Megatron 100% Complete Nice Joints Rub Transformers Custom Mp Citizen Stack Ultra MagnusCustom Transformers : Aoe Leader Optimus Prime 1984 Hasbro Transformers G1 Autobot Commander Optimus Prime W/boxNew G1 Transformers Masterpiece Megatron Mp-5 Mib Takara Tomy Mib Japanese Takara Transformers Masterpiece Mp 05 Megatron Decepticon Leader G1 Complete!1985 Hasbro Transformers G1 Windcharger W/ Mini Spy Afa 80 Mosc MisbTransformers G1 Megatron 1984 In Box Hasbro 1 Mib Near CompleteTakara Transformers Masterpiece Convoy Optimus Prime Mp-1 2003 Action FigureHasbro Transformers G1 Masterpiece Starscream Action Figure20th Anniversary Masterpiece Lion Force Voltron! Limited Edition #3309San Diego Comic Con Sdcc 2014 Transformers Masterpiece Mp-05 SunstormLeader Class Transformers Rotf Ra-24 Buster Optimus Prime Metallic Chrome Tt6017Takara Transformers Masterpiece Mp-09 Rodimus W/ Coin Misb 1st Release A0311Transformers Masterpiece 30th Anniversary Soundwave Toysrus Exclusive - MibTransformers Generation 2 Laser Optimus Prime Hasbro Standard Production SampleTransformers Series 2 Vinyl Figures Loyal Subjects Full Case / 16 Blind BoxesNew Vintage Boxed Shogun Warriors Gaiking Mattel 1978 Figure Robot Toy No 2441Transformers G1 Soundwave 1984 Misb Generation 1 Decepticon Factory Sealed TapeUnreleased Transformers Protectobot Groove Prototype Generation 2 G2 (defensor)Iron Dibots Scoria Fan Toys Ft-04 Transformers Fan ToysTakara Tomy Transformers Masterpiece Mp-5 Destron Leader MegatronTransformers 20th Anniversary Optimus Prime Gray Gun MisbTransformers Beast Wars Lot Of 25 Action FiguresG1 Transformers G1 Optimus Prime Mail Away Movie Edition Takara Transformers Masterpiece G1 Mp-11 Starscream Japan With Original Coin Transformers Masterpiece 30th Anniversary Acid Storm Toysrus Exclusive - Misb2014 Sdcc Toynami 30th Anniversary Voltron Gold Edition ExclusiveSdcc 2014 Hasbro Exclusive Transformers Dinobots With Hasbro BagMint Unused G1 Transformers Autobot Jetfire In Original BoxTransformers Masterpiece Starscream With BoxTransformers G1 Predaking 30th Gift Set Lot Platinum Edition A1b2c3d4carlosTransformers Dinobots Set - Sdcc 2014 Comic Con Exclusive - Free ShippingVintage G1 Transformers LotTransformers Mp-10