Robot Toy History

here is where we will talk about the history of toys…from the old 1950s or maybe even from the prehistoric dinosaur era…to the more modern Robosapiens and Furbies to the very recent Aibos and Vectors and Optimus Primes for $600!

In this section we will try to shed some light on the history of the toy robot.

We mentioned in another section what a robot is and that the first mention of the word robot came from a 1920s play written by Carl Kapek called RUR Rossums universal Robot and the word robot was Czech for forced labor.

But sure we could go back to the cave days and claim that artistic pictures of strange creatures on the cave walls could have been god like idols or maybe creatures that some caveman dreamt about one night and looked like a robot.

We could go a bit later into the Japanese Edo period where Japanese robots were creatures that posed no threat and were even given human emotions and free will. A Japanese craftsman named Hisashige Tanaka, who lived from 1799 to 1881, made karakuri dolls, which were early automatons that moved through spring action. They could serve tea, shoot arrows, and even write.

The most incredible website for the history of Robot toys has to be Scot Brays site HackingMartian or

Simply amazing the incredible work he has put into his project to document the history of toy robots! Kudos to him.

There is also Scot Cragston and his and the youtube videos of RobotElixer

Here is a great website that talks about the history of talking dolls.

But for the most part our toy history begins with the tin metal robots mass produced after war time.

So here we will probably start off in the 1940s with metal or tin type robots which looked like mechanical people and came from Japan after WW2.

Basically after the war Japan was not allowed to produce too many things especially not military things so they turned to toys and found that robots were a hit in America.

It is generally agreed that the robot toy called Robot Lilliput with its boxy yellow metal body was the first robot manufactured followed by the Atomic Robot man.

US toy importers like Marx, Rosco, Cragstan and Mego began selling toys manufactured by big Japanese toy makers like Masudaya, Nomura, Daiya, Yoshiya, Yonezawa and Horikawa.

These first Japanese toys were friction or clockwork powered, stamped steel and base

shortly after the war, most of the first robots were actually American made. The first to show up in the Sears Christmas Book was Ideal’s crank operated Robert the Robot in 1954. Soon came, Marvelous Mike, The Robot Dog, Z-Man, Big Max and Marx Electric robot, all American made.

A movie created a robot frenzy where every kid wanted a robot called Forbidden Planet which was during the time of the 1957 space launch of the Sputnik.

Every toy company seemed to make their own version of Robby the robot and gave it names like Planet Robot and Mechanized Robot.

Since early Japanese toy robots were made from scrap metal it is apparently possible to find one that has the original tuna can markings on it or perhaps a powdered milk container.

Japanese battery operated toys was the Horikawa company who used the trade logo SH . Horikawa sold literally hundreds of different tin robots, rockets and space stations.

In 1963, tin toys accounted for 60 percent of Japan’s toy exports.

54, Ideal Toy Corporation introduced remote-control Robert the Robot, who had light-up eyes, swinging arms, and the ability to walk and talk. After Robert, Marvelous Mike, The Robot Dog, Z-Man, Marx Electric Robot, and Big Max hit the scene. However, it was the Japanese, who, in 1955, introduced the first battery powered robot.

The most popular Japanese robot character Testuwan Atomu, known as Mighty Atom or Astro Boy.

The Metal House toy company was founded as Marumiya in 1943. It produced some well-known tin toys. Especially familiar to collectors of battery-operated tin toy robots, the firm originally operated as a subcontractor producing toys for some of the most prolific Japanese toy companies such as Horikawa, Nomura, and Yonezawa during the post World War II heyday of tin toys.

A long list of popular toys were manufactured by Marumiya during this period. One of the earliest big successes in the mid-to late 1950s was Nomura’s Zoomer Robot. A series of toys based upon the Robby the Robot character brought to life by MGM’s 1956 movie Forbidden Planet such as Piston Robot and Mechanized Robot were also quite successful and are highly sought after today.

Well-known Horikawa toy robots include Smoking Spaceman, Machine Robot, Fighting Robot, and Attacking Martian, all of which were ground-breaking entries into the field with lengthy production runs.

Some categories of early robot toys were the following:piston robots, windup robots, smoking and spinning, rotate, gear robots, bump and go television robots and thunder robots