My first Christmas memories are from the last three years of the World War when I’m sure that our household finances were scarce and toy selections were very limited. Regardless of the struggles of the times, our parents still made every effort to provide my brother and me with Christmas toys. Our earliest gifts included a home-made wood and linoleum slide, wooden cars and trucks, Bill Ding stackable characters and Tinker Toys that came in a large cardboard tube.
Gift availability for following Christmases trended towards more plastic and imported toys and by the time when we were purchasing gifts for our own children in the 1970’s primitive computing technology was getting cheap enough that it could be integrated into toys and games.
In 1985 and 1986 the hottest toy in the country was developed and produced by two former employees of Atari, the pioneer video game company located in Hayward that will be remembered for creating “Pong”. Don Kingsborough and Mark Goldberg founded toy company Worlds of Wonder and established world headquarters on Technology Drive in Fremont, just off Grimmer (now Auto Mall Parkway). They created an animatronic teddy bear that told stories from tape cassettes complete with mouth synchronization and eye movement. Teddy Ruxpin, even at the steep 1985 price of $70, became the industry’s first megahit toy. Soon Teddy was joined in conversation with his buddy Grubby, followed by Mickey and Goofy who told a large collection of stories as did Mother Goose and Hector the Ugly Duckling.
Capitalizing on the success of Teddy Ruxpin, Worlds of Wonder expanded into producing some forgettable electronic toys including Rockin Boppers, Hide “N” Seek, Hop, Skip and Jump, Skip Stik, Splatter Up, and The Jaminator. Unfortunately the new toys didn’t catch on and the public’s reaction to a police shooting of a young man brandishing a Worlds of Wonder Laser Tag gun resulted in quick and steep decline in sales and company value. By 1990 the Fremont toy company that for a short time was the epicenter of innovation.... was gone. Worlds of Wonder had a small store front near the old Capwells store on Paseo Padre Parkway for a few years, repairing broken Teddy’s and selling off inventory and office items. Later versions of Teddy Ruxpin were brought out by Playskool while Laser Tag continues to be produced by Hasbro. Atari founder Nolan Bushnell went on to create the Chucky E Cheese franchise...but that’s another story.
Best wishes for a wonderful Christmas. May the peace of God be with you and may past memories bring you comfort and warmth this Holiday Season. -- Bill