A Brief History of Nerf (or Nothin')

iStock / popovaphoto
iStock / popovaphoto

The Nerf brand has been bringing kids foamy fun for over four decades now, but the company’s history might not be as familiar to you as the perfect technique for a crushing Nerfoop dunk. Let’s take a look at the Nerf nitty gritty.

It Was Supposed to Be a Volleyball Game

Although Nerf has become the leading name in spongy backyard warfare, its roots were decidedly less violent.

Inventor Reyn Guyer had enjoyed early success by creating the game Twister, and in 1968 he started Winsor Concepts to dream up new toy and game ideas. While working on a caveman-themed game, one of Guyer’s team members began bouncing one of the game’s foam “rocks” over a net. The designers realized that they were onto something and began developing a whole line of games based on foam balls.

Guyer initially took the game ideas to Milton Bradley, the company that had found a hit with his Twister invention. The game giant passed on Guyer’s creation, though. Undeterred, Guyer then pitched the foam games to Parker Brothers.


Mike Mozart, Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Parker Brothers wasn’t crazy about the actual games, but they loved the idea of a foam ball that kids could safely play with indoors. The company decided to market just the ball as its own toy. In 1969 Nerf made its debut in the form of the four-inch polyurethane foam Nerf Ball, which Parker Brothers dubbed “the world’s first indoor ball.” After the plain old Nerf ball became a runaway hit, Parker Brothers contracted with Guyer to make the wider array of foam games that he had originally envisioned.

The most memorable of these line extensions was surely the Nerf football, which bounced onto the scene in 1972. The Nerf football actually represented a bit of a technical change for the product line. Parker Brothers made the original Nerf balls by spinning foam on a lathe and cutting it with a piece of hot wire. Making the football, on the other hand, entailed pouring liquid foam into a mold. The resulting ball had a thick outer covering that helped it behave like an ordinary football.

Some of the other Nerf spinoffs failed to achieve the notoriety of the Nerf football. By the time the 80s rolled around, Parker Brothers had started making things like Nerf Pool, Nerf Ping Pong, and, of course, Nerf Table Hockey. The company even started a line of Nerful action figures that looked like anthropomorphic Nerf balls.

The Nerf brand has changed hands several times over the years. In 1987 Tonka purchased Kenner Parker Toys, the then-owner of the Parker Brothers brand, and in 1991 the brand moved again when Hasbro acquired Tonka. Hasbro has held onto the brand and helped it flourish; a 2010 Business Week report pegs the Nerf division’s annual revenues at $150 million.

“It’s Nerf or Nothin’!”

Nerf’s major coup for a whole generation of kids, though, was its introduction of foam weaponry. Sure, tossing a Nerf football around was fun, but shooting your buddies with soft foam balls? That’s real entertainment!


Jack Taylor / Getty Images

In 1989 Nerf debuted the Blast A Ball, small pinkish cannons that fired golfball-sized foam projectiles, but the 1991 introduction of the Nerf Bow and Arrow cemented the brand’s reputation as the armorer of kids everywhere. The 90s saw Nerf further expand its array of blasters into guns that fired missiles, balls, and suction-cup darts.

The blaster line is still buoying the brand’s sales; in 2009 Nerf even reintroduced the familiar old ad slogan “It’s Nerf or Nothin’!” The weapons are more technologically advanced now, though. The Raider Rapid Fire CS 35 has a capacity of 35 suction darts; the newer Nerf Stampede ECS is a fully automatic blaster that cranks out three darts per second. These toys sound a bit more sophisticated than the old Blast A Ball. (Although my brother and I can attest that the Blast A Ball was great for whacking each other even once its ammunition had been lost.)

All of this extra firepower has come at a price, though. In 2008 Nerf had to recall its N-Strike Recon Blaster after at least 46 reports of kids sustaining injuries while firing the gun. The blaster’s plunger firing mechanism had a nasty tendency of catching users’ skin as it flew forward, which let to welts and bruises on kids’ faces, necks, and chests. [Taylor Lautner image credit: © RAY STUBBLEBINE/Reuters/Corbis]

What does "Nerf" mean?

Some sources claim that “NERF” is an acronym for “Non-Expanding Recreational Foam,” but that story seems too good to be true. Reyn Guyer’s personal website explains that Parker Brothers named the balls after the foam that off-road drivers use to wrap their rollbars.

And while we’re asking questions, what happened to the original prototype Nerf ball? Tim Walsh had the answer in his terrific book, Timeless Toys: Reyn Guyer held onto it. Each year his family uses it as an ornament on their Christmas tree.

18 Disney Characters Just Got the LEGO Treatment

LEGO
LEGO

If you’ve ever wondered what one of Disney's princesses might look like standing next to Batman or Harry Potter, now's your chance to find out. LEGO has created minifigures of 18 characters from beloved Disney movies, and they’re a pretty diverse bunch.

There are Disney princesses and heroes, like Jasmine, Elsa, and Hercules. There are offbeat favorites, like Jack and Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas. A couple villains were thrown into the mix for good measure, and classic characters like Mickey and Minnie Mouse are also represented.

It has been a big week for both LEGO and Disney. The toy company announced the impending release of a 751-piece set that recreates the boat from Steamboat Willie, the 1928 short film that launched Mickey to stardom. The timing is also fitting, considering that Mickey recently celebrated his 90th birthday (not too bad for a mouse).

The S.S. Willie set will be available on April 1, but fans will have to wait a little longer for the Disney minifigures. Those will be available on the LEGO Store website and in stores nationwide starting May 1. Each minifigure costs $3.99.

Until then, check out some of the figures below, or browse LEGO’s selection of Disney-themed sets.

A Disney minifigure
LEGO

A Disney minifigure
LEGO

A Disney minifigure
LEGO

A Disney minifigure
LEGO

Disney’s Steamboat Willie Has Been Immortalized in LEGO

LEGO
LEGO

Mickey Mouse recently turned 90 years old, and soon, you’ll be able to celebrate with LEGO. Steamboat Willie, the classic Disney short film that introduced Mickey Mouse to the world in 1928, has now been recreated in a LEGO set that will be released on April 1.

The 751-piece LEGO version of the S.S. Willie features grayscale bricks that recreate the original black-and-white aesthetic of the original film. The 10-inch-long LEGO boat features moving steam pipes and paddle wheels and comes with new Mickey and Minnie minifigures. It’s also equipped with a ship’s wheel, a life buoy, a buildable bell, and a working crane that can lift the vessel’s potato-bin cargo.

LEGO's Steamboat Willie set
LEGO

The Steamboat Willie set was born out of the company’s fan-generated LEGO Ideas initiative several years ago. Creator Máté Szabó submitted the idea to LEGO in June 2016, then LEGO designers John Ho and Crystal Marie Fontan worked to adapt the set for retail sale, creating decorative elements and the new Mickey and Minnie Mouse minifigures.

LEGO's Steamboat Willie set
LEGO

Buy the kit on the LEGO Store website for $90 starting April 1. If you can't wait to get your LEGO fix, check out the company's other Mickey Mouse-themed products here.

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