The stories behind "Toy Story's" beloved characters
The stories behind "Toy Story's" beloved characters Slinky Dog and its cousin, Slinky Train, were allegedly inspired by inventor Helen Malsed's 6-year-old son, who wanted to see what would happen if his Christmas Slinky had wheels attached. (Aykut67/iStock/JD Hancock/Flickr)
The stories behind "Toy Story's" beloved characters
Lexile: 500L

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Toys as old as civilization. Neolithic kids are thought to have played with sticks. And they played with clay balls. Ancient Egyptian children had a game. It was like jacks. Children of China's Zhou Dynasty flew kites. Medieval European kids played war. They played with miniature soldiers.

Toys began to be mass-marketed. That was in the 20th century that. They were also patented. Classic playthings of the 1950s, '60s, '70s and '80s are seen in the Toy Story series. They came from the golden age of toy innovation. We've searched the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office archives. We looked for the original patents and backstories on the now-beloved Toy Story characters.

Slinky Dog

Slinky Dog is known as "Slink." He is Woody's loyal right-hand dog. He often uses his stretchable body to aid in rescues. Slink is based on the Slinky toy. It was invented in the 1940s. It was invented by naval engineer Richard James. It was named by his wife, Betty. James was inspired by a torsion spring. It flipped over on a ship's deck. 

Helen Malsed turned the Slinky into the Slinky Dog. She was a northwestern lumber baron's daughter. She was forced to drop out of college. This happened when the Depression hit. She became a toy inventor. She developed more than two dozen toys and games. This was over the course of her career. Slinky Dog has a cousin. His name is Slinky Train. They were allegedly inspired by her 6-year-old son. He wanted to see what would happen if his Christmas Slinky had wheels. Her 1957 Slinky Dog patent shows Slink in both the closed and expanded position.

Etch A Sketch

Etch A Sketch is shiny and red. He's known as "Sketch" in the movies. He uses his writing ability to send messages to the toy team. The Etch A Sketch was invented by AndrÇ Cassagnes. He was a French electrical technician. He was inspired by an encounter at work. It was in a wallcovering factory. Cassagnes made some pencil marks. He mad them on a protective decal. This was while he was installing a light-switch plate. He saw that the marks were visible on the other side of the decal. This was because the pencil had made lines through particles of a metallic powder. It was produced in the factory. They were stuck to the decal. They were stuck from static. Cassagnes developed a toy. It was based on the same idea. He received a patent.  That was in 1962. It was under the name of his accountant. His name was Arthur Granjean. He sold the rights. He sold them for $25,000. He sold them to the Ohio Art Company. They made it a bestseller.  

Speak & Spell

Mr. Spell is based on a popular 1980s toy. It was the Speak & Spell. He is a professor-like character. He gives educational seminars. He gives them on topics like "plastic corrosion." The Speak & Spell was created by Texas Instruments. They made it using solid state technology. They didn't use tape-recorded speech. That's how all previous talking toys were made. It was based on a primitive version of synthetic speech technology. It drives things like Alexa today. There is a 1985 patent for an "electronic talking learning aid." It shows an early variety of the Speak & Spell. It was sold between 1978 and 1992.


Barbie helps Woody and the gang. She helps them escape from Sunnyside daycare. That happens in Toy Story 3. Barbie is one of the most recognizable toys of the 20th century. Her creator is Ruth Handler. She was inspired by a German collectors' doll. It was called Bild Lilli. She spotted the doll in a Swiss shop. She introduced Barbie the "teenage fashion model" at the 1959 New York Toy Fair. She was an instant bestseller. She has gone on to many different careers. These careers include cowgirl and soccer coach.  She's been a paratrooper and President.  A 1961 patent shows the first version of Barbie. She has tightly curled bangs. She has a strong face. 

Chatter Telephone

The Chatter Telephone is scared after his stay at Sunnyside daycare. He aids Andy's toys in Toy Story 3.  He also tells on them. It's based on the 1961 Fisher-Price pull toy. It's still being tugged around by toddlers. Chatter's rolling eyes look especially creepy in a 1967 patent.

Care Bears

Toy Story 3 villain is Lots-O'-Huggin' Bear. He seems to be at least partly inspired by the 1980s plush toy and cartoon Care Bears. But Lots-O lacks a "belly symbol." The Care Bears were originally created as greeting card art. They came from the American Greetings company. They became teddy bears and cartoons in 1983. A 1987 patent depicts Tenderheart Bear. He is one of the original bears. There were 10 Care Bears. Pixar created a funny commercial. It looks vintage. It gives Lots-O his own backstory.

Claw Crane

The squeaky toy aliens appear in all the Toy Story movies. They come from inside an arcade claw game. It was at Pizza Planet. They consider "the Claw" to be their ruler. The alien toys are Pixar fiction. The claw machine is very real. It has a fascinating history. They were called "Diggers." They capitalized on public interest. It was in machinery. It was working on the Panama Canal. They were a popular carnival attraction. That was in the early 20th century. Players would insert a coin. They had a chance to scoop up a candy. William Bartlett was a carnival operator. He patented an electric version.  That was in 1932. He called it the Miami Digger. It made him rich. The government cracked down on diggers. That was in the mid-20th century. They saw them as "gambling machines." This forced operators into fancy legal workarounds. The diggers evolved. They became toy-filled claw crane machines. These were commonly seen in the 1980s. They were found in Pizza Huts and supermarkets.

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Which Toy Story character do you think would be a best-selling toy? Why?
Write your answers in the comments section below

  • johnc-hol1
    9/27/2019 - 09:12 a.m.

    Woody or Buzz because woody is a cowboy and buzz is a space ranger. Buzz kind've looks like some of the toys today.

  • clairem-hol
    9/27/2019 - 09:12 a.m.

    I think the Toy Story character that is going to be a favorite is the Slinky Dog! i think this because he has multiple ways to be played with and there is not just one way to play with him there is multiple.

  • sages-hol
    9/27/2019 - 09:12 a.m.

    Barbie, is already a popular toy. Many girls like to play with them. There are so many options to choose from in stores too.

  • thomass-hol4
    9/27/2019 - 09:13 a.m.

    I think that Woddy would be the best seller. He is the main character in the movie. He is also the most relatable character. Everyone loved and hatted him in one movie. Then everyone was loving him for the rest of the movies.

  • bradyu-hol
    9/27/2019 - 09:13 a.m.

    I think the toy story character that was the best selling was woody or buzz lightyear because he was very popular every time a new movie came out.

  • jordans-hol3
    9/27/2019 - 09:14 a.m.

    I feel like Slinky the dog would be a best seller. The reason is because unlike some toys, you can actually do something with it. What I mean is it's a slinky too. You can play with it as a dog, but also a slinky!

  • ethanb-hol3
    9/27/2019 - 09:15 a.m.

    I feel the best selling toys were the care bears. They are a common teddy bear, god for any young child, and they also had a TV show to promote them. I believe they would be the best selling toy because they had the most promoting.

  • graciej-hol
    9/27/2019 - 09:15 a.m.

    Barbie because all girls played with them when they were little and they still sell alot.

  • masonv-hol
    9/27/2019 - 09:19 a.m.

    I think the Slinky Dog line of manufacture would be a popular toy if it had made a comeback due to the Toy Story movies, therefore causing a spread of popularity throughout various countries and regions.

  • mikaylad-hol
    9/27/2019 - 09:19 a.m.

    I think that the Barbie would be the best selling because of her character in Toy Story. Many kids would love to have her and act like they are in the movie with her.

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