Toy Hall of Fame salutes little green army men, Rubik's Cube, bubbles

NEW YORK - Little green army men finally prevailed on Thursday in their two-year battle for a coveted spot in the National Toy Hall of Fame, joining Rubik's Cube and soap bubbles on the podium for an induction ceremony held at a western New York museum.

The miniature plastic soldiers had been nominated last year, but lost out to the classic yellow rubber duckie and chess, one of the world's oldest board games.

"It was a pretty stiff competition this year," said Patricia Hogan, curator of toys and dolls at The Strong, a children's and cultural history museum in Rochester where the National Toy Hall of Fame resides.

This year, a selection committee chose the inductees from 12 finalists, which also included American Girl dolls, Mattel's Fisher-Price Little People, Hess Toy Trucks, Hasbro Inc.'s My Little Pony and Operation Skill Game, Wham-O's Slip'N Slide, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and pots and pans.

All told, there were 430 toys named in more than 5,000 nominations this year, all vying to join 53 previous inductees since 1998.

"All three inductees represent three different types of play," said Christopher Bensch, vice president for collections at The Strong. "Little green army men are great for storytelling; bubbles are purely a physical toy; and the Rubik's Cube is much more of an intellectual toy."

Little green army men, made of molded plastic and standing just two to four inches tall, marched into the toy scene in 1938. They suffered a decline in popularity during the Vietnam War, but sales increased in the 1980s and 1990s, in large part because of their prominent role in Pixar's hit movie Toy Story.

"Little green army men help children learn how to negotiate," said Hogan, explaining one of the reasons the toy was selected for induction. "There is also a lot of creativity and imagination involved with them."

The Rubik's Cube, a colorful plastic puzzle, was invented by Hungarian architect Erno Rubik in 1974 and brought to the United States by Ideal Toy Corp in 1979. Between 1980 and 1982, 100 million Rubik's Cubes were sold around the world.

This year's third inductee, soap bubbles, has a murky history. The earliest paintings of children playing with bubbles appeared in Flanders in the 17th century. Today, retailers sell more than 200 million bottles of bubbles annually.