Footballs, bows and arrows, and of course, the Ballzooka

By Alex Heigl
Updated February 26, 2014 08:30 AM

Hard to believe, but NERF turns 45 in 2014. We’re reeling a little bit that a brand so inextricably tied to childhood is nearly a half-century old, but we’re also too busy celebrating by pelting each other with small foam balls to be too concerned.

Join the celebration with this timeline of a brand that that’s impacted more schoolchildrens’ heads than basic math.


Parker Brothers originally developed NERF, starting with this four-inch foam ball in 1969. They sold millions by the end of 1970. (“Throw it indoors,” the ads claimed. “You can’t damage lamps or break windows. You can’t hurt babies or old people.” Whether children were reassured by this or simply took it as a challenge remains up for debate.)


In 1972, a basketball game called NERFoop and the NERF football were introduced. NERF Baseball joined in 1983.


The Blast-A-Ball, an early single-shot precursor to later toys like the Ballzooka, debuted in 1989.


NERF introduced its iconic Bow ‘n’ Arrow in 1991, causing children everywhere to take up a bow long before anyone knew what a “Katniss” was.

Also debuting in 1991: The screaming football known as the Vortex. Originally a Koosh property, the toy eventually found its way into the NERF family. (The author has fond memories of hearing this thing scream across playgrounds en route to someone’s hands – or head.) The non-screaming version of the football was fun, too, we suppose.


The NERF Master Blaster was introduced with along with the Slingshot in 1992. These toys used round foam balls instead of the large foam darts the Bow ‘n’ Arrow used – for tactical purposes, you see.


NERF’s Ballzooka came out in 1994, and as this ad mentions, it was indeed NERF or nothin’. By which we mean, you had this thing or you were destroyed by everyone else on the playground.


The company teamed up with Mike Piazza and Peyton Manning for a series of ads in 2002.


NERF started the NERF Dart World Championship in 2009, traveling to five cities across the U.S. and setting up competitions.


In 2013, NERF debuted its Rebelle line, a series of toys designed to appeal specifically to girls. Hunger Games fanatics rejoiced.


The company’s latest offerings include the Zombie Strike line, which offers children and children-at-heart everywhere the opportunity to engage in some post-zombiepocalypse play. Attempt to resist the details on this blaster like the faux-tape-wrapped grip, or try to convince us this crossbow isn’t influenced by Daryl on The Walking Dead. You will fail.

Another sign of the company’s modern-day ingenuity: These terrifying, Orwellian remote-controlled walking spider-bots. Meet the NERF Combat Creatures Attacknid.

NERF, you’ve come a long way. Here’s to another 45 years!

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