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A Brief History of Nerf

Did you know that NERF stands for Non-Expanding Recreational Foam? Turns out these colorful plastic blasters and foam darts have an interesting past. History isn’t always an exciting topic, but you might be surprised at how the Nerf weaponry we know and love today came to be.

Invented by Reyn Guyer, the same man who came up with Twister, the Nerf brand was created in 1969 under a toy company called Parker Brothers. While Parker Brothers is most famous for giving us classic board games like Monopoly, Clue, Risk, and Trivial Pursuit, they started the Nerf brand to market part of Guyer’s indoor volleyball game, specifically, the 4 inch  polyurethane foam ball. Since in the 70s, the word “Nerf” was slang for the foam padding used during off-roading, the name caught on quickly.

Surprisingly, given how Nerf is popular for outdoor use, the early Nerf Ball was described as the “First Ever Indoor Ball”. It was marketed with this slogan in 1970: “Throw it indoors; you can’t damage lamps or break windows. You can’t hurt babies or old people.” As funny as that marketing ploy sounds to us today, the Nerf Ball was quite a success as it sold over 4 million units in its first year. The first Nerf Ball also only came in bright orange, possibly explaining why nearly all Nerf products still retain that color to this day.

Interestingly, the Nerf Ball failed Consumer Reports’ flammability test in 1971, “bursting into flames about two seconds after contact with a lit match”. Despite thus failing the standard set by the 1969 Child Protection and Toy Safety Act, it appears that no actions were taken against Parker Brothers or the Nerf brand about it.

To continue on, given the Nerf Ball’s popularity, Parker Brothers expanded their Nerf lineup. They produced a larger version, called the Super Nerf Ball, which was 7 inches in diameter and came also in Yellow, Blue, Green, Red, Aqua, and Purple. In 1972 they produced the “Nerfoop”, a foam basketball game, and the Nerf football, which was the most popular of the ball variations. Nerf Table Hockey, Pool, and Ping Pong were less popular for obvious reasons.

Nerf’s N-Sports line did well, and it wasn’t until 19 years later in 1989 that the first official Nerf blaster was sold. Called the “Blast-a-Ball” and meant for two people to play together, this early Nerf gun was a double blaster set. It used a push-and-pull system and came with four foam balls. Arrow blasters appeared in 1990, dart blasters followed 2 years later, and Nerf continues producing new variations of their popular blasters to this day.

The Nerf brand has gone through many changes, the most notable of which were its ownership and slogans. In 1991, Nerf merged with Kenner Products, was acquired by Tonka, and then was purchased by Hasbro, who remains the current owner. Similarly, the Nerf brand slogans have changed a few times as well, from the original “There’s only one Nerf” to “Get Real. Get Nerf”, to 2003’s “Play Your Game” to current day’s “It’s Nerf or Nothin’!” catchphrase.

Learn anything new about Nerf that surprised you?

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