A Brief History of NERF Toys + 5 Cool Facts about NERF

History of Nerf Toys

In many ways, Nerf symbolizes childhood. It is hard to imagine a childhood without Nerf toys. Nerf and childhood go hand and hand. Some of us continue our Nerf habit into adulthood. From Nerf footballs to their dart guns, it is undeniable that Nerf is an iconic brand.

Nerf transformed childhood play when it was introduced in 1969. Before Nerf, kids risked a lot of pain when playing games such as dodgeball. After Nerf, dodgeball became a risk-free game. The same is true of Nerf guns. Kids can play for hours without getting hurt. Nerf transformed how children play.

But how did Nerf get started? Who thought of the idea to turn foam into toys children would love? Those are a couple of the questions we’re going to answer in this article. Many of us grew up with Nerf. Now let’s take a look at how this famous brand got started.

An Accidental Invention

Neft was an accidental invention. Nerf’s founder Reyn Guyer had already created the popular game Twister when he stumbled upon what we know today as Nerf. Guyer was in his conference room with colleagues testing a caveman game. One of his colleagues began playing with one of the game’s foam rocks.

As he was bouncing the rock over a net, a lightbulb went off in their heads. Throwing the rocks around was more fun than playing the caveman game. That’s when the team of designers realized they could create a line of games based on their discovery. Guyer shopped his idea around, approaching Milton Bradley with the concept.

Milton Bradley had had great success with Twister but wasn’t interested in foam ball based games. Guyer wasn’t deterred. He continued pitching his idea. Parker Brothers saw potential in Guyer’s foam balls. But, Parker Brothers didn’t have much interest in the games Guyer and his team had designed for the foam balls.

However, the company was interested in the idea of foam balls that children could play safely with indoors. In the end, the ball itself is what Parker Brothers marketed as the toy.

They sold Nerf as “the world’s first indoor ball.” Nerf was a runaway success. Parker Brothers later contracted Guyer, asking him to create the Nerf games they had initially dismissed.

Origins of the Nerf Name

There are many theories about the origins of Nerf’s name. One popular theory says Nerf is an acronym for Non-expanding recreational foam. However, nobody associated with the Nerf brand has ever confirmed this.

Others say nerf is slang for the padding used in off-road racing. Nerf bars are the padding located at the front and back to push off-road racing cars to the starting line. The Nerf padding protects the cars from damage. Unlike the acronym theory, Nerf’s founder Reyn Guyer has confirmed this origin story.

A Household Name

America fell in love with Nerf when it went on sale in 1970. The toy flew off shelves; 4 million had been sold by the end of the first year. Kids could now play their favorite ball games indoors. Parents no longer had to fear their kids would destroy their valuables when playing inside. “Throw it indoors” became one of Nerf’s marketing slogans.

Nerf took indoor play to the next level with the introduction of Nerf football in 1972. Parker Brothers had to change its manufacturing formula to create the Nerf football. Instead of spinning the foam on a lathe and cutting it with a hot wire, they used a mold to make the football. The results were a Nerf football that handled very much like a traditional football.

Parker Brothers released a series of Nerf toys following the success of the Neft football. Although none took off like the Nerf football, the line continued to enjoy a lot of success. Some notable Nerf toys from the 1970s and 1980s include Nerfoop (basketball game set), Nerf ping pong, Nerf pool, and Nerf table hockey.

The Nerf brand wouldn’t remain with Park Brothers forever. In 1987, Tonka acquired Nerf. Nerf changed hands again when Hasbro acquired Tonka. Nerf has remained with Hasbro ever since.
Nerf revolutionized how American children played. But the story doesn’t end there; Nerf’s innovation continued.

Nerf’s Toy Weapons

The early 1990s would change the Nerf brand forever. That is when Hasbro made the fateful decision to introduce toy guns to the Nerf lineup. Just like the previous generation of Nerf products, Nerf guns were safe. No worries about shooting an eye out, like with a BB gun. Nerf’s weapons were kid-friendly.

What could be better than shooting friends with polyurethane foam balls? Turns out not much for America’s kids; the introduction of Nerf’s Blaster line was a game-changer. Kids across America began asking for Nerf guns for their birthdays and Christmas. When Nerf introduced the Nerf Bow and Arrow in 1991, it became the preferred toy gun maker of kids everywhere.

Nerf’s toy guns became associated with the rallying cry, “It’s Nerf or Nothin’!” From the 1990s onward, Nerf began manufacturing increasingly sophisticated weaponry. Some of Nerf’s most notable guns include:

  • Nerf N-Strike Elite Strongarm Blaster: A revolver style gun that can hit targets up to 90 feet away
  • Nerf Fortnite AR-L Elite Dart Blaster: Inspired by Fortnite’s assault rifle is motorized to shoot Nerf darts faster than the typical Nerf gun
  • Nerf Rival Nemesis MXVII-10K Gun: Fires up to 100 rounds before you need to reload. It is a rapid-fire long-distance shooter
  • Nerf N-Strike Elite Jolt Blaster: This is Nerf’s pocket-sized blaster. It’s a single-shot firearm that gets the job done
  • Nerf N-Strike Mega Megalodon Blaster: This gun boasts a 20-dart rotation drum with single fire and rapid-fire options.

Continually innovating, Nerf targeted girls with its release of the Nerf Rebelle line in 2013.

Unfortunately, not all of Nerf’s weaponry has proven as safe as its original toys. Nerf issued a recall for the Nerf Recon CS-6 Blaster after reports that children’s skin was getting stuck in the toy’s plunger resulting in injury. Despite the recall, Nerf weapons remain a big hit.

Nerf Today

Nerf’s continues to focus on expanding its line of weaponry. Nerf has embraced the Zombie craze, introducing the theme into its lineup. Nerf’s Zombie strike has blasters and crossbows, TV shows such as Zombieland, Left 4 Dead, and The Walking Dead clearly inspired this line.

Accustrike is another innovative Nerf weapon. The accustrike darts and blasters feature precision targeting, flying further and more smoothly than their predecessors. With the accustrike weapons, enthusiasts can enjoy sessions of firing round after round at targets non-stop.

Nerf has also expanded beyond just guns, with a line of play melee weapons. New Nerf swords, shields, and maces have beome hugely popular in recent years.

Nerf’s Modulus series features customizable dart blasters. They come with a vast range of accessories, including scopes, long-range barrels, and sturdy stocks. Add your Nerf magazine of choice, and you’ll be firing away for a long time.

Interesting Nerf Facts

Nerf has revolutionized how we play. There are a lot of interesting facts about Nerf on the internet. We’ll share a few of them here.

  1. Minnesota Vikings Kicker Fred Cox invented the Nerf football, which went on sale in 1972. NERFoop debuted the same year, followed by Nerf’s indoor baseball in 1983
  2. Hasbro has a massive Nerf testing facility at its headquarters where employees get to shoot each other in different environments to test new products. They test in simulated basements, dorm rooms, cubicles, and dorms.
  3. Nerf has had a lot of slogans. Although the brand is probably best known for “It’s Nerf or Nothin’!” there are several other notable slogans, including “Light It Up!” “Get Real. Get NERF,” “Accept No Substitutes,” “There’s Only One NERF,” “The Wetter The Better,” and “Bend The Rules Of Battle.”
  4. Nerf’s biggest year was 1992 when it released its first dart blaster, the Nerf sharpshooter. This marked Nerf’s entry into toy guns with foam ammunition. The Nerf slingshot went on sale the same year with a commercial featuring Seth Green.
  5. Nerf products have appeared in many TV shows, including Big Bang Theory, Adam Ruins Everything, 30 Rock, Chuck, The Office, and Modern Family.

Final Thoughts

Nerf is the story of an accidental invention, becoming a worldwide phenomenon. Nerf revolutionized indoor play. From its humble beginnings in 1969 to its juggernaut status today, Nerf is known for making fun toys both children and adults enjoy.

Nerf started with the world’s first indoor ball. Today high-tech Nerf guns have become the brand’s bestseller. Nerf is a story of constant innovation. The brand has tested many new products over the years. Some have proven more successful than others. Still, 50 years after Nerf redefined indoor play, the brand remains strong.

Nerf’s best-known slogan, “Nerf or Nothing!” rings true today. When Reyn Guyer and his colleagues stumbled upon the concept, who would have dreamt that a foam ball would have such an impact on the world? History is often unexpected. The unexpected has defined Nerf’s enduring success.

If the first fifty years of Nerf’s history are any indication, the Nerf brand will remain at the forefront of innovation and their product at the top of kid’s wish lists.

Brett Gordon

The brains behind The Toy Report. Having clocked tons of time in toys research and online resource development, today, Brett is dedicated to making The Toy Report a trusted space in the world of toy reviews and recommendations.