DING-A-LING ROBOTS: AMERICA’S ROBOT TOY PIONEER

If you’re an avid robot toy collector, I’m sure you’ve come across the Ding-A-Ling Robots on such sites as Ebay. And although you may have seen them, you may not know much about them or their history, except that that they were bright and colorful, and definitely had that playful look and feel. Even if you grew up in the early 1970s and had Ding-A-Ling Robots of your own, you still may not know much about them, which is unfortunate, because Ding-A-Ling Robots have definitely earned their place in robot toy history for being one of the first toy lines in the United States to introduce kids to the joys and excitement of robots.

Introduced by the infamous Topper Toys from 1970 through 1972, the Ding-A-Ling Robot toy line were normally placed for sale on the top shelf of grocery stores through America. These robots would display in bright candy-like colors, which easily caught the eye of kids walking in the aisles with their parents, who in turn would then try nag their folks to get one for them.

Interestingly, Topper Toys was the brand name for a company formally called Deluxe Reading, a toy manufacturing company located in Elizabeth, NJ. Topper Toys was founded by President/CEO Henry Orenstein, a holocaust survivor who wrote and published several books about his experiences in the holocaust, and who also held several patents for the Transformers toy line as well.

Topper Toy went on to create several famous toy lines, including the Sesame Street dolls and Motorized Monster Make Kit. Unfortunately, despite the Ding-A-Ling Robots brand being a very unique and novel toy line for kids, the toy manufacturing industry, overall, at that time near was in big slump. The economy was weak, unemployment was steadily increasing, there was a lot of labor unions who were on strike, and there was high inflation. Accordingly, many Americans could not afford unnecessary luxuries, especially something as novel as the Ding-A-Ling Robots. Eventually, with the demand for toys plummeting, Topper Toys eventually filed for bankruptcy in 1973.

Still, Topper Toys left a legacy for robot toy history with its Ding-A-Ling Robots. There were nineteen individual robots all together, each one being about 5 inches in height, and each named after its own unique function and its own personality. The main robots included Answer Man, Boxer, Brain, Chef, Constructo, Fireman, Flying Saucer, Gopher, Rocky and ShoeShine. Each robot had its own mechanical function. With Answer Man, for example, you would ask it a question involving yes or no, then spin a wheel on its chest, in which Answer Man would then respond with yes, no, or maybe. Similarly, with Boxer, the robot would make a punching maneuver just like a real boxer. It was these different and individual functionalities of each robot that was the appeal for kids to want to purchase each one.

The less common robots included Bank, Cowboy, Detecto, Driver, Jack in the Box, Policeman, Spy, Ding a Ling Mobile, and the infamous King Ding with Brain. Standing about 14 inches tall, King Ding with Brain looked like an elementary school version of ED 209 from RoboCop, except that this robot was controlled by a cockpit, with Brain robot controlling its helm as its pilot.

The uniqueness to the Ding-A-Ling Robots was that each robot was powered by inserting a Power Pack in the back of each robot, which would then motorize the robot, allowing it to move. In addition, kids were encouraged to purchase the Ding-A-Ling playsets, which would contain several monorail tracks, allowing each robot to attach to the monorail and ride on it, moving the robot up and down like a train would on a monorail.

In addition to being advertised in the stores, Ding-A-Ling Robots were advertised through its tv commercials and the Topper Toys Dealer catalogs. Through Ding-A-Ling Robots, this was one of the first times American kids were exposed to a 100% American based robot toy line, and helped add to pop culture the growing interest and sense of wonder in robot and space toys.

Today, these robots still are a treat to look at and operate, as they still provide a smile and chuckle to those that are fortunate enough to possess them. These robots are a precursor to the Japenese mecha that we all eventually became familiar with. Furthermore, they provide insight into how Americans viewed science fiction and robots at that time. In fact, if you look at Ebay, the demand is still great for enthusiasts and collectors alike. A single robot can fetch hundreds of dollars, with the entire line going for thousands.

Do you have any memories of the Ding-A-Ling Robots? Do you own any today? What is your first memory of your earliest childhood robot toy? We would like to hear your story.

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