The First McDonald's Happy Meal Toys Were Lowkey Disappointing

Ask any kid, especially during the 1980s and 1990s, what they wanted to eat for dinner, and many would probably suggest McDonald's. The burger chain with its Ronald McDonald mascot and nationwide playgrounds appealed to families as the "fun" restaurant to take their kids. Nowhere was that more prevalent than McDonald's Happy Meals, which promised the thrill of a toy in addition to each child getting their own meals. 

However, those early toys left a bit to be desired, at least by modern sensibilities. Launching officially in 1979, the first Happy Meals featured circus-themed toys, which were likely inspired by their clown mascot. These included McWrist wallets, bracelets, brainteasers, erasers, spinning tops, and McDoodler stencils. These early toys were a far cry from the movie tie-ins that McDonald's would eventually have. Looking back, we can't help but feel a bit disappointed for the children of the '70s hoping for something a bit more exciting in their meal.

Of course, it's possible that our view of these early McDonald's toys may be tainted by the knowledge of what was to come. After all, do you remember when McDonald's sold Furbies and everyone lost their minds? The prospect of more promising toys that followed made the original lineup seem dull by comparison. However, these toys would now be vintage and possibly worth money if you still have them somewhere in your attic.

Early Happy Meals

While you don't see many original Happy Meal toys for sale online, some Happy Meals like the aforementioned Furbies can fetch you a pretty penny online. So it may help to hold onto those childhood Happy Meal toys well into adulthood. While our feelings on the original Happy Meal lineup are well documented by this point, we have to give credit where credit is due. After all, they helped make Happy Meals popular enough to thrive all these years later.

Prior to launching Happy Meals, McDonald's sold small dolls of Ronald McDonald's at select locations. The Happy Meal was invented in the 1970s by Yolanda Fernández de Cofiño, who developed the idea of a meal for children, and Bob Bernstein, who realized the meal needed a hook for children. After noticing his son look for toys in his cereal box, Bernstein took the idea and ran with it. This might explain the similarities between these early Happy Meal toys and what is found in a cereal or Cracker Jacks box. 

However, in an interview with CNN Business, Bernstein said he had to force the issue at McDonald's. "They were reluctant a little bit. They didn't immediately embrace it. It took some convincing on our part." It's hard to imagine where the restaurant would be without Happy Meals. As the popularity of the menu item grew so did the allure of the prizes inside.