The Evolution of Nerf: Before The Blaster Came The Ball

Nerf blasters are one of the most iconic toys all time, but did you know the first ever nerf product was conceived in 1969? Let’s take a look back at the colourful history of Nerf products.

1969 Nerf Ball

Serial entrepreneur Reyn Guyer invented the iconic Nerf ball in 1969.

Having had great success with the board game Twister, Reyn compiled a team of product developers to mastermind his next big thing.

After eight months of frustration, one of his team scheduled a meeting to discuss a caveman style game which included foam rocks. Although the game tanked, the guys found themselves hurling foam rocks at each other for a bit of fun. That’s when the penny dropped. They inadvertently created a toy that could be thrown that didn’t hurt.
Running with the idea, they tested different foam densities and sourced material that could be shaped into a ball with heat.

They went on to pitch the product to Milton Bradley, who they already worked with on Twister, but to their disappointment, didn’t want to add to their product line. So instead they turned to Parker Brothers, who are perhaps most famous for bringing us Monopoly.

The firm saw the potential, but took a cautious approach. You see, Reyn and the team wanted to create foam basketballs, baseballs, dodgeballs etc, but Parker Brothers decided to simply trial the 4 inch ball.

Millions of sales later and the Nerf ball was a massive hit. Who would have thought that demand for a soft foam ball would be so great?! Massive credit to the Parker Brothers for their advertising message:

 “SAFE! The Nerf Ball is made of incredibly soft and spongy synthetic foam. Throw it around indoors; you can’t damage lamps or break windows. You can’t hurt babies or old people.”

Essentially, it tapped into and solved a big problem for parents.

1970 original nerf ball

1970 Nerf Indoor Flying Disk

Following the success of the Nerf Ball, and wanting to diversify, Parker Brothers followed up with an Indoor Flying Disk in 1970. Made of the same lightweight material, it measured 9 inches wide and sold for $1.29.

nerf indoor flying disk

1970 Super Nerf Ball

Next up for Nerf was the successor to the original. The Super Nerf Ball was released in 1970 and was increased in size to 7 inches. A bigger ball meant it could be used for more indoor sports; exactly what Reyn Guyer had in mind. Incredibly, it was produced for over 21 years and discontinued towards the end of 1991.

super nerf ball

1972 Nerfoop

A classic accessory to back of any door or waste bin, it brought indoor free throws to the masses. Over 35 years later and it’s still going and with plenty of variations; from subway graffiti to light up versions.

Nerfoop

1972 Nerf Football

After 3 years of trying to create a Nerf football, Parker Brothers had a breakthrough when Fred Cox (one of the Vikings greatest ever players), alongside John Mattox, pitched their prototype of an injection moulded, thick skinned indoor football. It was genius; it threw like a football, reacted like a football, but it was ultra-lightweight.

1972 nerf football

1973 Nerf-Mobile

A year later, in an unexpected move, the company diversified into foam vehicles. They produced 3 cars and trucks, each with two colour schemes. Fast, but incapable of scratching the furniture, Nerf Mobile vehicles were very popular among parents.

Of course the rest is history, but it’s kind of funny thinking the badass blasters of today originates from a bunch of caveman throwing rocks at each other.

nerf mobile car

1976 Nerf Air Launcher

In their first step towards blasters, the Nerf Air Launcher got lift off in the mid-seventies. Simple in concept, you either stomped or pounded your fist down to fire the Nerf Rocket into the air. ’76 also saw the introduction of the Nerf Classic Fighter plane and Nerf Glider.

nerf air launcher

1982 Nerf Ping Pong

Fast-forward to the early eighties and the product range continues to grow. ’82 sees the introduction of Nerf Ping Pong, Nerfkins, and Wrist Flyers. But the real winner was Nerf Hot Shot Dragsters. Miniature cars were catapulted from their launcher to perform cool stunts and tricks.

nerf ping pong

1983 Nerf Boomerang

The following year saw the sports range expand with the Nerf Boomerang. Very much a supplementary product, they continued to keep their eye on the ball – excuse the pun.

nerf boomerang

1987 Unidentified Floppy Object

We skip forward to the late eighties and to see Nerf trying new materials. Their Unidentified Floppy Object, the successor to the Flying Disk, is made from flexible plastic and can be bent in half.

In the same year, they also released a Table Hockey Set that, much like Nerf Ping Pong, could be played on any table surface.

nerf unidentified floppy object

1989 The first Nerf Blaster

In perhaps the most defining year of the brands history, the first ever Nerf blaster is introduced; the Nerf Blast-a-Ball. It came packaged with two blasters and four ballistic balls. Simple in concept, you loaded a ball down the front barrel, pulled back the handle, and let fly. It could reach an impressive 40 feet and weighed just 4 ounces!

nerf blast a ball

1990 Blast-a-Matic

After strong sales for the Blast-a-Ball, Parker Brothers were determined to keep developing the product. Its main limitation was its low rate of fire. So they tackled this with the Blast-a-Matic, another pump-action blaster, but this time with the ability to fire 3 balls in rapid succession.

nerf blast a matic

1991 Hasbro enters the scene

Spotting the potential, Hasbro bought the rights to sell Nerf products in 1991. This sparked new packaging for their existing blasters, whilst the iconic Nerf Bow ‘n’ Arrow made its entrance.  With a 60 feet firing distance, Nerf blasters continued to push the boundaries and innovate. Although that doesn’t mean they took their eyes off the sports range; ’91 saw the release of a foam ninja set, Pro Basketball Hoop, and Turbo Screamer Football.

1992 Seven new blasters hit the market

The effect of the Hasbro take over was evident, as 1992 became Nerf’s biggest year for blaster releases. It also marks the last year of what’s known as the ‘Original Nerf’ series among fans. Here’s a look at the awesome new products that hit the shelves:

  • The Master Blaster, advertised as ‘eight times more power, ammo, and trouble’ this model had two barrels, each which could handle four balls at a time. It has a pump-action mechanism that could reach 37 feet.
  • The Missilestorm is a rapid-fire blaster, compact, but with an impressive firing range of 43 feet.
  • The Missile Launcher is a very cool stomp action blaster that fired arrows from the ground up.
  • The NB-1 Missile Blaster, AKA pocket rocket, is one of the smallest models of the series, but packed one hell of a punch with a firing range of 50 feet. Opposite to other blasters, to fire it, you’d push the handle forward first, then back to release the missiles.
  • The Sharpshooter was a model of firsts for Nerf. It was the first blaster to use a spring mechanism for firing, as well as the first one to use darts as ammunition.
  • The Slingshot is as fun as it looks. Working in much the same way as a traditional slingshot, you’d load a ball, pull back the chord and release to fire.
  • Finally was the re-release of the Bow ‘n’ Arrow. Although the model was the same, the packaging got an upgrade.

Despite massive success with their range of blasters, few people know about (or remember) their Hydro products; this is because they were a massive flop. Despite water guns and toys having great success later on, the general public weren’t quite ready for Nerf’s Hydro Bazooka and Hydro Ball. They were quickly discontinued.

NB1 Missile Blaster

1993 Bigger and better

This year saw the launch of the legendary Arrowstorm. One of the biggest blasters to date that requires two hands to hold. The turret holds six arrows, and automatically rotates after each fire.

We also witnessed the coming and going of the Rip Rockets range. Lasting only one year, it included small blasters such as the Blast Hammer, Detonator, and Whipshot.

nerf arrowstorm

1994 New ranges come to market

As popularity for Nerf blasters reaches new heights Hasbro launch two new ranges, Max Force and Nerf Action.

Max Force blasters were designed to resemble predatory animals, whereas Nerf Action had less of an identity and were more about growing the product arsenal.

Blaster features continued to develop too with The Eagle Eye, part of the Max Force range, being the first model to include a laser sight.

nerf eagle eye blaster

1995 More ranges, more discontinues

After the first round of Rip Rockets struggled the year before, Hasbro got a bit more creative in ’95 with the Ambush Rip Rocket range. Great little blasters like the Hidden Shot and Wrist Blitzer gave players different fun options for their friendly battles.

The Hidden Shot was very unique, as it could fold up and fit in your pocket and had glow in the dark Micro Darts. Hasbro jumped on the popularity of Jurassic Park a few years later, by creating a special movie version too.

Although the Nerf Action was discontinued this year, it went out with a bang with some awesome blasters such as the Ripsaw and Crossbow.

nerf ripsaw

1996 Pushing Boundaries

Unwilling to sit on their laurels, Nasbro started to look for ways to extend the firing distance of their blasters. Along came the Aero series, with just one model, the Glider Launcher. It fired special Aero Glider arrows, capable of travelling up to 50 feet. The series only lasted a few years, but in that time Nerf teamed up with NASA to create a range of aerodynamic Gliders.

’96 also saw the launch of Cyber Stryke Gear, a collection of futuristic blasters that could be attached to the player’s body. Models included the AutoGrip, Defender T3, Perceptor, and Strongarm.

nasa nerf gliders

1997 Further Acquisitions

Larami, a well-established toy company were making waves in the market with their Super Soakers (excuse the pun). They also had a rival blaster range called SuperMAXX. Naturally, Nasbro saw them as a bit of a threat so swiftly bought them out in ’97. The launch of the Nerf SuperMAXX closely followed.

We also saw the upgrade of the Max Force range to the Max Force 2112. The popular animal theme continued with blasters like the Electric Eel, Mad Hornet, and Whiptail Scorpion.

nerf whiptail scorpion

1998 Firing Rate and Precision

As demand for better blasters increased, so did the models. The Hyper Sight range was launched with a focus on better precision via integrated scopes, whilst the Mega Blitz range featured models capable of multiple darts per second.

The stand-out model of ’98 was the Big Bad Bow (or BBB). Unlike the Bow ‘n’ Arrow of the early nineties, this one had has a trigger, uses the string as crosshairs, and has a firing range of 50 feet.

nerf big bad bow

1999 Air power takes over

Following on from the innovations of the year before, ’99 became the year of air powered blasters. The Airjet Power series hit the shelves, while the new Switch Shots blasters featured the ability to swap between darts and water – a real hit in the summer.

Nerf also made its first appearance in the digital world with Nerf Arena Blast, a first-person shoot-em-up video game for PC.

nerf wildfire

2000 Distance, covered

The new millennium witnessed the launch of the Power Nerf and Air Tech series. Power Nerf models pushed the limits of previous firing ranges with the Power Clip able to fire Micro Darts up to 78 feet. Whilst some Air Tech models featured a handy liquid gauge to show how much air pressure was left in the blaster.

nerf airtech 4000

2002 A teacher’s worst nightmare

Nerf disrupted classrooms across the world with their introduction of the Dart Blaster Pen in ’02; a fun little product to keep the brand front of mind for kids.

nerf dart blaster pen

2003 Nerf blasters get a little too real?!

A controversial year in the brand’s history as Nerf launches the N-Strike range. The blasters look distinctively less like toys and more like real weaponry. Some argue they’re great examples of manufacturing and fantastic for modifications, while others suggest they’re contributing to a gun culture from a young age.

nerf longshot cs-6

2005 One for the players

Dart Tag is released as an official Nerf sport, with a variety of multi-player product sets launched to encourage organised battles. They included blasters, vests, eye gear, and tagging darts.

nerf dart tag capture the flag

2006 Nerf goes laser

Hasbro purchases the Lazer Tag brand from Tiger Electronics after decent success with their range of Laser taggers. However just two years later Hasbro discontinued all but one of the taggers, the Phoenix LTX Taggers, as it continued to eat and up spit out the competition.

phoenix ltx tagger

2008

Three years after the release of Dart Tag, Hasbro sets up an annual Nerf Tag League tournament, with Capture The Flag rules.

They also released their latest video game, Nerf N-Strike, this time for Nintendo Wii. It included blaster style adaptor for the Wii handset called the Switch Shot EX-3 and Whistler Darts.

’08 was slightly tarnished however, as the Recon CS-6 blaster had to be recalled for pinching the user’s skin as it was operated.

nerf n-stikre for nintendo wii

2009

Hasbro, picking up on the growing momentum of Black Friday, release the Red Strike range to add scarcity and buzz around the three ‘crimson’ Blasters.

That year, the N-Force range is also launched, a series of durable foam weapons with a medieval theme.

nerf sword

2010 Nerf gunning for competitors

An interesting year in company’s history, Nerf sued rivals Buzz Bee Toys and Lanard Toys for patent violations. They won, and it even lead to Buzz Bee from making any kind of water blaster!

Legal distractions didn’t impact production in any way though, as the Sonic Series was launched. These were a very cool looking sub-series of the N-Strike range, which used clear lime green plastic for the outer shell.

Nerf Sonic Series N-Strike Vulcan Blaster

2011 An Award Winning Year

Nerf picked up two awards at the Annual Toy of the Year Awards for their Stampede ECS blaster and Shot Blast models.

They also continue to push the boundaries with the newly released Vortex range capable of 60 foot firing ranges using XLR discs as ammunition.

nerf vortex nitron

2012 Year of the Elite

Nerf launches its successor to the N-Strike range; the N-Strike Elite. These are a series of blasters (still available today) capable of reaching distances up to 75 feet, but players were quick to point out this is with an angled shot.

nerf n strike elite

2013 A Significant Year

Always looking to reach a new audience (or perhaps cater better to an existing audience) Nerf launched the Rebelle range; a series of blasters with a more feminine design targeting girls.

We also witnessed the launch of the N-Strike Mega range, a series of blasters capable of reaching up to 100 feet with new and improved Mega Darts.

And lastly, after the widespread success of the real life Humans vs Zombies Nerf war game type, the company decided to launch Zombie Strike models. These are a series of themed blasters that crossed multiple ranges and are still available today.

nerf rebelle guardian crossbow

2014 Technological advances

Nerf release the Combat Creatures series. To date it’s only consisted of one model, the Terradrone, which is a remote control six-legged robot that fires at will. The concept of remote control blasters is fantastic, but perhaps only appeals to hardcore players, which may explain just the one model so far.

Interestingly, Nerf announced the TekStrike series at the 2014 New York Toy Fair, a range of products that would use Bluetooth and Smart Darts to track whether a player has been hit. Despite the announcement, the products are still unreleased three years later.

nerf combat creatures terradrone

2015

Into its 46th year, Nerf had acquired a nostalgic audience of teenage and adult followers who had grown up with the blasters and kept playing as a hobby. Looking to serve this area, they launched Nerf Rival. These are a series of powerful ball blasters, designed for team-based play for those 14 years and older.

We also had the introduction of the N-Strike Modulus range, which allows the user to customise their Nerf gun and add components such as scopes, lights and shields.

Nerf also launched the themed Doomlands 2169 series, which is based on a post-apocalyptic earth, hit by an asteroid, and now under threat from beastly creatures!

nerf rival Apollo XV-700

2016 Dart Upgrades

Although a relatively quiet year, Nerf released the Accustrike series which featured their new Elite Darts. As you’d expect by the name, they’re more accurate and go further.

nerf elite dartsWhich takes us to present day. 48 years after the humble foam ball was launched, Nerf has developed into one of the world’s most iconic toy brands of all time. It’s one hell of a story.

Images sourced from http://nerf.wikia.com