In the toy business, which often seems to live only for what’s new, bubble toys are nothing new. But they’re still lots of fun for kids of all ages. And you can’t argue with their popularity. More than 200 million bottles of bubble solution are sold every year worldwide. Not bad for a toy that’s been around for centuries.
Seventeenth century paintings depict children blowing bubbles with clay pipes. (They were pretending to smoke like the adults they saw around them.) In the 18th century, leftover bits of soap from laundry day were given to children to use as toys. Throughout the 19th century, bubbles were a fun byproduct of cleaning, but bubbles and bubble solutions weren’t packaged solely for recreational use until the early part of the 20th century. With the rise of more sophisticated soaps and particularly the emergence of detergents (synthetic soaps) in the mid-20th century, bubble solution came into its own as a toy product. Chemtoy, a cleaning company, was one of the first to create bubble solutions targeted to toy buyers. Chemtoy was acquired by Tootsietoy, and by the late 1940s commercially produced bubble solution was a staple at toy stores. And it’s just, ahem, blown up since then.
In 2016, bubble trends range from battery-operated, non-stop bubble-making machines that can fill a yard with bubbles in no time (from companies such as Funrise and Little Kids) to hand-held bubble machines and even bubbles that can be used for practical jokes. There are also bubble toys based on popular characters such as Peanuts, SpongeBob SquarePants, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Sesame Street, and more. In addition, bottles of solution and other wand designs can keep kids engaged and enchanted for hours.
This year, Little Kids introduced Candylicious—bubbles that you can eat. This isn’t the first time that a company has tried to make these, but it’s the first time we’ve found ones that really work and taste good.
What’s still wonderful about bubbles is that they appeal to all ages—and can be shared by them as well. Even to our tech-savvy minds, there’s still something magical about watching a delicate bubble catch the light and float on the breeze. And if you want to play in the big time, shows such as those produced by Cirque du Soleil and the long-running off-Broadway hit The Gazillion Bubbles Show demonstrate just how entertaining this kind of play can be.
Bubble play, however you engage in it, can’t help but inspire a childlike sense of wonder. Even if it’s really all about physics, surface tension, and chemistry, it doesn’t undermine the magic. And it’s probably a save bet that bubbles will continue to fascinate and entertain people for decades and centuries to come.