The Past, Present, and Future of Happy Meal Toys

February 23, 2016

How McDonald’s turned children into early collectors — and consumers.

Since its introduction in 1979, the Happy Meal has been part of the childhoods of millions of kids across the globe. Unlike most other meals, though, this brightly packaged kids’ meal isn’t most well-known for the food that it contains. Instead, it’s the tiny plastic trinkets that accompany each meal that have gained notoriety.

In the decades after McDonald’s introduced the Happy Meal and its associated toys, most fast-food establishments followed suit in giving tangible, inedible gifts to their pint-sized customers. In the beginning, the Happy Meal toy was viewed…