Ten Iconic Balls that Made Play Shake, Bounce, and Roll

Imagine play without the ball. It’s impossible. We kick, bounce, roll, throw, pitch, hit, pass, toss, and catch them. From ancient times to today, the ball is a universal invitation to play. This exhibit presents ten icons of ball play.

Ball (16th Century)The Strong National Museum of Play

A Timeless Toy

Balls are ancient playthings. As early as 1200 BC, Central Americans passed rock-like rubber balls back and forth on massive stone courts. Fifth-century Chinese struck wooden balls with long golf-like clubs. The Greeks and Romans tackled evading ball carriers much like today’s football players do. This rare ball, crafted from leather, stuffed with moss, and retrieved from the Thames River in London, dates to the 1500s.

Baseball (ca.1905)The Strong National Museum of Play


Scientists believe our earliest human ancestors learned to throw nearly two million years ago in order to hunt. Today we pitch, fire, chuck, and hurl baseballs like this in competition or just for the fun of it. Throwing brings balls to life and offers us endless ways to play.

Children's Soccer Game Photograph (1997)The Strong National Museum of Play


The Chinese began kicking around balls more than 2,000 years ago. A thousand years later, mobs of hundreds of British villagers competed to kick balls from one town to the other. Today, billions of kids and adults worldwide watch and play soccer (football outside the United States). Why is the game universally appealing? Because all you need is a ball and the spirit of play.

Magic 8 Ball Fortune Teller (1948-1960) by Alabe Crafts, Inc.The Strong National Museum of Play

Magic 8 Ball

Is the Magic 8 Ball one of the bestselling toys of all time? “It is certain.” Pick up this oversized billiard ball and ask it a yes or no question. A few jiggles summons the 20-sided, floating plastic polyhedron to its surface with a random answer. A favorite for decades, the ball plays with our curiosity about the future, casting fortunes one shake at a time.

Wiffle Ball (1970) by The Wiffle Ball Inc.The Strong National Museum of Play

Wiffle Ball

The invention of the Wiffle Ball in 1953 empowered nearly any able-bodied person to throw a curve ball. When inventor David Mullany’s son complained of arm pain while throwing a plastic golf ball, the former baseball player determined to craft something better. Through trial and error, the Mullanys discovered that a plastic ball with eight oblong slots darted, curved, and knuckled wondrously, making it a mainstay of backyard and street games. 

Wham-O Super Ball (1965) by Wham-O Mfg. Co.The Strong National Museum of Play

Super Ball

As early as 1200 BC, Central Americans created rubber balls for use in their ritual games. Centuries later, beginning in 1964, joyful children launched toymaker Whamo’s Super Ball high into the sky and over their houses and tree lines. Lively and unpredictable, rubber balls like this one gave modern play its bounce.

Nerf Ball with Box (1969) by Parker BrothersThe Strong National Museum of Play

Nerf Ball

In 1969 the Nerf Ball became the first ball marketed as safe for indoor use. Conceived by Twister-creator Reyn Guyer, the soft and spongy, four-inch orb responded to the old parental command: “Don’t play ball in the house!” No shattered vases or busted picture frames with this plaything! Today Nerf offers a nearly endless array of soft balls for football, soccer, basketball, golf, tennis, and many other sports.

Atari Football Arcade Game Atari Football Arcade Game (1978)The Strong National Museum of Play

Atari Football's Track Ball

Atari Football (1978) popularized the use of a track ball to control a video game. Players rolled the softball-sized orb to command teams of Xs and Os on a digital football field. The spherical controller proved so well-suited to arcades that it appeared on video games again and again, including on the best-selling bug-blaster Centipede (1981) and the hit golf gaming franchise Golden Tee.

Star Wars BB-8 Droid Robot (2015) by SpheroThe Strong National Museum of Play

Sphero BB-8 Robot

How do you redefine one of humanity’s oldest playthings? Play company Sphero did just that by fusing the ball with robotics and digital technology. Steer the app-enabled robotic orb through mazes of obstacles on nearly any terrain. This version of the smart toy recalls the beloved robot BB-8 from 2015 box office smash Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Trump Magic 8 Ball Trump Magic 8 Ball (2018) by Mattel, Inc.The Strong National Museum of Play

Trump Magic 8 Ball

In response to the nomination of the Magic 8 Ball for induction into The Strong’s National Toy Hall of Fame, Comedy Central’s The Daily Show featured this satirical “Trump edition” of the fortune-telling ball in a 2018 segment. Painted gold and adorned with rhinestones, this spherical seer became the centerpiece of a faux commercial poking fun at the U.S. President’s media interviews.

Game-a-rama Photograph (1962)The Strong National Museum of Play

Conclusion: Everyone Plays Ball

Ball play is ubiquitous. People all over the world kick, bounce, throw, and roll balls. The setting does not matter. Backyard lawns, hardwood courts, soft carpets, sandy beaches, and paved city lots become arenas for competition and cooperation. Balls draw us together in play.

Credits: Story

Produced by The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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