The Foamy Brand History of the Nerf Ball & Gun
What started as an indoor play toy in the late 1960s has morphed into one of the largest children's toy brands in the world.
The history of Nerf products, while not convoluted, is not a straight path forward. For one, the inventors didn't come up with the name, the gaming company did. Two, the gaming company that the inventors chose was not the same company that licensed their original game. And three, there's no Nerf gun without the Nerf Ball.
So let's dive into this foam pit of fun and learn about Nerf.
Nerf Brand Timeline
In 1969, the Nerf Ball was invented and brought to market. Invented by Reyn Guyer and his team, it was shopped around to Milton Bradley before ending up with Parker Brothers.
"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."
Nerf Footballs and Nerf Rockets come alive as purchasable products. More Nerf Balls stuff stockings and get wrapped for kid birthday parties. These include the Super Nerf Indoor Ball.
The 80s saw the invention of the Nerf Turbo Screamer and Nerf Golf. Specifically, Nerf created an indoor, 9-hole Mini Golf set that could be flexibly arranged around the house without damaging anything.
Sure, it doesn't replace real Mini Golf, but we'll take it.
Oh, and let us not forget about the Super Soaker (originally named Power Drencher). Those were the best squirt guns of their time.
Nerf in the 90s was a time of product expansion. Modern manufacturing and materials were starting to catch up with the creativity of Nerf designers, even if the actual products weren't perfected until the 2010s and 2020s with the Rival series guns.
You might remember those suction-cup based darts, well they came from the 90s. For instance, the Hypersight series comes from the 90s. Same goes for the Rainshot.
Air Jet Power, SuperMaxx, Switch Shots, and a whole host of other products came into existence in the 2000s.
The N-Strike series was born back then.
The 2010s were responsible for the Nerf Vortex and the Firevision line. Also, the Terrascout RC vehicles and the introduction of some co-branded properties like Fortnite branded guns.
Nerf has been focused on expanding its audience and target market, with new offerings in the VR space, new digital-based games, and on-premises entertainment like a series of amusement centers planned for Mexico.
When was the Nerf Ball invented?
Nerf, and the Nerf Ball, was invented in 1969 by Reyn Guyer and team. After having introduced Twister to Milton Bradley (and the world), Reyn and team convinced Parker Bros. to push forward with the toy/invention. Below is a quote from Reyn on the involvement of Parker Bros. at the time:
"From there, it was off to Parker Brothers and a visit with their head of new product development, Henry Simmons. We were disappointed when Henry told us that he had convinced his somewhat reluctant management to test market the basic product— just the ball. And so they did. They called it NERF. To our great surprise, the NERF ball—just a ball in a little square box—sold by the millions. Who knew the world wanted a ball that wouldn’t bounce?"
Was Nerf the original name for the ball?
The Nerf ball was originally named the Falsie-Ball, according to Guyer.
"It was after our line of foam products hit the market under the name NERF that we learned where the name came from. One of the people involved in promoting the line suggested naming it after the foam-padded roll bars on Jeeps, which off-roaders had dubbed “NERF bars.” The name stuck."
How many Nerf Balls have been sold?
Millions of Nerf Balls have been sold in history. Perhaps even bordering on billions at this point, given that they toy is 50+ years old.
According to Forbes, Parker Bros., the original makers of the Nerf Ball sold more than 4 million balls in the first year of their existence.
When was the Nerf Gun invented?
Nerf fan site, Blaster Central, posits that the Blast-a-Ball was the first official Nerf toy to fire foam projectiles from it, and it was made in 1989. If they consider it a Nerf gun, then so shall we.
You might remember it as the single shot tube that kids would draw back and pop the ball out of by pushing the cocked back handle into the main part of the tube.
The Nerf Sharpshooter arrived on shelves in 1992 and that officially serves as the first Nerf gun to hit the market.
How many Nerf Guns have been sold?
Millions, perhaps billions of Nerf Guns have been sold since their invention. Just in 2020 alone there were 40 million+ blasters sold, according to a Nerf representative.
Has anyone ever died from playing with Nerf?
Based on our research, there are no reports that seem to confirm that an actual Nerf Ball, Bullet, or Dart has killed a human being directly as a result of being struck with the projectile. That's not to say that it hasn't happened somewhere, or couldn't happen, just that no one has a documented case of death via a Nerf brand product.
Two teens were killed in Minnesota in 2019 during a Nerf War, but not as a result of the Nerf toys themselves. The teens died in a car accident as a result of a "kidnapping" in the Nerf War.
In another case, a 7-year old was shot with a real gun in Florida after the 7-year old shot a man with his Nerf gun.
In one last case, two boys were fighting over ownership of a Nerf Gun in Ridgebury Township, Pennsylvania, when one stabbed the other with a knife. The boy who was stabbed succumbed to his injuries and died afterward.
What brands are competing with the Nerf Gun?
There have been many clones and copies over the years. And, many guns that shared a similar form factor to Nerf. Plus, there have been other non-lethal "weapons" for children to play with like the now defunct Gotcha Gun system that was popular in the late 80s and early 90s.
Gel Blaster is a new and recent addition to the soft projectile market that has been causing some waves, not only via sales, but also in the courtroom. It seems that Hasbro, the current owner of the Nerf brand, has taken Gel Blaster to court over their non-toxic backyard warfare weaponry.
Zuru and X-Shot is another brand trying to steal some of Nerf's lunch. So yeah, you could say that Nerf Guns have had plenty of competition over the years, and in fact, still do.
Do people modify Nerf products?
Yes, of course. You see Modded Nerf Guns all of the time. For a little fun, check out this 1000 shot Nerf Rival Blaster Mod from Adam Savage of Tested (formerly Mythbusters).
Thanks for sticking around to learn all about Nerf.