The History of Nerf (Who Invented the First Nerf Gun?)

Origins of Nerf: A Solution for Safe Indoor Play

While Nerf became a cultural phenomenon in the 1990s and beyond, the initial inspiration for the brand can be traced back to the 1960s toy design work of Reyn Guyer.

As an innovator at a Minneapolis manufacturing firm, Guyer recognized the need for safe, lightweight toys that could be used for indoor play without causing damage or potential injuries.

Drawing inspiration from his childhood adventures launching homemade socks stuffed with foam packing materials, Guyer began experimenting with foam materials that could create soft, safe projectiles.

After countless prototypes, he developed a soft, resilient polyurethane foam that could bounce and compress upon impact without breaking things or hurting people.

With this specialized foam formulation as the centrepiece, Guyer crafted the original “animals” – quirky-shaped foam toys that could be safely tossed and batted around without risks.

This simple but ingenious solution for indoor active play caught the eye of Parker Brothers Games Company in 1969.

Recognizing the potential, they acquired Guyer’s designs and concepts, giving birth to the original product line that would later become the Nerf brand.

Those first whimsical foam “animals” and balls were an instant hit with kids and parents alike when test-marketed. Their soft yet durable nature allowed rambunctious indoor play without destructive consequences, a revolutionary idea at the time.

Guyer’s innovative polyurethane foam formula and vision for an entirely new category of safe, active toys laid the crucial groundwork for what would blossom into the cultural phenomenon of Nerf products in the coming decades.

The NERF brand was started in 1969 by Parker Brothers, who licensed and marketed a range of toys created from a new lightweight foam: polyurethane.

In this article, I will give you a rundown of the highlights of Nerf’s history, from the first Nerf gun ever made to today’s modern blasters.

History Of Nerf Gun: How It All Began

History of Nerf Gun

The First Nerf Gun

Toy guns have existed for a long time, tracing back to when children began mimicking shooting actions with sticks.

Reyn Guyer,

The Blast-a-Ball, invented by Reyn Guyer, was the first Nerf gun capable of shooting foam balls. The Sharpshooter, invented by Clemens V Hedeen Jr., was the first Nerf gun to shoot darts.

Clemens V Hedeen Jr. is often credited as the inventor of the first Nerf gun, the Sharpshooter, the first blaster capable of shooting darts.

Foam Ball

Reyn Guyer is credited with two significant contributions to society.

In 1969, in Minnesota, he was a games inventor who had experienced recent success with the release of his new game Twister.

His second achievement involved the creation of foam balls, which eventually transformed into the familiar Nerf Darts we enjoy today.

According to the narrative, his team was developing a game centred around cavemen, involving players bouncing foam “rocks” over a net.

History of Nerf

The foam balls were successful, leading to the development of various games centred around them. Eventually, the concept was brought to Parker Brothers.

The games did not successfully reach the market; however, the balls were. In 1969, the first Nerf Ball was introduced as the “world’s first indoor ball.”

It became popular among children and parents due to its soft foam material, which allowed for safe indoor play without causing any damage to glass or other hard surfaces.

The original Nerf Ball was expanded to include various variations, including popular options like the Nerf football, Nerf Ping Pong, and Nerf Pool.

It is surprising how enjoyable a foam ball can be.

What Was the First Nerf Gun?

The Blast-a-Ball was the first Nerf blaster, released in 1989, while the Sharpshooter was the first Nerf dart gun, released in 1992.

Blast-a-Ball

The Blast-a-ball was not a gun, and its design is very different from the blasters seen today, but it was the first toy that enabled the shooting of Nerf balls.

The device was a plastic tube where balls were loaded, and air was pumped in through a handle, causing the balls to be propelled out the other end of the tube.

The product’s design was rustic, but it was marketed as capable of shooting 1.5 mm diameter Nerf balls up to 40 feet, significantly contributing to the development of the current Nerf range.

The Blast-A-Ball was followed by the Blast-a-Matic, a more advanced blaster capable of firing multiple balls before reloading.

Both the Blast-a-Ball and the Blast-a-Matic were part of the Original Nerf Series, which was available in retail stores from 1989 to 1993 and was highly successful.

Sharpshooter

The Sharpshooter, released in 1992, is widely regarded as the first Nerf gun due to its ability to shoot Nerf Darts.

The gun was created by inventor Clemens V Hedeen Jr. and sold to Kenner in 1992, who was already part of Hasbro. Hedeen also sold additional dart guns to Hasbro in subsequent years.

Please take a look at this vintage commercial for the Sharpshooter.

Hasbro and the NERF Brand

The Nerf blaster concept gained popularity when Hasbro acquired the brand. Despite its initial creation by Parker Brothers, the Nerf brand eventually fell under the ownership of Hasbro through a series of takeovers.

Tonka acquired Parker Brothers’ parent company (Kenner) in 1987 and later became part of Hasbro’s portfolio when they acquired Tonka in 1991.

During this period, two significant products were introduced that had a major impact on Nerf blasters. The Bow N’Arrow was introduced in 1991, followed by the highly popular Sharpshooter in 1992, marking a significant milestone in the history of Nerf.

The well-known slogan, “It’s Nerf or Nothing,” is memorable to many of us.

Pop Culture Impact

Over the decades, Nerf has transcended being just a toy line and became fully integrated into popular culture through movies, TV shows, video games and marketing campaigns:

  • Nerf blasters and the iconic foam darts have been depicted and utilized as core props in numerous films like “The Night at the Museum” series
  • The brand was paid homage to in episodes of shows like “The Office,” “30 Rock,” and “Breaking Bad.”
  • Games like “Minecraft” and the famous “Humans vs Zombies” campus events popularized Nerf warfare on a massive scale
  • Big brands like Dell, Microsoft, and Burger King have custom-branded promotions around Nerf blasters and darts as premiums.
  • Universal Studios in Orlando has an entire Nerf-themed play space called “Nerf BYOC”, where guests can experience several unique Nerf zones.

Through these mainstream media appearances and innovative cross-promotions, Nerf grew from being toys into a pop culture phenomenon embraced by kids and adults alike.

What Does the Name NERF Mean?

NERF is commonly believed to stand for Non Expanding Recreational Foam, but there is some debate regarding its true meaning.

There are several theories regarding the meaning of the NERF acronym, but Reyn Guyer, the inventor of the Nerf ball, provides the most probable explanation.

What Does the Name NERF Mean?

On his website, he states that his team did not create the name. Their team’s working name, the “falsie-ball,” was unsuitable for children.

It was an internal joke about breast implants, as the soft foam balls served as a reminder.

Guyer learned that NERf was the product name only after its release. It was discovered that one of the Parker Brothers‘ marketing team members came up with the name inspired by the foam-rolled bars on Jeeps, commonly known as “NERf Bars.”

NASA and the Super Soaker

Lonnie Johnson is known for his impressive creativity, having obtained over 120 patents in various fields, including generators, lithium batteries, and the invention of the Super Soaker.

Johnson had numerous opportunities in his career to enhance his creativity. He held positions as an engineer in the US Air Force and later at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the 1970s.

NASA and the Super Soaker

During this time, he contributed to the Galileo and Cassini satellite programs and worked on the B2 Stealth bomber.

However, his most innovative creation happened by chance. The incident occurred in 1982 when he was working on a different invention related to a heat pump, and his device began to leak.

The Super Soaker was created when a strong jet shot out instead of a small amount of water. The inventor’s prototype, made from household materials, could shoot water up to almost 40 feet.

In 1986, he patented the idea of a “squirt gun,” which included a sound generator for futuristic sound effects while shooting.

The Squirt gun design was sold to Larami Toys in 1989, and they released the first toy, the Powder Drencher, in 1990.

It was later rebranded as the Super Soaker in 1991. In that year alone, two million of these toy guns were sold.

In 1995, Hasbro acquired Laramie, and Johnson continued to create new toys for the company.

During this time, Johnson discovered a way to modify the Super Soaker to shoot Nerf projectiles instead of water, bringing the two stories together.

The first pneumatic Nerf Blaster, known today, was invented.

Lonnie Johnson received a multi-million dollar payout in 2013 after a lawsuit against Hasbro for underpaid royalties, resulting in their separation.

Nerf Fan Community

While initially intended as toys for kids, Nerf products attracted a surprisingly passionate community of teenage and adult fans who took the blasters to a whole new level:

  1. Hobbyist modding groups emerged that showed enthusiasts how to modify existing Nerf blasters for enhanced performance like increased ranges and rates of fire
  2. Regional and national Nerf wars became popular, featuring intricate battlefield setups and organized teams engaged in foam dart combat.
  3. YouTube channels devoted to Nerf snowballed, showcasing blaster reviews, mod guides, and epic Nerf battle videos.
  4. Social media communities formed around discussing Nerf news, trading blasters, and sharing tactics and tips
  5. Conventions like the Denver Top Players Cup brought together top Nerf enthusiasts nationwide to compete head-to-head.

This rabid fandom and the content they created only further amplified Nerf’s status as a cultural icon that extended far beyond being kid’s toys.

Hasbro noticed and began directly marketing some of their blaster releases to this passionate adult audience.

Competition & Industry Trends

Nerf was the dominant brand in the foam dart blaster space for decades. But in recent years, it has faced increasing competition from other toy companies introducing high-performance rival products:

  1. Adventure Force by Walmart has an extensive line of blasters and ammunition
  2. Dart Zone markets affordable but powerful soaker-style blasters
  3. X-Shot and Zuru are other brands making inroads with their unique foam munitions

This has pushed Nerf, now a multi-billion dollar brand for Hasbro, to continually innovate with product lines like the Elite 2.0, Ultra, and Hyper series blasters to stay ahead.

Beyond competition, broader industry toy trends have influenced Nerf’s roadmap as well:

  • The rise of video game-inspired toys led to collaborations with franchises like Fortnite and Roblox.
  • Increased interest in mobile app-connected toys spawned products like the Nerf Laser Ops Pro line.
  • A shift towards more environmentally sustainable materials drove the development of plant-based biodegradable Nerf darts.

By keeping a close eye on evolving industry forces, Nerf has consistently refreshed its offerings and maintained strong sales performance, making it one of Hasbro’s crown jewel product lines.

The Future of Nerf

What is the subsequent development in the Nerf storyline?

Over the years, Nerf has become a prominent brand, with its global brand value increasing from around 200 million to nearly 500 US dollars from 2015 to 2022.

The N-Strike Elite, Mega, and Rival series have been popular for the brand, so Nerf will likely continue to expand on the success of these collections.

However, it is worth mentioning that their recent Elite 2.0 and Ultra series blasters have received mixed reviews.

story of Nerf

Additionally, some new competitors in the Nerf market have introduced high-quality dart blasters and are now directly competing with Nerf.

Two of the largest brands in this competition are Dartzone and Adventure Force.

As a result, Nerf continues to expand and innovate, creating exciting series such as the Fortnite and Hyper series.

Regardless of what the future may bring, Nerf is known for consistently releasing innovative and impressive designs.

PIN IT

History of Nerf