The next chapter of Stretch Armstrong is in production! Hasbro and Character Options recently announced a new collection targeted to arrive in 2024. What better time to look at the origin of the line, which was named one of Time magazine’s All-Time 100 Greatest Toys in 2011.
The Original Stretch Armstrong
Stretch Armstrong is an example of the many elements that went into a successful Kenner product, including research, development, design, and marketing.
Released in 1976-77, Stretch was fabricated with a body of latex rubber and filled with a unique gelled corn-syrup mixture. An O-ring at the top of Stretch’s body prevented leakage and served as an attachment for the head. The resulting 13-inch “action figure” resembled a body builder and could be temporarily stretched up to four feet in any direction before shrinking back to original size.
Enter the Antagonists!
Stretch Armstrong flew off of store shelves and inspired Kenner to expand the line. The company released several antagonists for the latex muscleman.
Stretch Monster was a reptilian creature sporting green skin, menacing red eyes and fangs. Like his nemesis, Monster could be stretched over four feet before snapping back to normal size. Although Kenner did not create classic backstories or pursue television series tie-ins, the company did promote the adversarial relationship between the two toys through an effective advertising campaign on print media and TV.
In 1979, Kenner introduced Stretch X-Ray. Stretch Armstrong’s newest enemy had an alien appearance, complete with a see-thru body that displayed his internal organs and brain.
As the popularity of the line declined, Kenner released Ollie and Olivia in 1979, two Stretch Octopuses aimed at younger children. These stretchable denizens of the deep came in blue or pink, stood 8-inches tall, and each had 8 tentacles with suction cup details.
The final entry in Kenner’s original Stretch line was Stretch Serpent. In collector’s circles, it is often referred to as the Holy Grail of stretch toys due to low availability on the resale market. Referred to on its original packaging as “The Loch Ness Creature,” Stretch Serpent could be stretched over 3-feet long before returning to normal size.
A Metaphor of Success
Kenner’s Stretch line serves as a wonderful metaphor for the company’s resilience. Over many decades, Kenner energized and re-energized the toy industry with products that earned iconic status thanks to great creativity.
I can’t wait to see how Hasbro and Character Options s-t-r-e-t-c-h this classic brand into new shapes and forms!
Todd Coopee is Editor-in-Chief of Toy Tales, an online publication that covers toys and games past and present.