History of Nerf Guns: What Is NERF and Who Invented the First Nerf Gun

We’ve all heard of Nerf guns, and some of us may even have fought out a couple of serious Nerf battle wars, at home or in the office.

But do you know what NERF actually stands for? Or who invented the Nerf gun? And what was the first Nerf gun all about? Let’s dive into the exciting history of Nerf guns and get answers to these burning questions.

Who Invented the First Nerf Gun?

There are several stories on the Internet about who invented the first Nerf gun and it’s not always easy to determine which ones are true and which ones are not so true.

The Nerf gun brand officially came to market in 1989 and has lived a very happy and successful life since then. However, the Nerf gun wasn’t the first action toy that was made with soft and spongy synthetic foam.

Reyn Guyer and the Original Nerf Ball

Reyn Guyer is an American inventor who came up with the idea of soft foam balls as toys in the late 1960’s.

He approached Parker Brothers later to bring this foam ball to market and in 1969 the Nerf Ball was officially introduced. This was also the first time that Nerf was used a brand name.

History of Nerf guns: Original Nerf Ball
Photo credit: reynguyer.com

The Nerf Ball turned out to be a huge success, marketed as a fun foam ball that children could play with without causing damage or personal injury. More than four million units of the Nerf Ball were sold by the end of the year.

The product was soon followed by the Super Nerf Ball (a bigger version of the original Nerf Ball) and the Nerfoop, a strap-on basketball hoop.

With the Nerf Ball, Reyn Guyer laid the foundation for the Nerf Gun 20 years later, and he is by many regarded as the inventor of the Nerf gun.

Reyn Guyer served many years as a key inventor at Hasbro and in 1986 he was inducted into the Hasbro toy and game Inventors’ Hall of Fame.

The First Nerf Gun

In 1989, 20 years after the release of the Nerf Ball, the first ever Nerf gun (or Nerf Blaster) entered the market: the Blast-a-Ball.

Sold as a double-pack, the Blast-a-Ball, was a hugely popular single-fire ball blaster that was able to shoot 1 ballistic ball per 2 seconds.

The Blast-A-Ball was soon followed by the Nerf Blast-a-Matic, a more superior blaster that was able to fire several balls before reloading.

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

Check out this somewhat cheesy (it’s very old!) but very entertaining commercial promoting the Blast-a-Matic:

Nerf Sharpshooter

The first Nerf gun that would actually shoot with darts instead of foam balls was the famous Sharpshooter. Released back in 1992 as part of the Original Nerf Series, the spring-powered Sharpshooter was the only Nerf blaster to use Sharpshooter darts that would later evolve into Mega darts.

Nerf SharpshooterSharpshooter darts still had fins, a feature that future dart designs would not have. Nerf has since tried hard to not only make their blasters more sophisticated but to also optimize the darts for best shooting performance.

The Nerf Sharpshooter was eventually succeeded by the Nerf Sharpshooter II in 1995. This model soon became very popular as it was a blaster that was just very easy to modify.

The use of darts instead of foam balls turned out to be a successful move. Darts became mainstream and Nerf continued to produce dart-firing Nerf blasters since the Sharpshooter was first released.

The use of foam balls has made a successful comeback though with the introduction of the popular Rival series in 2015. Blasters in the Rival series use high-impact rounds.

What Does NERF Stand for?

NERF stands for Non Expanding Recreational Foam, or does it…? Whether this is true or not, we don’t actually know for sure.

According to Reyn Guyer’s website, the name has a very different origin. He claims that it was suggested to name the foam product line after the foam-padded roll bars on Jeeps used in off-road racing. These bars were dubbed “NERF bars.”

As much as we like the abbreviation, we prefer to go with Reyn Guyer’s story.

Nerf N-Strike Elite Retaliator

Hasbro and the Nerf Brand

The Nerf brand was initially established by Parker Brothers with the introduction of the Nerf Ball. Nerf was sold to Kenner Products in 1991 after which toy giant Hasbro purchased Kenner Products, including all rights to sell the Nerf product line.

Hasbro is currently still the owner of the Nerf brand and all Nerf blaster models, with Parker Brothers a subsidiary of Hasbro. In 2010, the Nerf brand merged with the Super Soaker brand (see below).

Lonnie Johnson and the Super Soaker

In 2013, American inventor Lonnie Johnson won a lawsuit against Hasbro and was awarded millions in lost royalties.

Lonnie Johnson invented the very popular and successful Super Soaker in 1982, which was brought to market in 1989 by toy company Larami. In 1995, Hasbro acquired Larami and as such became the owner of the very successful Super Soaker brand.

Before the Super Soaker was brought to market, Lonnie Johnson filed several patents in relation to the technology behind the water gun. Some believe that Lonnie Johnson’s technological ideas have contributed significantly to what later became the Nerf gun.

Nerf Lazer Tag

Nerf is not just about shooting with foam darts and balls. They have also tried to break into the laser tag market with good quality sets such as the Phoenix LTX set and the Lazer Tag Augmented Reality (LTAR) set.

Lazer Tag was a line of Nerf laser tag guns that was on the market from 2006 until 2012. The Lazer Tag brand was initially founded by Tiger Electronics and bought by Hasbro in 2006.

The Phoenix LTX has been one of the most popular home laser tag sets ever since it came out in 2008. The LTAR set was released outside the Lazer Tag series and was Hasbro’s attempt to break into the market of smartphone laser tag. A tough market, with ever evolving smartphone technology.

Nerf and the Future

Who would’ve guessed that a smart little toy like the Nerf gun has had such a long and tumultuous history?

What matters most is that Nerf guns, just like laser tag guns, are awesome toys for both kids and adults. Nerf blasters are ever growing in popularity with new models and series coming out frequently. A lot of new Nerf blasters have already been released in 2017 and there are still more to come in 2018 so stay tuned!

What we like about Nerf blasters is that they have been able to remain so popular in the last 10 years, despite the rise of mobile phones, social media and high-tech computer games. Let’s face it, it’s so much more fun to shoot each other with foam than to sit behind a computer screen and not move at all.

Popular Nerf Guns

It’s hard, if not impossible, to make a list of the best Nerf guns ever made. Everyone of course has their own opinion and preference, but we have tried to compile a list of some of the best Nerf guns available on the market today.

Here are some of our Nerf gun reviews:

Nerf Modulus Tri-Strike Blaster

Nerf Modulus Tri-Strike blasterThe Nerf Modulus Tri-Strike is an exciting Nerf gun that was released in the second half of 2016 as part of the the N-Strike Modulus series.

Packaged with a set of different attachments, the Tri-Strike sure looks like a winner.

Read more…

Nerf N-Strike Elite Hyperfire Blaster

Nerf N-Strike Elite HyperfireThe 2016 Nerf N-Strike Elite Hyperfire is a full auto blaster with an impressive 25 dart drum and 5 darts per second firing rate.

But does the new Nerf Hyperfire perform as well as it looks?

Read more…

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