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Leon Neon by Mattel
In 1986 a toy hit the market that embodied the mid to late eighties “glow” aesthetic, Leon Neon. Manufactured by Mattel these toys were glow-in-the-dark tubes that you twist and bend into fun shapes and wear them.
With them, you could add cool Tron-like lighting effects to any outfit or to anything you could hang or attach them to. You had to keep them in the light for a minimum of 30 seconds to get any glow effect, but for a real strong glow, you would want direct light for a few minutes.
A rumor was floating around at the time that Leon Neon contained radioactive material that made it glow. These rumors were holdovers from the olden days when much glow-in-the-dark material was made from elements like Radium.
People even wrote letters to newspapers with their concerns.
So what did make Leon Neon glow? The glow comes from Zinc sulfide. Which, with the addition of just small amounts of suitable activator, like silver or copper, exhibits strong phosphorescence.
As you can see from above the concern was from the Leon Neon being included in a box of Kellogg’s Fruit Loops. Leon Neon was offered in several Kellogg’s cereals, including Corn Pops and Sugar Smacks and this is how many of us were introduced to the toy.
Here you can see the commercial for Corn Pops when they were included as a premium. The premium shows up on auction sites from time to time, I don’t think they hold their glow very well, so I have never tried to buy one.
While this commercial is impressive, it is not as good as the standalone Leon Neon ad. It features some pretty amazing creations and much better lighting effects. It really fired up the imagination of kids like myself who were fascinated by anything that glowed in the dark without a flame or electricity powering it.
It also has some killer mid-eighties rock music interrupted only by the kids saying things like, “Tubular” and “That’s hot!”
Leon Neon were packaged in several different ways. I have been able to find at least three.
You had Unlimited Designs I & II. These contained three thin and 4 thick strips as well as forty connectors. In 1986, I could find them for $3.97, but by 1987 they were going for $2.97.
Next up you had Strips ‘N Such which was a small sampler of thick and skinny strips that in 1986 went for $2.49.
I also found and ad for Live Wires. These are considerably more expensive. $6.77 in 1987. The appear to be a larger format Leon Neon to use as wall decorations.
Leon Neon was released in 1986 and while the hype was pretty high for them, they did not seem to deliver. While they would linger in stores for a while, they were not the hit toy that Mattel hoped they would be. Still, they made an impact and Leon Neon knockoffs continue to be sold even today. Shine on, Leon Neon. Shine on forever.