The Cube was invented by Erno Rubik of Hungary in 1974, and he called it "Buvos Kocka" - the "Magic Cube".
"A Simple Approach To The Magic Cube" by Bridget Last, published in 1980 by a small publishing company, Tarquin Publications of Diss, Norfolk - the first Cube book published in England. The print run was so limited (for what was then a tiny niche puzzle following) that finding a copy today is like finding gold dust. Middle pictures - old Hungarian Magic Cubes occasionally turn up on eBay. There are fascinating differences in the look, weight and feel of the Magic Cube when compared to the Rubik's Cube. Far right - a magazine ad for the Hungarian Magic Cube from March 1981, dating to the time of the worldwide shortage of the new Rubik's Cubes. The book and the Pentangle (a small UK-based company) sold Hungarian Magic Cube are mine. I daren't handle the Cube in case it falls apart! Pentangle, a small company who distributed small numbers of Magic Cubes in the UK, seeing major potential in the puzzle and themselves as continuing distributors, were hoping that the Cube would be mass manufactured (difficult to achieve at that time in Communist Hungary), but the rights were given to Ideal Toys and it was renamed and remanufactured before that happened - and it had any widescale impact on the UK and the rest of the Western World.
The first test batches of the Magic Cube were finally released in Budapest, Hungary, then very much "behind the Iron Curtain", just before Christmas 1977. In 1978, the Cube started to become popular in Hungary.
A deal was signed with major US Company Ideal Toys in late 1979 for mass distribution of the Cube in the West.
Mathematician David Singmaster wrote:
... the Magic Cube is now being sold as Rubik's Cube... [the Ideal Toy Corp.] has renamed the cube as 'Rubik's Cube' on the grounds that 'magic' tends to be associated with magic.
The Rubik's Cube trademark was registered in England on 7 May 1980, but due to a shortage, supplies did not start arriving here until just before Christmas. By then, it had appeared on television, Jonathan King had taken one on to Top of the Pops, hailing it as the latest craze in America, and many of us were aware that it was very much one of the 'Next Big Things' in UK popular culture. Many people who were not habitual puzzle fans were entranced by it - it was an attractive and intriguing object with a highly intriguing name, but the shortage stretched on into 1981 and it was spring before the country was fully stocked.
From the Cambridge Evening News, England, 15 July 1981. The Rubik's Cube craze had swept through Cambridge schools earlier in the year, and now it was time for a competition.
The helpful narrator reminded us that we were watching a video tape (fat chance of that for most of us back in 1981) and so could rewind it if we missed any points, and a cheap disco soundtrack kept the whole thing groovin'.
"I'm over half way there," said Ollie pleased, going through the moves again between mouthfuls of fish pie. Brr-ik, Brr-ik went the Cube confidently.
"They say it helps with maths," said Mum.
People were doing the Cube absolutely everywhere - as this newspaper article from the "Sun", May 13, 1982, shows!
If you were not particularly clever, not at all mathematically minded, but managed to solve the Rubik's Cube, and were sitting there, all smug and complacent, 1982 had a surprise in store for you - the release of the even harder Rubik's Revenge! Happy days!