Erno Rubik was a professor at the Academy of Applied Arts in Budapest Hungary in the 1970s. Some people say that he developed his cube as a way to help his students visualize 3D objects, others say his interest had more to do with the structural problems associated with trying to hold a 3x3x3 cube of mobile parts together. Whatever his motivations he discovered that his cube of colored squares made a neat little puzzle and applied for an Hungarian patent in 1975. After gaining a foothold in the Hungarian toy market his puzzle caught the attention of toy giant Ideal who stepped in and released it for sale in the West in 1980.
It was an immediate hit. Like the Swatch watch it seemed like suddenly everybody had 3 lying around their house. They became part of the cultural landscape and gave the people that could solve them something to gloat about. Contests were organized everywhere and somewhere along the way something called the World Cube Association also came into being to put a formal stamp on records related to solving the cube. The first World Champion in 1982 solved his cube in about 23 seconds. Over the years that number has come down significantly and the current record for solving the cube is a ridiculous 5.6 seconds.
In the years since its introduction some 350 million Rubik's Cubes have been sold and it is generally recognized today as the most successful toy in history.