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Holiday Toy Crazes Through The Years

From cabbage patches to galaxies far, far away, these toys flew off the shelves

spinner image Mr. Potato head

Mr. Potato Head (1952)

The first Mr. Potato Heads ever produced included only plastic eyes, ears and other extremities that kids plunged into an actual potato (or "any fruit or vegetable"). More than a million units were sold the first year, and Mrs. Potato Head arrived a year later. It was the first toy ever advertised on television.In 1964, Hasbro introduced the plastic potato body. Mr. Potato Head quit smoking in 1987 when Hasbro removed his pipe.

spinner image Barbie

Barbie (1959)

Ruth Handler, the wife of Mattel cofounder Elliot Handler, got the idea for Barbie after seeing a doll while touring Germany. Within a year after she was first introduced in 1959, Barbie was the best-selling fashion doll of all time. Sales have rarely slowed over the years, and the line has evolved and diversified to keep pace with the changing role and perception of women in American society.

spinner image CHATTY CATHY

Chatty Cathy (1960)

Though it wasn’t the first-ever doll that could talk — that honor goes to Thomas Edison’s creepy 1888 talking doll prototype — Chatty Cathy was the first blabbing toy to gain mass popularity. Released by Mattel in 1960, just a year after Barbie, she uttered 11 phrases (such as “I love you!” and “Please take me with you!”) via a tiny phonograph that you activated by pulling her string.

spinner image Easy bake over

Easy-Bake Oven (1962)

The original version, which generated heat by two 100-watt light bulbs and allowed kids to bake their own mini cakes and treats, immediately became the hottest Christmas toy of the season when it was released in 1963. Though its safety has sometimes been called into question — a spate of burns in the mid-2000s led to a voluntary recall — its popularity has endured. It’s in the National Toy Hall of Fame, and National Easy-Bake Oven Day occurs each November.

spinner image Spirograph

Spirograph (1966)

Kids in 1966 suddenly discovered that math actually could be fun with the release of the first Spirograph, a geometric drawing toy that lets kids use its holes and interlocking edges to make all kinds of groovy illustrations. In its first two years, more than 5.5 million Spirograph kits were sold. The toy’s popularity has endured — relaunched in 2013, it was a finalist for the Toy Industry Association's Toy of the Year the following year, 47 years after it had first won the honor in 1967.

spinner image Electronic football

Electronic Football (1977)

Long before Madden Football became the best-selling sports video game franchise of all time, kids had all the virtual football they could handle, right in the palm of their hands. Electronic Football somehow simulated the real thing via a few blinking red-dash signs on a black screen. Through the late '70s, toy stores struggled to keep them in stock each holiday season. A sequel, Electronic Football 2, was released in 1980. It was the exact same game, only with additional sound effects.

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spinner image Star Wars

Star Wars Figures (1977)

The original Star Wars film was such an unexpected hit in 1977 that toymaker Kenner, unprepared for demand from fans, wasn’t even able to get action figures onto toy store shelves for that year’s holiday season. Instead, it offered an “Early Bird Certificate Package” — a coupon that people could mail back in once the figures became available. During the 1978 holiday season, Kenner made up for lost time, selling more than 40 million figures and making Star Wars director George Lucas, who had turned down additional money for his work on the movie in return for merchandising rights, very rich.

spinner image Cabbage patch

Cabbage Patch Dolls (1983)

The poster toy of holiday shopping crazes, Cabbage Patch Dolls exploded in popularity when they were released by toy maker Coleco in the summer of 1983. By October, 2 million had been sold. When supplies vanished during the Christmas shopping season, riots broke out among shoppers clamoring for the dolls, and fights were common in the rare instances that toy stores had them in stock. “It was as if an army had been turned loose on the nation’s shopping malls,” Newsweek wrote.

spinner image Teddy Ruxpin

Teddy Ruxpin (1985)

This cuddly teddy bear was Chatty Cathy with a (then) cutting-edge twist. Designed by a former Disney Imagineer, the animatronic Teddy Ruxpin had a cassette tape player built into its back. When a tape played, the toy would blink his eyes, move his head and recite a story. When supplies ran low during the 1985 Christmas season, resellers were asking for double and triple the $70 retail price.

spinner image Elmo

Tickle Me Elmo (1996)

Tyco Toys gave the giggling version of the beloved Sesame Street monster a low-key launch in mid-1996, but sales unexpectedly picked up after talk-show host Rosie O’Donnell gave the toy an impromptu plug. By the day after Thanksgiving, it was impossible to find a Tickle Me Elmo. There were reports of fights and panic — in New York, two women chased down a delivery truck in hopes of nabbing a shipment before it reached stores. The retail price was $29.99. In December, online sellers were asking as much as $10,000 for one. 

spinner image Tamagotchi

Tamagotchi (1997)

These keychain-size virtual pets needed near-constant attention, requiring owners to feed and care for them lest they get sick and die. For reasons that eluded most adults, the toys flew off store shelves during the 1997 holiday season, and manufacturer Bandai Electronics has sold more than 82 million in the years since. This year, a 20th anniversary version was released.

spinner image Furby

Furby (1998)

The hamster/owl-like electronic creatures, powered by an early version of artificial intelligence (AI), came out of the box speaking their own language (“Furbish”), then they slowly learned and spoke more English as they “grew.” Furbies were the runaway hit of the 1998 holiday toy season and stayed popular for several years after. The fact that no one knew quite what they were didn’t slow sales. In one 12-month period, manufacturer Tiger Electronics sold more than 27 million units.

spinner image Nintendo wii

Nintendo Wii (2007)

Every few years, a new video game console becomes one of the hot new toys of the holiday season. But when Nintendo Wii was released in 2007, it sparked a frenzy like no other system before it. Its revolutionary Wii Remote Controller removed the pesky wires from the video game playing experience, and a wide variety of games and simple, get-off-the-couch gameplay appealed to players from preschools to senior centers. In its first eight days of release during the 2006 holiday season, more than 600,000 units were sold.

spinner image Fingerlings

Fingerlings (2017)

This year's hottest holiday toy is a $15 little monkey that wraps itself around your figure and clamps down with a gentle robotic grip. It goes to sleep if you cradle it quietly in your hand. It passes gas if you press on its head. And like the toys on this list from Christmases past, stores are having a hard time keeping it in stock. “Our lives are at the whim of 5- to 9-year-olds,” said one executive at WowWee, the Canadian toymaker behind Fingerlings. “It’s crazy.”

Wondering if that toy is a collectible you should keep? Here’s how to separate your junk from potential treasures

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