10 Toys That Have Caused Holiday Mayhem Through the Years
Remember a time before the Internet, when parents scrambled to make sure their kids woke up to find these toys underneath the tree?
All parents want to make their little tikes’ holiday dreams come true.
For many, that means dutifully participating in a distinctly non-whimsical winter tradition: mass consumption.
Over the years, certain toys have topped nearly ever kid’s list, and in some instances, scarce supplies sent the public into veritable shopping (and scheming) frenzies. Below are some of the most notorious consumer-chaos causing products from the last few decades – you know, before we bought everything from Amazon by phone:
Mr. Potato Head
In 1952, Mr. Potato Head made history as the first children’s toy advertised on television. As you can imagine from the barrage of brightly colored commercials currently plastered all over TV, the campaign proved quite effective. The simple toy, which then relied on kids to find their own actual potato to accompany the kit, sold more than one million units in its first year. One year later, Mr. Potato Head was joined in starchy matrimony with the newly created Mrs. Potato Head.
Tickle Me Elmo
The infamous Tickle Me Elmo shopping frenzy of 1996 involved stampedes, scalpers, arrests and multiple injuries. Rosie O’Donnell helped kick off Elmo madness by featuring the Sesame Street toy on her talk show in October. By Black Friday 1996, the electric, stuffed Muppet was sold out in stores across the country and chaos ensued whenever they were restocked. Wal-Mart employee Robert Waller told PEOPLE about being caught in a stampede when his store received a late-night shipment of the coveted gift: “I was pulled under, trampled – the crotch was yanked out of my brand-new jeans,” said the clerk, who suffered a pulled hamstring, injuries to his back, jaw and knee, a broken rib and a concussion. “I was kicked with a white Adidas before I became unconscious.”
When you think ‘toy craze,’ Beanie Babies are probably the first thing to come to mind. During the height of their popularity in the mid- to late-’90s, many people were convinced that their Beanie collections were actually clever investments, and that the small stuffed animals would one day be worth thousands. Kids – and even some adult buyers – made sure to keep their collectibles’ tags intact, as not to decrease their resale value. The “rarity” of many Beanie Baby designs was actually a strategic decision by Ty inc., which purposely produced a limited quantity of each animal and regulated how many each store could keep in stock.
Transformers Action Figures
Ten million Transformers were sold in 1984. The franchise’s cartoon and unforgettably catchy commercials propelled the shape-shifting alien robots to the top of Santa’s to-do list. The Autobots and Decepticons were in short supply around the holidays, but ultimately Hasbro took home around $80 million from the product line in ’84. Transformers are still bringing home the bacon: In 2010, Toys “R” Us declared them to be some of their best-selling toys of the past 25 years.
Furbys captured the hearts of children by speaking “Furbish” at first and then slowly learning English as their owners played with them – oh, and by being really ridiculously cute. The part-owl, part-hamster, part-mythical forest creature was the must-have toy of 1998. They were so popular during the holiday season that the retail price was bumped from $35 to a whopping $100.
Frozen Elsa Doll
Many parents probably felt particularly anxious in the months leading up to Christmas 2014. Following the wild success of the movie, Frozen doll shortages meant some kids couldn’t have their own mini Elsas – and they just wouldn’t “let it go” (we had to). In April 2014, the precious products were selling for upwards of $1,000 on eBay and Disney stores had placed a two Frozen item limit on customers. An employee at Disney’s Times Square location even told the New York Post that “physical fights” had broken out over the toys. Luckily, the company addressed the crisis and properly restocked by the holidays, when Frozen products flew off the shelves.
Zhu Zhu Pets
These electronic toy hamsters, which cost around $8 at superstores, were selling for more than $60 on sites like Amazon and eBay around Christmas 2009. “Zhu Zhu Pets have crossed that tipping point, where scarcity is part of the appeal of the product,” Sean McGowan, a toy-industry analyst, told TIME. “Getting it gives you some extra social standing. ‘Yeah, I got my hamsters. I worked the system. I know a guy.’ ” The small cooing and zooming pets are still popular today.
Roughly a decade before Tickle Me Elmo, kids were yearning for a different animatronic stuffed friend. Teddy Ruxpin was designed by Disney Imagineer Ken Forsse and moved its mouth and eyes in sync with stories that played from cassettes in its back. Ruxpin inspired additional books and even a 1987 animated TV series. Meanwhile, black market sellers were nabbing double to triple the retail price for the furry friend when its extreme popularity caused holiday shortages.
The Nintendo Wii was released in November 2006, but the console was still quickly disappearing from shelves by Christmas 2007. Wired called the gaming system “perpetually sold-out” in the months leading up to the holidays, as Nintendo struggled to match their production with an ever-increasing demand. The Wii’s startling popularity was fueled by its universal appeal: Everyone from young kids to adults and even seniors in retirement homes grabbed hold of the console’s innovative remote.
Cabbage Patch Kids
The hype surrounding Cabbage Patch Kids in 1983 was a veritable craze. TIME reported near-riots breaking out over the simple – some might even say ugly – cloth-and-vinyl dolls. One Pennsylvania woman suffered a broken leg when a 1,000-person crowd turned into a violent department store mob, while a store manager claimed “he armed himself with a baseball bat to defend his position behind the counter” amid the chaos. “They knocked over the display table. People were grabbing at each other, pushing and shoving. It got ugly,” one store manager, who we assume is still recovering from the trauma, shared with TIME. It’s still anyone’s guess as to why everyone so desperately wanted a Cabbage Patch Kid, although many speculate that the adoption certificates they came with fueled feelings of personal connectedness attached to the doll.