Top Stories
Top Stories
Slideshows

Top Holiday Toy Crazes of All Time

Back to the Future

Photo: Constance Bannister Corp | Archive Images | Getty Images

The list of popular toys for the 2012 holiday season should look familiar to most moms and dads because they may have had a few of these brands in their own toy boxes.

One such toy is Furby, which ranks among the top holiday toy crazes of all time, with more than 40 million sold during its heyday. But there are other familiar brands this year, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Big Wheels to name two, as well as popular toys from last holiday season that have been updated for this year, such as Leapfrog's LeapPad 2.

So in the spirit of holiday nostalgia, click ahead to take a look back through the decades to see some of the biggest holiday hits of all time.

By Christina Cheddar-Berk
Posted 12 Nov. 2012

Mr. Potato Head (1952)

Photo: Getty Images

Manufacturer: Hasbro

It's doubtful Mr. Potato Head helped inventor George Learner achieve his goal of getting kids to eat more vegetables, but he certainly had their attention with this iconic toy.

The original Mr. Potato Head was just a set of plug-in facial features that could be poked into real potatoes. The plastic spud body came later. Some of Mr. Potato Head's popularity may be owed to the fact that it was the first toy to have its own dedicated TV commercial that marketed directly to children. After the TV ad aired, Mr. Potato Head became a huge hit.

Pet Rocks (1975)

Photo: That70sShoppe | Etsy.com

Manufacturer: Rock Bottom Productions

Like many toy fads, it is the marketing that makes all the difference. Pet Rocks were sold in cardboard boxes, punched with air holes, and accompanied by a 32-page training manual.

The craze ended almost as abruptly as it started, but over the span of six months, more than 5 million were sold. Sales peaked during Christmas 1976, but by February the toys were in the discount bin. Still, the fad lasted long enough to make Gary Dahl, a California advertising executive, into a multimillionaire.

The Pet Rock was first shown at a San Francisco gift show, and Neiman Marcus was one of the first retailers to sell it. Shortly after, it became a media sensation, with articles in newspapers and magazines. Dahl even appeared on "The Tonight Show" twice to talk about his creation.

Rubik’s Cube (1980)

Photo: Pictoral Parade | Getty Images

Manufacturer: Ideal Toy

Although the popularity of the Pet Rock came and went, Rubik's Cube has seen enduring popularity over the years. "Speedcubing" competitions, where fans try to solve the multicolored plastic puzzle in the fastest time possible, are still being held.

The cube was created by Hungarian architecture professor Erno Rubik. Rubik dreamed up the idea for the puzzle, which he initially called the Magic Cube, in 1974, but it took some time to find a toy company willing to take a chance on it. In its first year, Ideal Toy sold 5 million Rubik's Cubes. Since then hundreds of millions have been sold, and it ranks among the best-selling toys of all time.

Atari 2600 (1979-80)

Photo: Evan Amos | Wikipedia

Manufacturer: Warner Communications

The original Atari Video Computer System came out with little fanfare, but by 1979, the renamed Atari 2600 caught on. This was the first home videogame system that had parents scrambling to find it.

In later years, many other game consoles prompted hysteria when they were introduced, including the Playstation in 1994 and the Nintendo Wii in 2006. This year, Nintendo is introducing the Wii U, the next generation of its home-gaming consoles. Presale orders for the Wii U sold out quickly in the weeks leading up to its release.

Cabbage Patch Dolls (1983)

Photo: SSLP | Getty Images

Manufacturer: Coleco

When you think about frenzy that can surround popular toys during the holidays, the Cabbage Patch Doll often springs to mind, and for good reason. Some shoppers were so desperate to buy a Cabbage Patch Doll during the 1983 holiday season that they fought each other at the stores.

With supplies short, some stores took to having shipments delivered by armored truck, and ads were pulled from television to try to calm the hysteria.

Still around today, Cabbage Patch Dolls were created by artist Xavier Roberts in 1978. The original dolls were called Little People, and were made of all cloth and sold at local craft shows. Later, the name changed, and the product caught the eye of Coleco, who began mass producing them.

Despite the dolls' success, Coleco eventually filed for bankruptcy protection, and Cabbage Patch Dolls were then made by a series of manufacturers, including Mattel and Hasbro. The brand is now owned by Jakks Pacific.

This year, Jakks created five dolls modeled after the presidential and vice presidential candidates, as well as first lady Michelle Obama to be sold at auction to raise money for Rock the Vote, which seeks to engage young people in politics.

Teddy Ruxpin (1985)

Photo: Costumecraze.com

Manufacturer: Worlds of Wonder

Teddy Ruxpin is an automated bear created by Ken Forsse, a former Disney Imagineer who worked on many of the classic Disneyland rides, including Pirates of the Caribbean. Billed as the self-proclaimed "world's first animated talking toy," Teddy Ruxpin was a huge hit in 1985 and 1986.

Game Boy (1991)

Photo: AP

Manufacturer: Nintendo

Although Game Boy appeared on the scene with some competition from rival hand-held gaming systems like the Atari Lynx and Sega's Game Gear, Game Boy's more affordable price and longer battery life helped it to gain an advantage. Game Boy also came with Tetris, an addictive game with broad appeal.

POGs (1995)

Photo: AP

Manufacturer: World POG Federation

POGs are collectible cardboard discs that became a huge craze on the playgrounds in 1995. They were modeled after the bottle caps on a brand of juice sold in Hawaii that was made from passion fruit, orange, and guava (hence the initials POG). It is thought that the juice caps were used to play a game in the 1920s, but the game was largely unknown outside its local area until the 1990s, when the World POG Federation helped to popularize it.

But like many toy fads, POGs became a victim of their own success. As the game became more popular, knockoffs appeared, and soon the market was saturated with cardboard milkcaps.

Beanie Babies (1995)

Photo: AP

Manufacturer: Ty

Toy inventor H. Ty Warner was criticized when he began to market his small-sized, understuffed beanbag animals. Some mocked the design by calling it "roadkill." But Beanie Babies became a huge phenomenon after Warner decided to "retire" some of his most successful characters, making them valuable on the collectible market.

Although the Beanie Babies craze has long passed, some of the rarest designs still sell for hundreds of dollars on online auction sites such as eBay.

Tickle Me Elmo (1996)

Photo: AP

Manufacturer: Tyco

The hysteria around Tickle Me Elmo, a plush Elmo doll that giggled when his belly was squeezed, rivaled the Cabbage Patch Doll craze.

Since the pricey Tickle Me Elmo was not expected to be a big holiday hit, supplies were limited. But the toy's popularity took off after it was featured on Rosie O'Donnell's show.

The Tyco marketing team had sent a Tickle Me Elmo doll to O'Donnell for her then one-year-old son, and 200 more dolls to the show's producer. O'Donnell mimicked the classic Groucho Marx stunt from "You Bet Your Life." Each time a guest said the word "wall," she threw a doll into the audience.

The stunt helped get the word out about the product, and parents starting storming the stores hunting for Tickle Me Elmo. In one incident, a store clerk at a Walmart store in Canada was trampled by customers who saw him being handed a box of the toys.

With Tickle Me Elmo in short supply, dolls sold on the black market for hundreds of dollars. Cartier even put a Tickle Me Elmo draped with a diamond necklace and bracelet worth $1 million in the window of its Fifth Avenue Store in New York, advertising the doll as a free gift with the purchase of jewelry.

Since the toy's introduction, there have been other Elmo dolls. This fall, Hasbro introduced Playskool Sesame Street LOL Elmo, which rolls around on the floor laughing and giggling.

Tamagotchi (1997)

Photo: AP

Manufacturer: Bandai

The Tamagotchi is a handheld digital pet created in Japan by Akihiro Yokoi of WiZ and Aki Maita of Bandai. The appeal of the Tamagotchi was that its personality reflected the care it received. If lavished with attention and affection, the pet would be happy and healthy. If left neglected, it would die.

During its heyday, Tamagotchis drove teachers crazy, as children began bringing their demanding "pets" to school to care for them during the day so they wouldn't die. Eventually, schools across the country banned them, and the manufacturer eventually began selling them with a pause button so kids could head off to school in peace.

Later versions included other technical elements such as motion sensors and the ability to "talk" with other Tamagotchis, but those versions were never as popular as the original.

Furby (1998)

Photo: Paul Harris | Getty Images

Manufacturer: Tiger Electronics

Invented by Dave Hampton and Caleb Chung, more than 40 million Furbies were sold during the three years of its original production. The gremlin-like creatures came out of the box speaking Furbish, but eventually began using English phrases. The way the toy seemed to learn English prompted some to think it could be a security risk, so the toy was banned from the Pentagon. That story fueled even more interest in the furry creature.

The new iteration of Furby costs twice as much as its predecessor and it remains to be seen if it will be as popular with this generation of kids as it was with earlier ones.

Pokemon (1999)

Photo: Evan Agostini | Getty Images

Manufacturer: Nintendo

Created by Satoshi Tajiri in 1996, Pokemon started off as a pair of interlinkable Game Boy role-playing videogames, but the brand spread to other items, from trading cards to plush toys to books and other media. The more it spread, the more popular it became. According to the Toy Industry Association, Pokemon expanded the U.S. toys and games market by at least 10 percent in every category it touched.

The franchise is now considered to be the second-most lucrative videogame-based brand in the world, behind only Nintendo's own Mario franchise.

Razor Scooter (2000)

Photo: AP

Manufacturer: JD Corp.

Its sleek, sturdy design, as well as its ability to be folded and carted off easily, made the Razor Scooter stand out from the other kick scooters that came before it. The Razor was first distributed in the U.S. by The Sharper Image after it was discovered by the retailer's CEO at a toy show in Hong Kong.

Zhu Zhu Pets (2009)

Photo: AP

Manufacturer: Cepia

Although the hysteria around the Zhu Zhu pet never reached the level of the Cabbage Patch Doll or Tickle Me Elmo, it is one of the most recent holiday toy fads we have seen. Cepia claimed to have sold $70 million worth of Zhu Zhu pets in 2009, not bad for a toy that sold for less than $10 each.

In some ways, the Zhu Zhu was a great product for its time. Caught in the grips of the Great Recession, parents were looking to find inexpensive toys their children would like. The low price of the robotic hamsters allowed parents to buy as many or as few as their budget would allow. Plus, unlike the real thing, Zhu Zhu pets didn't smell or make a mess.