by Shannon McKinney, Sales Associate in the Indiana Store
Would I be cheating to include Mr. Potato Head as a toy of the 1960s? I don’t think so. While the classic toy was originally released to consumers in 1952 (and we chose to place Mr. Potato Head in the 1950s section of the Indiana Store), it wasn’t until the 1960s that a version similar to the one we know today reached the market.
The original concept for Mr. Potato Head permitted children to engage in an activity typically scorned by parents — playing with their food! More than 60 years ago, George Lerner came up with the idea for a toy that would include a set of accessories for children to attach to real fruits and vegetables, thus creating a “funny-face man.” At the time, though, post-WWII sentiments about conserving food lingered in many people’s minds, and the notion of putting perfectly good food to waste seemed controversial. Lerner ultimately found a cereal company that agreed to buy the rights to the toy for $5,000, planning to include Mr. Potato Head’s plastic accessories in cereal boxes as prizes.
The Hassenfeld Brothers, who founded the toy company that would later become known as Hasbro, realized that Mr. Potato Head had a greater potential than simply residing in cereal boxes and, in 1952, they purchased the rights to the toy. On April 30, 1952, Mr. Potato Head had the honor of becoming the first toy advertised on television. The version sold throughout the 1950s was actually a kit and only contained the components necessary to build Mr. Potato Head, including parts such as the eyes, nose, ears, mouth and a pipe. (More on that pipe later!)
Finally, in 1964, Hasbro’s new release of the toy included a plastic potato on which to place the accessories. Why? Well, much of the reason was that the toy industry had introduced new safety regulations. In order to accessorize an actual fruit or vegetable, the plastic components had to have sharp prongs on the back of them. With the introduction of a plastic potato, the components became more child-friendly.
Safety regulations and cultural shifts over the years have further altered Mr. Potato Head’s appearance — in the 1970s, he grew in size so that his plastic pieces would be less of a choking hazard and, in 1987, he voluntarily surrendered his pipe to the U.S. Surgeon General in support of anti-tobacco campaigns.
Of course, it would be difficult to write about Mr. Potato Head without giving at least a passing nod to his supporting role in Pixar’s three Toy Story films. And today, many variations of Mr. Potato Head (and his family of spuds) exist, including a Wonder Woman Mrs. Potato Head and a Darth Vader Mr. Potato Head. Each new variety entering the market continues to breathe life into the classic toy. It’s doubtful that he and his family will be going anywhere in the foreseeable future.