The Biggest Christmas Toy Crazes In History

Christmas and the onslaught of new, hot holiday toys seems inevitable. Interestingly, the rush to buy the latest LOL doll or Pop It XL or even the next generation gaming system is strictly a feature of modern history. The reasons are rather straightforward. According to Colby College, before the Industrial Revolution, toys were handmade or ad hoc. When time allowed, kids played with simple toys like rocks and sticks. Since everything was handmade you weren't going to have mass production of identical Teddy Ruxpins. In addition, toys only took off as crazes after a modern media landscape and consumerism took hold. This is why, for example, while medieval Nuremberg may have been famous for its toys and dolls (according to the Medievalist), there weren't any riots of young, upwardly mobile peasants trying to get their hands on the latest must-have spinning top.

So when we take a look at the biggest Christmas toy crazes in history it really is a modern phenomenon. Let's take a look at some of these manias from oldest to most recent.

Raggedy Ann and Andy

Raggedy Ann is one of America's most beloved dolls. According to a biography on her creator, the illustrator John Gruelle, the doll was first created in 1915. While cloth dolls have been around since antiquity, Gruelle purposefully designed Raggedy Ann as a marketable commodity with "vulnerable expression, mismatched attire, and turned up toes." The doll did well, especially since Gruelle had accompanying illustrated stories that promoted the doll. But Raggedy Ann did not truly take off until 1920 with the introduction of her brother, Raggedy Andy. According to "Raggedy Ann and More" these dolls were produced by the Beers-Keeler-Bowman Company in Connecticut to pair with Gruelle's "Raggedy Andy Stories." Ann and Andy became the power siblings of dolls in the 20th century. Gruelle continued to write over 40 Raggedy books which promoted the sale of his dolls. According to Publisher's Weekly, in the century of the dolls' existence, over 60 million items of the Raggedy brand have been sold, including dolls, books, and other toys. Even in recent decades Raggedy books have exceeded sales of two million.


Yo-yos are the quintessential toy, despite the nagging myth that they were once deadly Filipino weapons. They have, however, existed since antiquity. As reported by the Atlantic, these toys were first introduced to the United States by the Filipino immigrant, Pedro Flores. What Flores did was loop the string around the axle of the yo-yo rather than have it just fixed to it. This allowed for a variety of tricks. Flores opened a yo-yo factory in 1929. He even introduced yo-yo competitions. Even the name, yo-yo, as reported by the Wisconsin Historical Society, is from his native language, meaning "come-come."

In 1930, Donald Duncan, an entrepreneur who had introduced the world to Good Humor ice cream, bought Flores' business and trademarked "yo-yo." Duncan marketed the toy and throughout the 1930s it became a phenomenon. In 1962, Duncan had sold 45 million yo-yos to the country's 40 million children.

However, Duncan's empire soon collapsed. Competitors won the right to use the word yo-yo in their products and diminishing profits forced Duncan to go bankrupt in 1965. Yo-yos are of course still popular today.

Shirley Temple Doll

Shirley Temple was the first major child star in the history of cinema. As detailed by IMDb she started working in movies at age three and became known as a singer, dancer, and actress. In the 1930s, she regularly beat adult stars at the box office, including Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, and Joan Crawford.

Anything with Shirley Temple was saleable. According to Collectors Weekly, in 1934, Ideal Novelty and Toy Company approached Temple and her family to produce a doll in her likeness. The company priced these 15-inch dolls at $3.00 which during the Depression was not chump change. That doll, however, was the small version. According to "The Little Girl Who Fought the Great Depression," the dolls ranged in size up to 22 inches, which was sold for $7. Steep pricing aside, the doll was a hit, and Ideal sold over 50,000 Shirley Temples by Christmas that year. The company would continue producing the doll through 1940, with later revivals. Today, that $3.00 1934 doll can fetch a pretty penny on the collector's market, with the Antiques Roadshow pricing one doll at $650.

Mr. Potato Head

One of the weirdest toys at the moment of its creation was Mr. Potato Head. According to PBS, George Lerner came up with the idea in 1949 using real potatoes that could be assembled to make a toy man. However, some manufacturers were afraid that using so much food for playtime would be frowned upon by parents who had just experienced the food rationing of World War II. But Lerner caught a break in 1951 when, as described by the Idaho Potato Museum, he made a deal with the toy company that would become Hasbro.

What catapulted Mr. Potato Head to fame was that it was the subject of the very first toy television commercial as part of its launch in 1952. That year one million Mr. Potato Heads were sold at 98 cents a kit (which lacked a body since you'd buy that at the grocery store). By the next year, Mrs. Potato Head, Brother Spud, and Sister Yam were introduced. The Potato Heads would be au naturale until the 1960s when regulations and complaints about shoving plastic pieces into rotting vegetables forced Hasbro to create the familiar plastic spud body that we know today.

Hula Hoop

Big hoops made out of various materials had been used as playthings since antiquity. Wired, for example, reports that about 5,000 years ago, Egyptians wove reeds into circles that they played with using a stick. Hoops made of grapevines were used by the ancient Greeks for exercise. The list goes on, but it was British sailors who saw Hawaiians using hoops with the movements of their traditional hula dance, that the hula hoop entered the lexicon.

However, it wasn't until 1958, that the toy company WHAM-O entered the game. This business had burst onto the scene the prior year when, according to History, they sold the first Frisbee. The company obtained the rights to produce a plastic hula hoop in the United States. The $1.98 toy was a ludicrous hit. Britannica estimates that WHAM-O sold 100 million hula hoops in its original version. The fad quickly ended, although hula hoops have never quite gone away.

Chatty Cathy

First offered in 1960 by Mattel, Chatty Cathy was a revolutionary toy. As detailed by "From Abba to Zoom," this little-girl-next-door doll had a secret weapon: she could speak. Chatty Cathy could utter eleven different phrases when a ring with a string was pulled on her back, called the "chatty ring." Children grew up hearing Cathy saying, "Will you play with me?" or "I love you" or "Please brush my hair." There were several variations of the Chatty Cathy doll which saw stellar sales through the decade. The doll was also the inspiration for a very creepy "Talky Tina" Twilight Zone episode. According to the LA Times, nearly a million children enjoyed chatting with Cathy. Follow-up Chatty dolls soon entered the market including the bespectacled Charmin' Chatty, Singin' Chatty, and twins Tiny and Tony Chatty.

Sales of Chatty Cathy declined after the doll saw a makeover in 1970 that introduced a new look, only nine phrases, and the voice of Maureen McCormick (Marcia from "The Brady Bunch"). McCormick, however, should not be blamed for Chatty Cathy's downfall.

Pet Rocks

Pet Rocks are not just illustrative of a toy craze, but they are an example of marketing genius on the level of P.T. Barnum. In 1975, Gary Dahl, who was an advertising copywriter, according to the New York Times, had a brainwave after a night in a bar. He realized people like pets but don't like to take care of them. Thus the Pet Rock was born. He bought a load of Mexican smooth beach stone at roughly a cent a piece and prepared to sell his pet. He packaged the rocks in a faux pet carrier with a sardonic care instruction manual. 

It was a phenomenon. Pet Rocks were introduced for the 1975 Christmas season and received much free advertising through television appearances and articles. Within months, 1.5 million Pet Rocks were sold, which were priced at $3.95 each, according to CNN. The packaging cost more than the rock, but Dahl still made a solid 95 cents profits on each Pet Rock sold. Dahl saw the whole Pet Rock fad as a light-hearted way to get past the Vietnam War and Watergate eras. He would later say, "I think the Pet Rock was just a good giggle. Everybody needed a good laugh and the media ate it up." 

Cabbage Patch Kids

Cabbage Patch Kids began their life as the "Little People." These were, as told by the Washington Post, hand stitched dolls created by Xavier Roberts in 1977. Each doll was unique and contained its own birth certificate. In 1982, Coleco licensed the dolls and began manufacturing them as Cabbage Patch Kids, landing on the shelves in mid-1983. These dolls were craftily marketed to parents and featured on "The Today Show."

By Christmas, demand for Cabbage Patch Kids was insatiable, while supply was pitifully low. According to the twisted laws of Christmas supply and demand, chaos ensued. People would drive hundreds of miles to find the scarce dolls. According to Time, crowds of up to a thousand shoppers camped out for the dolls. When an insufficient amount came, riots broke out. Adults snatched Cabbage Patch Kids out of children's hands. A woman in Virginia was trampled, breaking her leg. A store manager at a Zayre department store in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania had to wield a baseball bat to keep the demonic Cabbage Patch shoppers at bay. And naturally, a black market was established with resellers who charged, according to ABC, far above the $21 retail price of the doll. 

The mania subsided after two years, but only after Coleco had sold $250 million in dolls, with a $300 million back order. Today, there is a healthy collectors market for these dolls.


The year 1984 is remarkable not just for being the title of George Orwell's classic dystopian novel nor for being the title of the Van Halen album featuring "Hot For Teacher" but for the year when Transformers first invaded America. These toy robots, produced by Hasbro but originating in Japan, converted to vehicles and vice versa. Heck, some transformed into boomboxes, others guns, one into a microscope, a cohort into dinosaurs, and then a handful into cassette tapes for some weird reason. 

Hasbro, as described in "Toys and American Culture," learned that the Japanese company had made cartoons to go with their version of the toy. They followed suit, and the accompanying popular cartoon series that premiered the same year as the toy sealed the fate of the Transformers as a high (or low) of Gen-X culture. "Media Franchising" labeled Hasbro's cross promotion a wild success. 

Of course, there were critics of the literary value of the evil Decepticons battling for power with the noble Autobots, with "America Toons In" commenting that it was all just meaningless conflict centered on characters that had none. Fair enough, but Hasbro wasn't exactly not aiming for artistic excellence but to sell robots to kids. It worked. Borne on the success of the Transformers, Hasbro's revenue increased in that time to nearly $1 billion according to "Envy of the World." Transformers are still going strong today.


After the boom and bust of gaming systems in the early 1980s, most prominently Atari, it seemed that the gaming industry was dead. But gaming was just in a state of hibernation. In 1985, according to Wired, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was introduced. "Entertainment system" was deliberately chosen by Nintendo, since videogames had been given a bad rap and retailers wouldn't touch them. What's more, Nintendo made some very pointed business decisions. As reported by Arstechnica, the company would not license out the right to make games for the NES console. This was a mistake Atari had made resulting in so much gaming drivel.

NES started off slow, only selling 50,000 consoles for that holiday season. It was well received, but what really made Nintendo into a phenomenon was the introduction of Super Mario Brothers. This came the next year, and by 1987 the Blade reported that 1.1 million NES consoles were sold and was the best selling toy for Christmas. The New York Times noted that in that year, Nintendo sales were $750 million and growing. Nintendo remained the master of the gaming industry until fresh competition from the Sega Genesis started to diversify the field in the 1990s. 

Beanie Babies

Like the 1980s, the 1990s were subject to several intense toy crazes. The Beanie Babies bubble was the first. What is a Beanie Baby, you ask? They were, as described by Newsweek, cute stuffed toys produced by TY, headed by Ty Warner, and promoted as collectibles. This meant that certain models were actively "retired." This was a deliberate, and successful attempt, make the product scarce. This ethically questionable market manipulation generated monumental demand.

So adults, parents and non-parents alike, scooped up Beanie Babies wherever they could get them. Heck, according to Slate it would not be unusual for a parent to gift a Beanie Baby to one of their children and forbid them from removing the tag or messing it in any way since it was an investment. An economic bubble swiftly developed where people were selling and buying the little stuffed animals for up to $5,000. These toys retailed at $5 each. In one case, a judge forced a divorced couple to separate their Beanie Baby collection in person on the floor of the courtroom. 

Eventually, such market manipulations on the part of Ty Warner led to inevitable collapse. Beanie Babies are now the subject of jokes, but Ty Warner was able to use the proceeds to buy the Four Seasons Hotel in Manhattan according to Forbes. Today most Beanie Babies are worthless.

Tickle Me Elmo

Elmo is a beloved Muppet from "Sesame Street," but in 1996, he became the icon of Christmas greed in a mad frenzy that hadn't been equaled since the Cabbage Patch Kids riots. It started, as reported by the Times Union, when Ron Dubren looked to create a doll that laughed when you tickled its tummy. Dubren's prototype was Tickles the Chimp but Tyco wanted something with more cache. So they landed a licensing agreement with "Sesame Street" to use Elmo as a plush. As described by the Washington Post, the final product was a 17-inch doll that continued to laugh until it at last said, "Oh boy, that tickles!"

Tyco priced the doll at $30 which was high for the time. But an opportune appearance on Rosie O'Donnell's talk show gave the doll the promotional steroids it needed. In fact, Rosie gave away a free doll to each audience member. Tyco quickly sold its stock of 400,000 dolls and scarcity drove stampedes and sales of the doll via auction for thousands of dollars. Even mafia boss John Gotti got in on the action when he was said to have surreptitiously gotten his Tickle Me Elmo in a late-night visit to Toys 'R Us. 

By the end of the holiday season, Tyco had sold one million Tickle Me Elmos and three million the next year. The doll brought "Sesame Street" out of a ratings slump.


In 1996, the same year as Tickle Me Elmo made headlines, one of the strangest toy fads emerged in Japan. Reminiscent of the infamous Pet Rock, Bandai's Tamagotchi were digital pets that were kept on a keychain, which required periodic care from the pet owner through some touches of a button. As described by Forbes, the name itself comes from the Japanese term for egg, which properly describes the oval shape of these digital pets. They also required more care than a Pet Rock since they could die if you didn't press enough, or the right, buttons. Within six months of Bandai introducing Tamagotchi to the United States, it saw $150 million in sales. A hot toy for several years, its appeal eventually wanted.

According to the BBC, Bandai attempted to make a Tamagotchi comeback starting in 2015. Their marketing plan was highly based on a nostalgic appeal to millennials. As a niche market it seemed to work. According to Bandai, over 80 million Tamagotchi units have been sold between 1996 and 2021.


When it comes to annoying toy crazes, few were equal to Tiger Electronics' Furby. This animatronic toy, which looks vaguely like a combination of an owl and Star Wars' Salacious Crumb, responded to movement and noise with hoots, squawks, and random movement. Perhaps the New York Times put it best when it wrote, "If the Pet Rock and Tickle Me Elmo had mated, in a union sealed with a Mood Ring, they would have given birth to a Furby."

As reported by Bustle, Furby was first introduced for the holidays in 1998. There was no off-Broadway for Furby in the toy world. It immediately went to the big show, debuting at the fabled FAO Schwartz in New York City. Very quickly the store sold out and had a backorder of 35,000 Furbies. That year, 1.8 million units were sold.

This, however, was dwarfed by the 14 million that sold the next year. Within three years, 40 million Furbies had been sold. However, the fad faded fast and by 2005 Furby was a has-been. This has not prevented Hasbro, which bought Tiger Electronics, from attempting reboots of the toy starting in 2012. These versions developed different personalities depending on how they were treated. These too were a hit, but not quite as much as the original generation. There is a fairly strong market for vintage editions of this unique toy.