Happy Birthday, Mr. Potato Head: An American Icon Celebrates 60 Years
The Funny Face Man
An American icon celebrates a major event in 2012: Mr. Potato Head turns 60. The toy box classic, one of Hasbro's most popular characters, represents a rite of passage for American preschool children. It's a tradition that passes from one generation to the next.
Mr. Potato Head is a plastic model shaped like a potato. Children decorate the model with various plastic parts. The traditional pieces include facial features (eyes, ears, nose, and mouth), shoes and a hat. The pieces were originally designed to push into a real potato to create a "funny face man."
Since the toy's debut in 1952, Hasbro has introduced more than 30 different Potato Head characters with 350 parts and accessories. The famous spud has inspired Potato Head collectibles, television shows, feature films, books, comic strips, Halloween costumes, t-shirts, ball caps and more.
Mr. Potato Head History
George Lerner (1922-1995) was an American inventor and designer. During the 1940s, he had the idea of creating plastic facial features to apply to fruits and vegetables to make "funny face" toys. His inspiration came from the simple toys he made for his young sisters: silly-faced dolls created from the foods in his mother's vegetable garden.
In 1949, Lerner designed a prototype of pushpin-like plastic parts and sold his idea to a cereal company who wanted the toy for a cereal box premium. When a better deal came around, Lerner bought back the rights and sold the toy to Henry and Merrill Hassenfeld, textile manufacturers with a school supply and toy business.
The Hassenfeld Brothers (who later became Hasbro) dubbed the toy "Mr. Potato Head" and began production immediately. The first toy hit the shelves on May 1, 1952.
The first kits included plastic hands and feet; assorted eyes, ears, noses, mouths and hats; several felt pieces resembling hair; a pipe; and a Styrofoam face to practice on. The kits were sold without a plastic body; parents provided real potatoes for kids to decorate.
Mr. Potato Head was the first toy marketed directly to children through television, and the TV commercial revolutionized the industry. Hasbro sold more than one million kits in the first year. The company introduced Mrs. Potato Head in 1953, and the couple tied the knot on Valentine's Day. Brother Spud and sister Yam completed the Potato Head family.
The first Potato Head accessories reflected the affluence of American families in the 1950s. Popular accessories included a kitchen, car, boat trailer, baby stroller and pets called Spud-ettes.
In 1964, Hasbro added a plastic body to Potato Head kit. Along with the kit pieces, the head doubled in size and dimension in the 1970s. The changes stemmed from new government regulations that deemed certain toy parts too small and sharp for child safety. The larger kits expanded the market to younger children.
Hasbro Television Commercial from the 1950s
2009 Super Bowl Commercial
Mashly in Love
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Mr. Potato Head Milestones
Mr. Potato Head has enjoyed many key moments in history. In 1987, he became the official "spokes spud" for the Great American Smokeout, an anti-smoking campaign sponsored by the American Cancer Society.
He gave up his "couch potato" status in 1992 and received an award from the President's Council on Physical Fitness. In 1995, Disney-Pixar gave him a high-profile role in the animated film Toy Story. He appeared in a 2009 Super Bowl commercial for Bridgestone Tires, and he made an appearance in Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
In the social media age, Mr. Potato Head became one of Hasbro's first brands with his very own Facebook page. He and Mrs. Potato Head celebrated his milestone birthday with a year of global adventures, and Facebook chronicled their escapades.
In honor of the toy's 2012 milestone, Hasbro issued a special "Mashly in Love" anniversary edition. The kit features the happy couple holding hands as they renew their wedding vows.
Hasbro Special Anniversary Edition Playset / Time to Play Review
Novelty Potato Heads
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Mr. Potato Head Collectibles
Hasbro has produced several Potato Head theme kits through the years: fast food, mermaid, pirate, princess, rock star, policeman, firefighter, construction worker and more.
The holidays inspired Santa Claus and Halloween kits. Hasbro customized the "Sports Spuds" line for various professional and collegiate teams.
The toy company has licensed kits for various media properties. Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Spider Man, Transformers, Iron Man, Toy Story, The Three Stooges and The Looney Tunes Show are the most popular. New themed releases are in development.
Mr. Potato Head is popular among children, collectors and fans. Hasbro began selling kits without a body in 2006, so people can simply add new features to their current Potato Head collections.
Hasbro Television Commercial from the 1970s
Potato Head Pop Icons
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A Pop Culture Icon
Potato Head Kids gave Mr. Potato Head his television debut in 1985. Four years later, he was the star of The Mr. Potato Head Show. His appearance in Toy Story, an award-winning 1995 animated film, earned him returning roles in the sequels.
Additionally, Mr. Potato Head has been the subject of two comic strips. Garfield creator Jim Davis and The Far Side creator Gary Larson included the famous spud in their cartoons.
The iconic toy has endorsed many important causes including an American Cancer Society anti-smoking campaign, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and the League of Women Voters "get out the vote" campaign.
Although the 2009 Super Bowl commercial was a highlight of his career, Mr. Potato Head has appeared in advertisements for Burger King, Disney theme parks and the UK's Walkers Crisps.
Travel writer Bill Bryson mentioned Mr. Potato Head in his 2006 memoir, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. A page in Jon Stewart's Earth (The Book) is dedicated to him.
The funny face character also served as the host for Hasbro Family Game Night, and he appears in other video games based on Toy Story.
- Business Wire / Hasbro. (2012, February 24). "An American Icon Turns 60: Happy Birthday, Mr. Potato Head." Louisville, Kentucky: WHAS 11. Retrieved February 24, 2012.
- Kistner, Kevin. (2012, February 24). "Happy Birthday Mr. Potato Head." Toledo, Ohio: WNW0 / Northwest Ohio. Retrieved February 24, 2012.
- McLaughlin, Katie. (2012, February 23). "The Throwback: Mr. Potato Head Turns 60." CNN Entertainment. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
- Strong Play staff. (n.d.) "Mr. Potato Head: Inducted 2000." National Toy Hall of Fame. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
- Wikipedia contributors. (2012, February 23). "Mr. Potato Head." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 24, 2012.
Copyright © 2012. Annette R. Smith. All rights reserved.
Published: March 5, 2012 / Modified: December 14, 2012.
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