Mr. Potato Head is an American toy consisting of a plastic model of a potato, which can be decorated with a variety of plastic parts that can attach to the main body. These parts usually include ears, eyes, shoes, a hat, a nose, and a mouth. The toy was invented and developed by George Lerner in 1949, and first manufactured and distributed by Hasbro in 1952. Mr. Potato Head was the first toy advertised on television and has remained in production since its debut. The toy was originally produced as separate plastic parts with pushpins that could be stuck into a real potato or other vegetable. However, due to complaints regarding rotting vegetables and new government safety regulations, Hasbro began including a plastic potato body within the toy set in 1964.
Over the years, the original toy was joined by Mrs. Potato Head and supplemented with accessories such as a car and a boat trailer. Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head may be best known for their appearances in the Toy Story franchise. Additionally, in 1998 The Mr. Potato Head Show aired but was short lived, with only one season being produced. As one of the prominent marks of Hasbro, a Mr. Potato Head balloon has also joined others in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.Today, Mr. Potato Head can still be seen adorning hats, shirts, and ties. Toy Story Midway Mania! at California Adventure Park, in Disneyland, also features a large talking Mr. Potato Head.
In the early 1940s, Brooklyn-born toy inventor George Lerner came up with the idea of inserting small, pronged body and face parts into fruits and vegetables to create a “funny face man”. Lerner would often take potatoes from his mother’s garden and, using various other fruits and vegetables as facial features, he would make dolls with which his younger sisters could play. The grape-eyed, carrot-nosed, potato-headed dolls became the principal idea behind the plastic toy which would later be manufactured.
In the beginning, Lerner’s toy proved controversial. With the war and food rationing a recent memory for most Americans, the use of fruits and vegetables to make toys was considered irresponsible and wasteful. Toy companies rejected Lerner’s creation. After several years of trying to sell the toy, Lerner finally convinced a food company to distribute the plastic parts as premiums in breakfast cereal boxes. He sold the idea for $5,000. But in 1951, Lerner showed the idea to Henry and Merrill Hassenfeld, who conducted a small school supply and toy business called Hassenfeld Brothers (later changed to Hasbro). Realizing the toy was quite unlike anything in their line; they paid the cereal company $2,000 to stop production and bought the rights for $5,000. Lerner was offered an advance of $500 and a 5% royalty on every kit sold. The toy was dubbed Mr. Potato Head and went into production.
Mr. Potato Head was “born” on May 1, 1952. The original toy cost $0.98, and contained hands, feet, ears, two mouths, two pairs of eyes, four noses, three hats, eyeglasses, a pipe, and eight felt pieces resembling facial hair. The original Mr. Potato Head kit did not come with a potato “body”, so parents had to provide their own potato into which children could stick the various pieces. Shortly after the toy’s initial release, an order form for 50 additional pieces was enclosed in every kit.
On April 30, 1952, Mr. Potato Head became the first toy advertised on television. The campaign was also the first to be aimed directly at children; before this, commercials were only targeted at adults, so toy adverts had always been pitched to parents. This commercial revolutionized marketing, and caused an industrial boom. Over one million kits were sold in the first year. In 1953, Mrs. Potato Head was added, and soon after, Brother Spud and Sister Yam completed the Potato Head family with accessories reflecting the affluence of the fifties that included a car, a boat trailer, a kitchen set, a stroller, and pets called Spud-ettes. Although originally produced as separate plastic parts to be stuck into a real potato or other vegetable, a plastic potato was added to the kit in 1964.
In the 1960s, government regulations forced the Potato Head parts to be less sharp, leaving them unable to puncture vegetables easily. By 1964, the company was therefore forced to include a plastic potato “body” in its kit. Little children were also choking on the small pieces and cutting themselves with the sharp pieces. About this time, Hasbro introduced Oscar the Orange and Pete the Pepper, a plastic orange and green pepper with attachable face parts similar to Mr. Potato Head’s. Each came with Mr. Potato Head in a separate kit. Female characters Katie Carrot and Cookie Cucumber also made an appearance. Hasbro also made a fast food based line called Mr. Potato Head’s Picnic Pals. Some characters were Mr. Soda Pop Head and Franky Frank. The friends and pals were later discontinued, but Funko revived Oscar and Pete as bobbleheads (along with a Mr. Potato Head bobblehead) in 2002.
In 1975, the main potato part of the toy doubled in size and the dimensions of its accessories were similarly increased. This was done mainly because of new toy child safety regulations that were introduced by the U.S. government. This change in size also increased the market to younger children, enabling them to play and attach the facial pieces easily. Hasbro also replaced the holes with flat slats, which made it impossible for users to put the face pieces and other body parts the wrong way around. In the 1980s, Hasbro reduced the range of accessories for Mr. Potato Head to one set of parts. The company did, however, reintroduce round holes in the main potato body, and once again parts were able to go onto the toy in the wrong locations.
In 1985, Mr. Potato Head received four postal votes in the run for mayor of Boise, Idaho in the “most votes for Mr. Potato Head in a political campaign” as verified by Guinness World Records
In 1987, Mr. Potato Head became “Spokespud” for the annual Great American Smokeout and surrendered his pipe to Surgeon General C. Everett Koop in Washington, D.C.
In 1995, Mr. Potato Head made his debut in Hollywood with a leading role in the Disney/Pixar animated feature Toy Story, with the voice provided by comedian Don Rickles.
In 2000, Mr. Potato Head was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame at The Strong in Rochester, NY.
In 2006, Hasbro also began selling sets of pieces without bodies for customers to add to their collections. Some of these themed sets included Chef, Construction Worker, Firefighter, Halloween, King, Mermaid, Police Officer, Pirate, Princess, Rockstar, and Santa Claus. In the same year, Hasbro introduced a line called “Sports Spuds” with a generic plastic potato (smaller than the standard size) customized to a wide variety of professional and collegiate teams.
In recent years, Hasbro has produced Potato Head sets based on media properties that Hasbro produces toys for under license. These include the Star Wars-themed “Darth Tater”, “Spud Trooper” and “R2-POTATOO”, a 2007 Transformers film-themed “Optimash Prime” (the look is based on the original Optimus Prime from the original television series), a pair of Spider-Man-themed “Spider-Spud/Peter Tater” (both red suit and black suit, to tie in with Spider-Man 3), an Indiana Jones-themed “Taters of the Lost Ark” set (which, despite the title, was released as a tie-in to 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), an Iron Man 2-themed “Tony Starch”, and a “Trick or Tater” version for Halloween in October 2008. An additional five Star Wars-themed potato heads were sold exclusively through Disney theme parks: “Luke Frywalker,” “Yam Solo, Spuda Fett,” “Princess Tater,” and “Darth Mash.”
In 2009, “Bumble Spud” was produced based on the movie Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. A Kiss version of Mr. Potato Head was produced recently. Disney, in cooperation with Hasbro, also released “Chipbacca”, “Mashter Yoda”,and “C-3PotatO” in October 2009 at Disney Parks. To celebrate Toy Story 3, five new Mr. Potato Heads were unveiled including Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Jessie, Mrs. Potato Head, and the classic Mr. Potato Head. To promote The Looney Tunes Show, Hasbro unveiled Bugs Bunny-, Daffy Duck- and Tasmanian Devil-themed Mr. Potato Head dolls.
In 2011, it was announced at the New York Toy Fair that a second Elvis Mr. Potato Head (based on his 1968 TV special) would be released, as well as sets for The Wizard of Oz (Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Lion), the Three Stooges, and Star Trek (Kirk and Kor). These were all released through PPW toys. From Hasbro, there will be a SpongeBob SquarePants release as well.
Since 2011, new models of the Mr. Potato Head toys, commonly referred to as Jason, have been produced. The Mrs. Potato Head version of the toy was also brought out in early 2012, commonly known as Rachel, and has a baked bean-like head. In 2012, Hasbro and PPW Toys released Mr. Potato Head in Batman form for the movie The Dark Knight Rises. The model, known as “The Dark Spud”, features Mr. Potato Head dressed up as the Caped Crusader. Before the release, the model was unveiled at the 2012 New York Toy Fair. In 2014, to celebrate The Simpsons 25th anniversary, there will be a Homer Simpson Mr. potato head.
In popular culture
Mr. Potato Head’s popularity has led to some appearances in films and television. In 1985, Mr Potato Head played a supporting role in Potato Head Kids, his first dramatic television appearance. In 1995, Mr. Potato Head appeared in the Disney/Pixar film Toy Story, voiced by Don Rickles. He returned between 1999 and 2010 in Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3 alongside Mrs. Potato Head. In 1998-99, he had his own short-lived Fox Kids series, The Mr. Potato Head Show. In addition to film and television, the character has been the subject of a comic strip created by Jim Davis. Cartoonist Gary Larson included the character in several of his The Far Side cartoons. In commercial for Bridgestone tires during Super Bowl XLIII in 2009, Mr. Potato Head is driving a car and Mrs. Potato Head is nagging him.
Mr. Potato Head has also acted as spokesman for several causes. In 1987, Mr Potato Head surrendered his pipe to become the spokesperson for the American Cancer Society’s annual “Great American Smokeout” campaign. He performed the role for several years. In 1992, he received a special award from the President’s Council for Physical Fitness. In 1996, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head joined the League of Women Voters and their “Get Out to Vote” campaign. Mr. Potato Head is also the inspiration/main character of an upcoming fan film, Potato Headed.
Larger-than-life versions of Mr. And Mrs. Potato Head are “guests” in the 1980s section of Pop Century Resort at Walt Disney World in Florida.
Mr. and Mrs Potato Head also star in commercials for other brands starting in the 2000s. An example is an ad for Lay’s Potato Chips where Mr. Potato Head comes home to see Mrs. Potato Head eating them although she’s a potato. At the end Mr. Potato Head joins in and tells her to keep it their “little secret”.
A spoof, Mr. Zucchini Head, appears as a proposed new toy in the Family Guy episode “The King Is Dead”.
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