Mr. Potato Head is an iconic toy that has been loved by generations. It was invented by George Lerner in 1952 and was based on an older toy called ‘make a face’ that allowed children to make faces on real potatoes, onions, or other vegetables. The original toy included a body to attach to the vegetable, as well as parts for the face.
Lerner’s invention was an all-plastic toy, which he had expected to be used as a prize to go into cereal boxes. The toy became very popular, and it was the first toy to get advertised on network TV.
A year after the release of Mr. Potato Head, Mrs. Potato Head joined the family. At first, the concept of using real fruits or vegetables was retained, however, in 1964 Hasbro, the company that manufactured the toy, started supplying a plastic ‘potato’ in the box with the face parts and the idea of using a real potato was forgotten. The main reason for this switch was that new safety standards had come into effect in the United States, and they required that toy makers avoid sharp parts. This meant that the prongs on the pieces needed to be made a little blunter, and they could no longer reliably puncture a real potato.
Lerner sold the rights to Mr. Potato Head to Hasbro for $7,000. He was given $500 in advance, and 5 percent royalties for each toy that was sold.
The Growth of Mr. Potato Head
The parts that came with Mr. Potato Head have changed over time to reflect the culture of the era. In 1987, for example, Mr. Potato Head lost his pipe because he joined a partnership with the American Cancer Society to promote smoking cessation.
The early sets had hands and feet, ears, two choices for the mouth, two different pairs of eyes, four choices for noses, three different hats, and eight felt pieces that could be used for mustaches and beards, as well as the pipe. There was a styrofoam head that could be used in place of a potato, but the instructions suggested that kids could use potatoes as well.
The sharpness of the parts was not the only issue that the makers faced. There were complaints about parents finding moldy potatoes under their children’s beds, and this was another reason for the move to a plastic potato. A few years after the change to plastic, the next step taken was to make the face parts bigger, because small parts represented a swallowing risk.
Modern Potato Heads
In 1992, Mr. Potato Head became an advocate for exercise and became a part of public service announcements where he renounced his role as the ‘couch potato’ for a while. In fact, the character does not shy away from politics. In 1996 both Mr. Potato Head and Mrs. Potato Head assisted with a campaign for the League of Women Voters. In 2002, Mr. Potato Head was officially 50 years old, and he joined the AARP.
Today, there are potato headsets based on popular culture, for example, Tony Starch, Optimash Prime, Darth Tater, and Luke Frywalker among the most well-known and best-selling of the special editions.
Mr. Potato Head is one of the few truly timeless toys. The character is recognized worldwide, and he was even a star in the Toy Story movie franchise. Children today love them as much as their parents and grandparents did, and the choice to release IP-based potato heads means that adults have an ongoing affection for them too. While some other toys have fallen out of fashion as computers and tablet PCs or games consoles take over what children do with their time, the potato head remains a firm favorite for its simplicity and for the way that it allows kids to release their imaginations. The toy makes it possible to make characters with diverse appearances, which is an important thing in the modern world. Inclusivity is something that toy makers struggle with but the stylised appearance of the potato means that children are using their imagination and can make almost anything that they want. This is one example of a toy where Hasbro can truly say that they ‘got it right’.