Officially, Mr. Potato Head was born on May 1, 1952, but George Lerner made potato dolls with grapes for eyes and carrots for nose to entertain his younger sisters earlier on! Hasbro Inc. paid a cereal company that had agreed to help George distribute the toy parts in their cereal $2,000 to stop distributing and bought the rights for $5,000. They also offered George Lerner a $500 advance and 5% royalty.
Mr. Potato Head was originally marketed with hands, feet, ears, two mouths, two pairs of eyes, four noses, three hats, eyeglasses, a pipe and eight felt pieces to represent facial hair (without a body). Mr. Potato Head is the very first toy to be introduced on TV and to be advertised specifically for children.
Over one million kits were sold in the first year. Brother Spud, Sister Yam and accessories such as a car, boat trailer, kitchen set, stroller and pets joined Mr. Potato Head. Oscar the Orange, Pete the Pepper, Katie Carrot, Cookie Cucumber, Picnic Pals, Mr. Soda Pop Head and Franky Frank were later added, but their popularity was short lived.
By 1964, forced to make alterations because children were choked and hurt by the small, sharp parts, a plastic potato “body” was added. Rotting vegetables among the children’s toys and the appearance of waste during war rationing were impetus for change as well.
In 1976, Hasbro made yet another change by doubling the toy in size, effectively allowing even younger children to play. Before this edition, children were only able to put the parts in their right slots. This time, children could add more fun by putting the parts in the wrong places. In the years to come, Hasbro would switch the right parts/wrong body options twice more.
Mr. Potato Head’s celebrity status continues to rise. In addition to appearances in films and television, and acting as spokesperson for several causes, new versions and themes have been introduced.
- In 1985, Mr. Potato Head received four votes received by postal mail in Boise, Idaho. Guinness World Records verified that Mr. Potato Head received the “most votes in a political campaign”.
- In 1987, he became “Spokespud” for the annual Great American Smokeout by surrendering his pipe to the Surgeon General in Washington D.C. (USA).
- In 1995, Mr. Potato Head made his debut in Hollywood with a leading role in the Disney/Pixar animated feature “Toy Story”.
- In 2000, Mr. Potato Head was inducted into the US National Toy Hall of Fame, located at The Strong in Rochester, NY (USA).
- In 2006, themed sets appeared with parts without bodies for collectors to add Mermaid, Rockstar, Pirate, King, and so on, including a line called “Sports Spuds”.
- In 2007, Potato Head versions for those media properties that were licensed to Hasbro were produced, such as “Optimash Prime” (Transformers), “Spider-Spud/Peter Tater (Spiderman), “Tony Starch” (Iron Man), “Darth Tater” (Star Wars) and a few more.
- In 2009, Hasbro promoted The Looney Tunes Show using Mr. Potato Head dolls of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the Tasmanian Devil.
- Also in 2009, Hasbro unveiled five new Mr. Potato Heads: Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Jessie, Mrs. Potato Head and the classic Mr. Potato Head.
- In 2011, a second Elvis Mr. Potato Head, The Wizard of Oz, the Three Stoges, Star Trek’s Kirk and Kor, and SpongeBob SquarePants were announced for release at the New York Toy Fair.
- Mr. Potato Head has appeared in several Toy Story based video games and the Toy Story Activity Center, and popular Wii/DS games.
George Lerner of Brooklyn, NY (USA) was the brain behind Mr. Potato Head, no pun intended. In 2010, George Lerner was awarded The Toy and Game Inventor Award (TAGIE) in memoriam. TAGIE awards recognize toy and game inventors who brought unquestionable fun and entertainment through their creativity ingenuity. Without George, Mr. Potato Head may have had to settle as a prize in a cereal box. If it can be said that George Lerner gave Mr. Potato Head a face, then it was Hasbro Inc who gave the latter legs! This time, pun is intended!