Mr. Potato Head: Under the Tater Skin

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What're you lookin' at ya hockey puck?

He’s a staple of many childhoods. He’s a supporting character in a successful blockbuster series. He’s a family man. And he’s a snappy dresser, too. Mr. Potato Head has had a long history, and is one of the most famous and instantly recognizable toys in the world. How did this mustachioed vegetable rise to super stardom? Well, let’s take a look…under the tater skin.

A Starchy History

Back in 1950, toy inventor George Lerner devised a set of body parts that could be affixed to real vegetables in order to make funny little dolls. The pieces made their debut as a prize in breakfast cereal packages, and the lucky kids that received them had to find their own potato, yam, or other produce in order to put together a funny-faced man.

The concept really took off in 1952, however, when Lerner sold the idea to what would become Hasbro. The company released body part kits under the product name Mr. Potato Head, for $0.98 per kit. Kids still had to provide the potato, but the toy took off like a shot and sold over one million kits in that first year. This is due to Mr. Potato Head’s milestone marketing: the first toy to be advertised on television.

Fun fact, they actually tried to market Oscar the Orange and Pete the Pepper. For some reason, they didn’t catch on…hmm.

By 1953, Mrs. Potato Head was released, and a number of other variations surfaced. But it was in 1964 that the entire line of toys got a facelift. The molded plastic potato body was introduced, and food was no longer used for tomfoolery (or so parents thought). In 1975, unsurprisingly, the parts of the toy doubled in size to prevent children from choking on them. This sparked a sales boom from the toddler market, where ol’ Spud Head is found today.

Aw, he’s so jovial looking. Makes me want to cuddle with my baked potato before dinner…um, forget that last part.

The toy really hit a high point with the release of the first Toy Story film in 1995, in which he was a supporting cast member. Due to a marketing tie-in with Burger King, Mr. P.H. was also the hardest “kid’s meal” toy to find ever, as well as the spokes-spud for Burger King’s infamous change of their fry recipe in 1997.

These days, Potato Heads are offered in many varieties. In 2006, he was given a variety of careers and outfits like firefighter, chef, mermaid, and Santa Claus. Recent years have seen him dressing up like other Hasbro toys, with a Star Wars run of Darth Tater, Spud Trooper, and R2-POTAT-OO, and a Transformers-themed Optomash Prime and Bumble Spud. There’s also a Tony Starch (Iron Man), Taters of the Lost Ark (Indiana Jones), and even a Spider-Spud/Peter Tater variant.

Wow, that is high-concept. This is like one of the Funky Bunch dressing up as Marky Mark.

Yep, things look good for Mr. Potato Head, as long as he remembers to pack his angry-eyes, just in case.

Looking for a bit more on Mr. Potato Head? Then check out our follow-up here.

Want more articles about classic toys? Check these out:

My Little Pony: A Retrospective

Guys and Dolls: A Male’s Retrospective on Barbie

The Privileged Childhood: A Power Wheels Retrospective

The Yo-Yo and Why You Should Have One

Forget-Me-Nots: Mutating Michelangelo

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