One of the most iconic toys in a child’s toy box, Mr. Potato Head has been a part of the world for the last 62 years and it looks like he has no signs of stopping. Created by George Lerner in 1950 as nothing more than face pieces with push pins to stick into fruit, Lerner pitched the product to every toy company who flat out refused to buy it, which resulted in him finally selling the concept to a cereal company as a prize to be given away in their boxes. Lerner knew his concept was a good one and soon found himself in a meeting with Rhode Island brothers Henry & Merrill Hassenfeld (who would go on to create Hasbro Toys). The brothers liked the idea and bought the toy from the cereal company.
On April 30th, 1952, the “Mr. Potato Head Funny Face Kit” was sold in stores for less than one dollar, consisting of over 20 pieces, one of which was a pipe. That same year Mr. Potato Head starred in his own TV commercial which helped sell $4 million in play sets. In 1953 Mrs. Potato Head was released and soon play sets for Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head were released like a toy convertible, boat and other items as well as new characters like Brother Spud and Sister Yam. They even made sets to create pets.
In 1964 Government safety regulations had Hasbro change the push pin. Since the pins were no longer sharp they couldn’t pierce the fruit, so a plastic potato with round holes for the pieces was built. New characters also came out that year under the “Toothy Frosty Friends” toy line with characters like: Oscar Orange, Pete the Pepper, Cooky the Cucumber and Kati Carrot. Also that year was the “Picnic Pal” line which included: Frenchy Fry, Mr. Soda Pop Head, Mr. Mustard Head, Willy Burger, Franky Frank and Mr. Ketchup Head. The arms and legs were the color of ketchup and mustard and the facial features were pickles and onions. Play sets includes the likes of a railroad, parade, circus and the wild West.
In 1966 “Jumpin’ Mr. Potato Head” was created. The potato was larger to fit the wind up mechanism that could make Mr. Potato Head flip. With the jumping feature Mr. Potato Head came with items that could make him go fishing, use a jack hammer, fly a kite or just jump. Mrs. Potato Head also was made with this feature though her items helped her dust, clean or ring a dinner bell.
1970 brought a few more friends to the Potato Head line in Potato Head Bird, Potato Head Fish and Potato Head Bug, but by 1973 the only toy on the shelves was Mr. Potato Head. Changes were made with a darker shade of brown for the potato while Government safety regulations stepped in once more and had Hasbro change the round holes for the pieces to be slots. Mrs. Potato Head was only available as a box of parts to be used on the Mr. Potato Head. But by 1983 Hasbro finally found the right shade of brown to color the potato as well as the right shape, which was more like an egg. His arms could bend but not be taken out of the potato, the round holes returned and a new feature was created, a place to put his parts in his back.
On February 11th, 1985 Baby Potato Head was introduced to the world, a much smaller, baby-like version of Mr. Potato Head which could be dressed as either a baby or child. 1986 saw the Potato Head Kids toys, these were smaller than Baby Potato Head, had removable hands and feet, and there were twelve of them. More Potato Head Kids were offered a year later sold through Avon as well as offered in fast food places as toys like McDonalds’ and Wendy’s.
Mr. Potato head was 35 years old as a toy in 1987 and finally got removable (and still bendable) arms. His pipe was now gone and Mr. Potato Head became part of the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smoke Out when he gave his pipe to Surgeon General C. Everett Coop.
In 1992, for Mr. Potato Head’s 40th birthday he was awarded the Presidential Sports Award from The President’s Council on Physical Fitness & Sports. The “Soft Stuff Potato Head” was also released that year, a plush version that had Velcro parts. Being part of the Great American Smoke Out and winning the Presidential Sports Award helped keep Mr. Potato Head in the public’s eye, but that was nothing compared to what was going to happen to him in 1995.
Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story hit theatres with Mr. Potato Head as one of the co-stars voiced by Don Rickels. Pixar legend has it that John Lasseter had Rickels in mind for the part from the start. When Lasseter went to Rickels’ house to pitch the role to him he brought with him a Mr. Potato Head toy. As he explained the concept of the movie Lasseter accidentally knocked off Mr. Potato Head’s hat revealing his bald crown. The uncanny resemblance of the bald potato and the bald comedian had them both laughing and Rickels agreed to the part that day.
Mr. Potato Head continued to get involved in campaigns like in 1996 when he got political for the League of Women to help people “Get out and Vote”. 1998 saw him as a new kids toy to help promote Burger Kings new French fries. 2000 was a busy year for him when he not only was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame on March 4th, 2000, but also co-starred in Toy Story 2 with Rickels reprising his voice. Mrs. Potato Head became a co-star of the film voiced by Estelle Harris. Rickels also provided Mr. Potato Head’s voice for the 1999 Toy Story 2 video game as well as in 2001 for the Toy Story Racer video game. Mr. Potato Head was also named the official ambassador of the Rhode Island Tourism Board which resulted in over 40 6 foot statues of him placed around various tourist spots in Rhode Island.
2002 was the 50th anniversary for Mr. Potato Head and to celebrate he drove to over 250 Wal-marts in his “spuds-mobile” to celebrate. The state of Rhode Island, Mr. Potato Head’s home state, also made him part of the Rhode Island license plate. Several toys were released that year as well including the Retro 50th anniversary play set & collector tin, the limited edition Mr. Potato Heads from Wal-mart that featured one for each season of the year, a birthday version, and a baseball team themed giveaway.
Mr. Potato Head’s popularity as an icon continued in 2005 when he was made spokesman for the United States Potato Board and even became a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. With the popularity of the Disney/Pixar Toy Story films Mr. Potato Head returned in Toy Story Mid-way Mania, once more voiced by Don Rickels. In 2010 Toy Story became a trilogy with Toy Story 3 ending the toys life with Andy as he went off to college and left his toys with Bonnie. Both Rickels and Harris returned to voice their parts of Mr. &. Mrs. Potato Head respectively.
Fans might have thought that was the end of the Toy Story toys, but Pixar made made Toy Story cartoons for The Disney Channel featuring the toys in their new setting. In 2011’s Hawaiian Vacation Rickels & Harris returned, as they did in the hilarious 2011 short Small Fry, then once more in 2012’s Partysaurus Rex. In 2013 Rickels voiced Mr. Potato Head in the half-hour TV episode Toy Story of Terror and is set to return once more in 2014’s TV-movie Toy Story that Time Forgot.
If the past 62 years have taught us anything it’s that Mr. Potato Head will still be around for a long time, and with Disney/Pixar continuing the Toy Story gang’s new adventures, we’ll be hearing him for some time too.