Mr. Potato Head - A Pop Culture Icon

There are few classic toys that have persevered and managed to survive the video onslaught that has taken over the children's toy market today. One of these toys, Mr. Potato Head, still entertains children as much as it did when it was first introduced in the early 1950's. Let's explore some of the history of this iconic and classic toy.

George Lerner enjoyed success as an inventor and in 1950 he designed the "first generation" of plastic face pieces that would ultimately become a toy for the ages. These pieces: noses, eyes, ears and mouth parts, could be pushed into vegetables or fruits and transform them into an array of "toy" playmates for children.

However, the toy failed to catch on, mainly because Americans resisted wasting food to create a child's toy. So Lerner sold his toy idea for $5,000 to a cereal company that planned to use the pieces as a promotional tool and as a premium giveaway for their cereals.

But Lerner knew his toy idea deserved a better fate. His persistence paid off, and after a meeting with a family owned toy company based in Pawtucket, RI, together they bought back the rights from the cereal company for $7,000.

The original Mr. Potato Head was created by Hasbro in 1952 and was the very first toy to be advertised on a brand new marketing venue: television. With the help of this new marketing element, Mr. Potato Head sales took off. The first Mr. Potato Head package contained ears, eyes, noses and mouths, but the parents of the children had to supply the real potato to use for the toy making fun that ensued.

To replace the need for a real potato, Hasbro developed and introduced a hard plastic potato body eight years later and the evolution of Mr. Potato Head began. For the next three decades, more Mr. Potato Head products were introduced including: puzzles, creative play sets and electronic hand-held board and video games. Mr. Potato Head's immense popularity has also attracted non toy companies who license his image and name and manufacture apparel, accessories and novelty merchandise.

But, Mr. Potato Head has become more than just a toy for children. His mass appeal to people of all ages has made him an ideal ambassador for many worthwhile causes. His signature pipe was surrendered to the U. S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop in 1987 and he became the "spokesbud" for the American Cancer Society's annual "Great American Smoke-Out" campaign for many years. Additionally, to shed the "couch potato" image, the toy received a special award from the President's Council for Physical Fitness, with the award being presented on the White House lawn!

One is not sure if George Lerner envisioned the world wide recognition and success that his toy would enjoy. But one thing is certain; Mr. Potato Head will continue to entertain children of all ages and in many nations for years to come and still is a positive image for charitable causes as well as a pop culture icon.


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