May 1, 1952: Mr. Potato Head Was "Born", And It Was the First Toy Advertised on Television

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Mr. Potato Head is an American toy consisting of a plastic model of a potato which can be decorated with a variety of plastic parts that can attach to the main body. These parts usually include ears, eyes, shoes, a hat, a nose, and a mouth. The toy was invented and developed by George Lerner in 1949 and first manufactured and distributed by Hasbro in 1952.

In the early 1940s, Brooklyn-born toy inventor George Lerner came up with the idea of inserting small, pronged body and face parts into fruits and vegetables to create a “funny face man.” Some speculate he got the idea from his wife’s nephew Aaron Bradley, who was seen placing sticks inside of potatoes in the family garden. Lerner would often take potatoes from his mother’s garden and, using various other fruits and vegetables as facial features, he would make dolls with which his younger sisters could play. The grape-eyed, carrot-nosed, potato-headed dolls became the principal idea behind the plastic toy which would later be manufactured.

In the beginning, Lerner’s toy proved controversial. With World War II and food rationing a recent memory for most Americans, the use of fruits and vegetables to make toys was considered irresponsible and wasteful. Toy companies rejected Lerner’s creation. After several years of trying to sell the toy, Lerner finally convinced a food company to distribute the plastic parts as premiums in breakfast cereal boxes. He sold the idea for $5,000. But in 1951, Lerner showed the idea to Henry and Merrill Hassenfeld, who conducted a small school supply and toy business called Hassenfeld Brothers (later changed to Hasbro). Realizing the toy was quite unlike anything in their line, they paid the cereal company $2,000 to stop production and bought the rights for $5,000. Lerner was offered an advance of $500 and a 5% royalty on every kit sold. The toy was dubbed Mr. Potato Head and went into production.

Mr. Potato Head was “born” on May 1, 1952. The original toy cost $0.98, and contained hands, feet, ears, two mouths, two pairs of eyes, four noses, three hats, eyeglasses, a pipe, and eight felt pieces resembling facial hair. The original Mr. Potato Head kit did not come with a potato “body”, so parents had to provide their own potato into which children could stick the different pieces. Shortly after the toy’s initial release, an order form for 50 additional pieces was enclosed in every kit.

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