Friday, December 24, 2021

The History of Mr. Potato Head

By Terrie Todd
If you are alive to read this post, chances are you’ve had a Mr. Potato Head in your home at some point—if not, you’re at least familiar with the toy. Did you know the original Mr. Potato Head came with no head? In 1949, inventor George Lerner conceived a toy that children could design themselves. Each set consisted of plastic body parts and accessories attached to pins. Children could then transform a simple potato or other vegetable into a colorful, unique character all their own by arranging eyes, noses, mouths, glasses, hats, and pipes.

George Lerner

Coming out of the shortages of the Great Depression, followed by food rationing during World War II, Lerner’s idea initially met with resistance. Why would anyone want to sacrifice a perfectly good potato by turning it into a plaything? According to a 2019 article by Mary Bellis on, a cereal company eventually bought Lerner’s concept for $55,000 and placed the plastic parts into cereal as free prizes for kids to collect.

By 1951, the world was reveling in its post-war abundance. The Rhode Island Hassenfeld Brothers toy manufacturing company paid the cereal company to stop production and purchased the rights to Mr. Potato Head for $7,000. Later, the company changed its name to Hasbro.

Those first sets provided hands, feet, ears, two mouths, two pairs of eyes, and four noses. Accessories included three hats, eyeglasses, a pipe, and eight pieces of felt suitable for beards and mustaches. The move turned out to be a great investment for Hasbro, who earned more than $1 million their first year.

In 1953, Hasbro added Mrs. Potato Head, their children Yam and Spud, and the children’s friends Kate the Carrot, Pete the Pepper, Oscar the Orange, and Cookie Cucumber. Children could even ask Santa for a Mr. Potato Head car, boat, or kitchen. The toy was the first TV ad targeted at children in 1960. You can watch it on You Tube HERE.

In 1969, the United States passed its Child Protection and Toy Safety Act, enabling the Federal Drug and Safety Administration to ban toys it deemed unsafe. Mr. Potato Head’s small pieces of plastic with sharp pins fell into that category. Parents had also complained about finding rotten potatoes under their kids’ beds. Rather than simply discontinuing the toy, Hasbro got innovative once again. In 1964, they began making hard plastic potato-shaped bodies and larger body parts. Another twenty-two years would pass before Mr. Potato Head surrendered his pipe-smoking habit in the interest of better health.

With the release of the first Toy Story movie in 1995, Mr. Potato Head again stepped into the spotlight, his character voiced by Don Rickles. He’s appeared in every Toy Story movie since. Earlier this year, Hasbro dropped the “Mr.” to make the toy gender-neutral.

Ray Matthews dreams of being an artist, but never of selling his work to a jigsaw puzzle maker—especially the portrait of his sweetheart, Sarah. When compelled to break his oath, Ray speaks a prophecy over the puzzle—that no one will be able to finish it before he and the love of his life are reunited. During the next 80 years, the puzzle passes through four different households. Though all are profoundly affected by Ray’s girl at the wishing well, none are aware of the connection between them—until one decision unleashes a peculiar chain of events.

Mr. Potato Head makes a guest appearance in a scene from 1957 in Terrie Todd’s
newest release, The Last Piece. Terrie is the award-winning historical fiction author of The Silver Suitcase, Maggie’s War, Bleak Landing, and Rose Among Thornes. She also writes a weekly “faith and humor” column for the Graphic Herald called Out of My Mind. In 2020, she published a collection of her favorite columns in her only nonfiction book, Out of My Mind. Terrie is represented by Mary DeMuth of Books & Such Literary Agency. She lives with her husband, Jon, on the Canadian prairies.

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  1. Thanks for the fun post this morning! My children certainly had a Potato Head toy, but I don't remember the whole family being available. When we drive to our son's house in a neighboring town, someone has a life size Potato Head they display outside year round. I have NO idea where they could have gotten such a thing! Hope you have a Merry Christmas.

  2. Thanks, Connie! Merry Christmas to you, too!