Hordes of shoppers brutally competing for overpriced junk - this is the stuff a holiday massacre is made of. Here's 20 gifts that inspired crowd madness.
2 Big Mouth Billy Bass
3 Beanie BabiesThe absolutely worst thing that can happen to a toy is for somebody to declare it "collectible." That usually sparks a massive feeding frenzy where desperate fools looking to make a quick buck spend too much cash and end up disappointed. Such was the case with Beanie Babies, simply-made beanbag toys produced by Ty Warner in the 1990s. By 1995, there was a thriving collectible market for the toys, but by 2000 the fad had ended and old ladies nationwide were stuck with worthless scraps of fabric that they'd spent their kids college funds on.
4 Rubik's CubeWhen Hungarian sculptor Erno Rubik created his cube puzzle in 1974, he had no idea that it would become one of the defining symbols of the 80s. Such is life, I guess, but after the Cube hit American shores in 1980 it found a spot in pretty much every kid's stocking for the next few years. Parents liked it because it had a vaguely European name and maybe could teach your kid some math. Kids liked it because... hell, I'm not sure why kids liked it. The fad was over by 1982 but by then it was too late. With over 350 million cubes sold, it's one of the most popular toys ever invented.
5 Tickle Me ElmoYou can really tell a lot about a person by their opinion on Elmo. Old farts like myself believe that his introduction in 1981 (as Elmo, he'd been in the background previously) marked the beginning of the end for Sesame Street. His annoying falsetto quickly came to dominate the show, and the geniuses at CTW cashed in with a slew of toys and tie-ins. 1996's Tickle Me Elmo was one of the biggest holiday fads of all time. The demand for the toy was so intense that people were selling it for over $1500 - this is a toy that retailed at $28.99! Wal-Mart employees were trampled, shoppers were hurt, and it was a horrible Christmas.
6 FurbyIn 1996, Tiger Electronics released the first massively popular robotic toy. And it looked like an owl and a hamster had sex, possibly in a threesome with Yoda. Furbys were bizarre artificial pets that spoke their own gibberish language but would "learn" English the more you played and interacted with them. For some unknown reason, they became the hot toy of the holiday season, with stores barely able to keep them in stock and scalpers selling them for over $100. Over 27 million of them were sold in 12 months, but just as quickly as the fad started it ended, with millions of abandoned Furbys jabbering at each other in dumpsters worldwide.
7 Glow WormCapitalizing on kids' native fears is always a good way to rake in some cash, and in 1982 the Playskool company made bazillions with a stupid little toy with a light bulk in its head. Glow Worm was a stuffed insect larvae in a nightcap that, when squeezed, would light up to chase away all of those nasty night terrors (or at least the ones scared of worms). For some reason, this became a smash hit and stores struggled to keep them in stock that holiday season.
8 Hula Hoop
9 HypercolorFashion fads usually don't make the crossover to Christmas must-haves, but Hypercolor was the notable exception. Starting in 1991, the Generra Sportswear Company started producing shirts with a special color-changing chemical that would shift hue when exposed to heat. For some damn reason, everybody on Earth had to have some. The early 1990s were not a fine time for fashion, and sweatshirts that drew attention to your armpit stains were no exception. After millions of dollars of sales, where Generra couldn't even keep up with demand, the company went bankrupt in 1992.
10 Magic EyeMan, we must have been seriously bored in 1993. How else to explain the overwhelming success of the Magic Eye books? These eye-straining optical illusions, created by Tom Baccei and Cheri Smith, use a patented process to "hide" images in repeating patterns. Combined, they spent a total of 73 weeks on the New York Times' bestseller list. And for what?
11 Nintendo 64Nintendo was the last company to launch a console in the 5th generation of video games, and while the jury's out on whether it was worth waiting for, there's no denying that Christmas of 1996 was all about the Nintendo 64. I could use words to talk about how every kid in America wanted one, but just watch this video instead.
12 Pet RockLet's be frank: keeping a real animal alive is sometimes beyond our humble abilities. That explains the enormous popularity of the Pet Rock in the 1970s. Created by ad-man Gary Dahl, what was at first just a prank quickly bloomed into a massive cultural pehnomenon, with over five million being sold at $3.95 each. Since these were just rocks, Dahl quickly became a multi-millionaire.
13 SimonEarly electronic games were primitive and annoying, but in 1978 Milton Bradley changed all that with Simon. The game of memory and reflexes developed by Ralph Baer and Howard Morrison was a massive smash hit, with just four buttons and some blinking lights. Milton Bradley launched the game at a glitz event at New York's disco den Studio 54, and that holiday season it was the must-buy toy for American kids. Parents were frantic to get ahold of one, and fistfights broke out in stores.
14 Speak & SpellElectronic breakthroughs often make for fad toys, and such was the case with the Speak & Spell, the first kid's toy to use digitally created speech (as opposed to recordings). Developed by Paul Breedlove at Texas Instruments, the Speak & Spell was sort of like the first laptop for kids - it had a full keyboard and a one-line VFD display, and sold like hotcakes during the 1978 holiday season. Is it any wonder that those of us who were kids back then all want to have sex with robots now?
16 Troll DollsI know that most of the fads on this list have been '80s, '90s stuff - that is, after all, when I was alive - but fads didn't start with my birth. In 1963, one of the biggest toy crazes to sweep America hit on Christmas and didn't let up for two years. Troll dolls, also known as Wishniks, were created by a Danish woodcarver and introduced to the United States, where the hideous critters with the giant puff of hair became a gigantic fad. Girls stockpiled the ugly little buggers by the dozen until, as swiftyl as they came, they were gone.
17 WebkinzLet's face it: by the time today's kids are adults, they'll probably be plugged into the Matrix 24/7. Blame crap like Webkinz, which swept the holiday season by storm in 2006. Cheapy-made stuffed animals, the real reason people bought them was because they came with an "access code," which got the owner access to an online site called Webkinz World. There they play games to earn virtual cash and bla bla bla, but the real hook was this: you had to buy a new stuffed animal and input a new code every two weeks to stay online. This awesome scam made the company $100 million in 2006.
18 Nintendo WiiRemember in 2006 when the Wii hit? Everybody freaked the F out that Nintendo was dropping a console with a totally new control mechanism. It was the biggest news in gaming in years. Yes, in retrospect ninety percent of the games kind of sucked and the Wiimote needed an extra part to work how they promised, but whatevs. The Wii sold over 600,000 copies in its first eight days, causing massive shortages during the holiday season. Resellers immediately started to gouge the poor suckers who didn't get theirs.
19 Zhu Zhu Pets
What the hell was up with these things last year? Zhu Zhu Pets, for those who didn't hear, are a line of fairly cheaply-made robotic hamsters that are made in China and have little wheels on the bottom for exploring. They wander around, bump into stuff, make noise - nothing special. And yet, through some kind of bizarre chicanery, they were 2009's epic holiday fad. Resellers were marking them up 400% from their retail price and Wal-Mart couldn't keep them in stock. The lesson here? Kids are stupid and crazy.
Here's a great example of how unpredictable fads can be: the game of Pogs had been played in Hawaii since the 1930s, but when a math teacher taught a new generation of kids the game in 1991, it swept the islands like a tidal wave. Played with cardboard bottle caps, within months the company who made them was shipping millions to Hawaii, and by 1993 it was a worldwide fad. Simply printed circles of cardboard, the popularity of the game was totally inexplicable, and there was even a World Pog Federation to set rules and monitor championships. And then America came to its collective senses and nobody ever played Pogs again.