On May 1, 1952, the Hassenfeld Bros. toy company — later, and currently, Hasbro — brought to market a toy, Mr. Potato Head. Selling for $0.98, the toy was instantly popular, selling over one million units in its first year. Mr. Potato Head has since permeated popular culture, appearing in the Toy Story trilogy, in its own television show, and in a variety of commercials.
From the start, Mr. Potato Head has been defined by his parts — goofy eyes, protruding ears, a huge nose, and of course, a mustache. He also came replete with a pipe, but in 1987, he made a major accessory change. Mr. Potato Head donated the pipe to a great cause, eschewing smoking to help the American Cancer Society promote its efforts to end tobacco use.
But the biggest change to the iconic toy came in 1964, when government regulations caused Hasbro to add a new part to the kit — the large plastic potato-like head.
As originally designed in 1949 by inventor George Lerner, Mr. Potato Head’s parts were to be used in actual fruits and vegetables — not in a plastic toy vessel included in the package. In fact, an early, pre-Hasbro version of the toy was sold piecemeal, as inserts in cereal boxes. As pictured below (larger version here), the original Mr. Potato Head was headless. The box (if not a bucket) of mere parts calls the toy a “kit.” The packaging states that with the parts, “any fruit or vegetable makes a funny face man.”
What happened in 1964, giving us the plastic head? The government required that toys meet certain safety guidelines, and the parts included in the original Mr. Potato Head set proved too sharp. Hasbro rounded the points of the insertion pegs, but in doing so, made it too difficult to stick the parts into fruits and vegetables. As a work-around, Hasbro came up with the plastic toy head we are familiar with today.
Bonus fact: Mr. Potato Head was also the first toy to be advertised on television in ads which targeted children (in favor of their parents).
From the Archives: Regal Potatoes: The royal reason we eat potatoes.
Related: Over the last half-century plus, Mr. Potato Head has taken on a lot of roles, in toy form: professional athlete (both baseball and football), superhero, Transformer, ghost, Easter Bunny,Elvis impersonator, and of course, Darth Tater.