Fidget spinners, one of the latest toy fads to sweep the globe, bring back memories of toys that quickly captured loads of hearts — and cash.
If you don’t have one yourself, chances are you’ve come across the typically three-pronged device in recent months. Fidget spinners are small contraptions that whirl between your fingers on ball bearings. Depending on the quality of the fidget spinner, they can revolve for up to several minutes. The rotation of the spinner, and the feeling that it provides between the fingers, has proved to be aesthetically pleasing to many. So pleasing, in fact, that an estimated 200 million spinners have shipped to retailers since February, winding up to a $500 million industry.
The fidget spinner’s origin is unclear. Early reports credited Catherine Hettinger as the inventor, citing a patent from 1993 that lapsed in 2005. But upon further investigation, it seems Hettinger’s design bears little resemblance to the fidget spinners of today. Nonetheless, like most successful fads, fidget spinners have captivated the population at large, kids and adults alike. While the devices are marketed as a means to help kids with ADHD concentrate, fidget spinners haven’t been proven to provide therapeutic benefits.
In reality, fidget spinners appear to be nothing more than toys and, more importantly, an undeniable fad. It’s hard to pinpoint how fads start, but in the toy industry, once one gets going it hits a crescendo before calming down. We don’t know how long the fidget spinner bonanza will last, but let’s take a trip down memory lane to nine other toy fads that captured the devotion of young people (and young people at heart).
In 1957, Richard Knerr and Arthur “Spud” Melin created the modern Hula-Hoop. You may be thinking, “Hey, Hula-Hoops are still around today.” True, but in its first few years, the Hula-Hoop was the toy. In the span of four months in 1958, 25 million Hula-Hoops were sold, and by the end of two years, 100 million people were rocking Hula-Hoops around their waists. Carlon Products Corporation, the main manufacturer of the Hula-Hoop at the time, produced 50,000 multicolored hoops each day in their heyday.
2. Pet Rocks
In 1975, in response to his friends complaining about the upkeep of live pets, Gary Dahl created one of the most bizarre fads in the history of pop culture — the Pet Rock. For $3.95, Dahl provided a nondescript, plain rock in a cardboard box complete with breathing holes and straw for the rock to rest on. He also threw in The Care and Training of Your Pet Rock, a manual filled with puns and advice on how to properly care for your “live pet.” From mid-1975 to early 1976, Dahl sold 1.5 million Pet Rocks and shipped out roughly 10,000 per day.
While you’re surely familiar with bouncy balls, you may be surprised to learn that’s the generic name for the original SuperBall. Created by chemist Norman Stingley in 1964, the SuperBall had the power to be dropped from eye level and come back to almost the same point on its way back up. SuperBalls became the hottest toy in the mid-1960s, with more than six million sales by the end of 1965. At one point, SuperBall production — including full-size and miniature vending machine versions — eclipsed 170,000 units per day!
4. Beanie Babies
In 1993, H. Ty Warner released the first nine Beanie Babies, collectible animals that were filled with plastic pellets instead of stuffing. While sales were slow at first, Beanie Babies became outrageously popular in 1995. Much of the fervor for Beanie Babies in the late 1990s was created by willful scarcity. Ty Warner would routinely discontinue a specific bear, like Garcia the tie-dyed bear (based on Jerry Garcia), causing consumers to grossly overpay, sometimes thousands of dollars for just one pellet-filled animal. Kids who grew up at the turn of the millennium surely remember collecting the wide-ranging animals, all of which came with a tag declaring its name and age and an accompanying poem. But parents were the ones who paid lavish sums for hard-to-find animals. In 1998, at the height of the craze, Beanie Baby sales reached $1.4 billion. The bubble broke as we entered the 2000s. While Beanie Babies are still sold today, the obsession has long since passed.
5. Troll Dolls
Troll dolls were created by Thomas Dam in his home country of Denmark in 1959. The hand-carved original had wool hair and glass eyes. To meet demand in the early ’60s, Dam started using a clay mold instead, and soon plastic versions of the Trolls spread worldwide. Due to an unfortunate copyright-filing mistake, a U.S. court said Troll dolls were in the public domain, thus opening the floodgates for a Troll surplus. Troll dolls were outsold only by Barbie dolls in the 1960s, but the craze died down to a whimper throughout the ’70s and ’80s. In the ’90s Troll dolls surged in popularity, as some toy fads do, and sales of Trolls merchandise exceeded $700 million in 1992. Again popularity died down in the early 2000s, but Dam regained his copyright during this time. Dam eventually sold the worldwide copyright (excluding Denmark) to DreamWorks, who made the recent animated picture Trolls.
An alien species finds Earth, drops an egg and asks human children to care for it. That’s the premise behind the popular digital pets launched by Bandai in Japan in 1996. In 1997, the popular new egg-shaped keychain device migrated across the globe. Seven months after hitting America, Bandai had brought in $150 million in sales, and by the end of the year 10 million Tamagotchis had been sold. While dozens of models of Tamagotchis, video games and even smartphone apps have been released since, the peak interest in Tamagotchi faded rather quickly, which isn’t surprising given how many were sold out of the gate.
The adorable (or creepy, depending who you ask) talking hamster/owl-like creature was the first real “robot” success story. Developed by Tiger Electronics, Furby spoke its own language called Furbish, batted its eyelashes, and wiggled its facial features. And as you spent time with it, Furby eventually picked up English words. Pretty cool, right? Holiday shoppers in 1998 seemed to agree, as they nabbed 1.8 million units in Furby’s first few months on the market. From 1998 until the end of 2000, 40 million Furbies were sold, which is impressive considering that the retail price often reached $100 or more due to excess demand. Furby made minor comebacks in 2005 and 2012.
8. Razor Scooters
Scooters have been around since the early 19th century, and during the Great Depression children cobbled together kick scooters with random wheels and pieces of scrap wood. In 2000, though, Micro Mobility Systems saw an opening for recreational scooters and created the Razor Scooter. These kick scooters took influence from bicycles (handlebars), rollerblades (wheel shape) and skateboards (deck) and effectively took the American public by storm. Five million Razor Scooters sold within six months of their launch. The kick scooter craze continued for a couple of years before electric scooters hit the streets. The Razor Scooter did something interesting, though. It competed with bikes and in some ways became the new skateboard for that brief window of time.
9. Silly Bandz
On a business trip to China in 2007, Robert Croak, president of BCP Imports, saw rubber bands shaped as animals and thought that if they were made a bit thicker, BCP could sell them as children’s fashion accessories. The result? Silly Bandz, silicone rubber bracelets made into the shapes of animals, letters, numbers and more. Silly Bandz launched in late 2008 and started to catch on in parts of the U.S. throughout the following year. Silly Bandz reached their fever pitch in 2010, when sales exceeded $100 million, and more than a million packs were sold each week across the globe. Silly Bandz became popular collectibles and were traded on playgrounds like playing cards, with kids wearing dozens of multicolored bands on each arm. The Silly Bandz phenomenon vanished almost as quickly as it had arrived, and Silly Bandz are now nothing more than repurposed rubber bands.
Which toy fads do you remember most?