Mr. Potato Head is a children's toy that allows people to attach various plastic facial features, body parts and accessories to the toy in order to give it the look of a small character. Invented in 1949, it originally included only plastic pieces that could be inserted into an actual potato or other vegetable or fruit, but since 1960, Mr. Potato Head has come with a plastic "potato" that has holes into which the pieces can be inserted. Over the years, Hasbro Inc., which has produced and marketed the toy since 1952, also has produced several related toys and variations based on different themes and characters.
George Lerner's Idea
This toy was invented by George Lerner, an American inventor and designer. His original idea was to create plastic facial features that could be applied to a piece of fruit or a vegetable, thus turning an inanimate piece of food into an anthropomorphic toy. The set included multiple eyes, ears, noses and mouths that could be combined to give the character different expressions.
Mr. Potato Head debuted as a prize in a cereal box, but the post-World War II era was not one in which this alternative use for precious food items was welcomed, so the toy didn’t immediately gain a following. In 1952, Hasbro — then known as Hassenfeld Brothers — introduced Lerner’s toy with a much greater flourish, making it the first toy to have television advertisements targeted at children. A year later, Mrs. Potato Head was introduced, followed by two children, Brother Spud and Sister Yam. The toy family had various accessories that could be purchased as well, such as a kitchen set, a car and even pets.
A Major Change
In the early 1960s, Mr. Potato Head had plastic surgery — literally. Hasbro began to include a brown plastic potato body, so a real potato was no longer needed for play. Accessories were added to the set, including hair and hats, mustaches, eyeglasses and feet. Other characters were introduced in the shapes of a carrot, a pepper, a cucumber and an orange. Although most of these additional characters were soon discontinued, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head continued to be popular into the 21st century.
Pop Culture Icon
Mr. Potato Head is considered to be a classic American toy, and in 2000, it was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame. It has been sold in themes such as a pirate, Santa Claus, a police officer and characters from movies and comic books. Mr. Potato Head has had its own television show, called The Mr. Potato Head Show; has been the subject of a comic strip by Jim Davis; has appeared in commercials and advertisements for other products; and was one of the stars in the animated Toy Story movies.