1. Tickle Me Elmo
When Tickle Me Elmo (TME) hit shelves in 1996, they didn’t stay there long. At the time, a foot-tall, flamboyantly red, moving, talking robot was a pretty novel thing. Also, kids are demanding. So when TME’s manufacturer couldn’t keep up with demand, parents started fighting parents in the streets and you could spend up to $1500 trying to secure an Elmo online.
2. Cabbage Patch Kids
What started as dolls made of all cloth and sold only at local craft shows, Cabbage Patch Kids eventually became one of the hottest fads of the ’80s and one of the longest-running doll franchises in America. These days, many of the oldest babies are worth upwards of $2000, though the years certainly haven’t weighed on their fat-cheeked looks.
3. Harry Potter
Does this one really need a description? Surely you’ve heard of the orphaned young wizard, who J.K. Rowling came up with while on a train to London in 1990? (Well, okay, maybe not that part.) Eight publishers rejected Rowling’s first work, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone before she and her agent decided to do it themselves. It was, you know, a pretty good decision: more than 450 million copies of the series have been sold, translated into 67 languages, and oh yeah, each of the last four books set records as the fastest-selling books in history.
4. Pokémon Cards
When the Pokémon franchise made its American debut in 1996, everyone just about lost their minds. When people weren’t playing the videogame, they were out dropping all their bills on the trading card game, where each individual packs might’ve cost less than a fiver, but some cards ended up selling for $20,000 each.
5. Rubik’s Cube
Invented six years earlier by a Hungarian sculptor and architecture professor, the Rubik was picked up by a couple of German businessmen in 1980 and immediately won the German Game of the Year award—it’s been unstoppable ever since. It is believed to be the world’s best-selling toy. Recently popularized by Justin Bieber, who supposedly solved one in 30 seconds, as of January 2009 over 350 million Rubik’s Cubes had been sold worldwide. (The real question is, how many of those 350 million Rubik’s have actually been solved.)
6. Beanie Babies
Though Beanie Babies typically retailed for five dollars or less, their prices astronomically increased after Ty (their manufacturer) would announce in a “newsflash” that a Beanie Baby was being “retired” and people would go nuts trying to snatch ‘em all up. This resulted in chaos in the aisles and tons of black market dealing. Well, maybe not quite a black market, but many beanies went for several thousand dollars. Even today, the rarest Beanie of them all, “Peanut the Royal Blue Elephant,” is valued at $4500—that is, if you have the purple version.
If y’all haven’t noticed a pattern, it’s that people went pretty wild over stuff in the late-90s. This certainly includes the Tamagotchi, which was kind of like a handheld computer, but also, not really. These bad boys let you raise a tiny virtual pet out of a tiny egg that aliens planted on the Earth just to check it out. Although hardly as popular anymore, with 44 different Tamagotchi versions and more than 76 million sold since their release, few other products can compare in their prevalence.
Taking the shelves by storm in late 1998, Furbys—with their brightly colored, fuzzy appearance, and strange, high-pitched voice—capitalized on the same momentum that Tickle Me Elmo had pioneered just two years before. The critters originally retailed at $35, but quickly skyrocketed to over $100 in the height of the craze.
These days you might only think of the juice when you hear the word “Pog,” but back in the early ’90s (of course), you couldn’t find a kid who didn’t know what they were—or wouldn’t immediately force you to admire his collection. Pogs were one of the rare fads that weren’t just extremely popular, but often did their part for the greater good—they promoted public awareness of everything from wildfire prevention to drugs, while still maintaining a “cool” aesthetic.