Furby, Tickle Me Elmo and Hatchimals: The must-have holiday toys of yesteryear

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Tuesday, November 23, 2021
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Do you remember the hype surrounding these must-have holiday gifts from years past?

Every few years, lightning strikes and parents find themselves chasing after a holiday toy so hot that even Santa himself might struggle to meet the demand. Fights break out in the aisles of toy stores while resellers rake in hundreds - if not thousands - of dollars for the must-have holiday toys that kids can't live without.

Take a look back at some of the toys that set the standard for the holiday shopping season in years past:

1996: Tickle Me Elmo

It seems like Elmo has been around for ages, but it wasn't until 1996 that the lovable red furball really took the holiday shopping season by storm. In fact, the hysteria surrounding Tickle Me Elmo got so bad that a Canadian store clerk was reportedly trampled as fervent shoppers rushed to get their hands on the toy.

Boosted by a series of endorsements and placements on television shows - Rosie O'Donnell called Elmo a "cute little monster" on her daytime talk show - the plush toy that retailed for less than $30 was suddenly fetching hundreds if not thousands of dollars on the then-nascent internet resale market. Manufacturer Tyco said it sold a million Tickle Me Elmos over the course of just one holiday shopping season.

1998: Furby

Two years later, a new furry toy exploded onto the scene: Furby. Both adorably cute and at times mildly frightening, the fuzzy talking robot produced by now-defunct Tiger Electronics was a cross between an owl and a rodent. The toy retailed for approximately $35 and, like its furry red predecessor, fetched top-dollar on the internet. In 1998 alone, Tiger sold 1.8 million Furbies.

Furbies came in several different 'outfits,' and they all spoke Furbish, a simplistic dialect that slowly morphed into English as the creature got older. The Furbish didn't always catch on, though - many a Furby had its batteries yanked out in the middle of the night when it wouldn't stop talking.

1999: Anything and everything Pokemon

The Pokemon craze hit full force just before the turn of the century, boosted in popularity by the introduction of the Game Boy Color games, the physical trading card game, a hit animated television series and films that arrived on the shores of North America within a year of each other. Kids begged for Game Boy link cables to battle their friends while adding trading cards to their list in the quest for an elusive holographic Charizard.

2000: Razor scooter

After ushering in the new millennium, kids around the country traded their iconic 90s-era skateboards for a new way of getting around: the Razor scooter. With 5 million sold in just six months, the Razor scooter helped even the balance-challenged shred the sidewalk after school.

2002: Beyblades

With a new take on a classic spinning top, Takara Tomy spun its way to holiday glory in 2002 with Beyblades, which were inspired by a 1998 Japanese manga series. The premise was simple: kids would battle it out with their friends to see whose Beyblade would spin the longest, and the first player to seven points won the match.

The tops came with interchangeable pieces to customize the battle experience, with different weights, rings and disks determining how the toy would behave in the arena. Ultimate fans also added accessories like stadiums and launchers to their collection. The company sold more than 150 million units.

2009: Zhu Zhu Pets

By the end of the decade, toy trends shifted from the in-your-face, action-packed tops and video game creatures to the cuddlier Zhu Zhu Pets, small plush, robotic hamsters that became a phenomenon in their own right. Retailing for a mere $8, the toys rose to prominence thanks largely to a burgeoning community of mommy bloggers who sang the toy's praises and even contributed to its development.

They made it so popular, in fact, that it was nearly impossible to find at times.

"It's easier to get a swine flu shot than to get Zhu Zhu Pets," quipped one shopper.

At its height, the company behind Zhu Zhu Pets moved $250 million of product annually.

2014: Anything "Frozen"

The Disney film "Frozen" was released in time for the 2013 holiday shopping season, but the merchandise business really took off in 2014, when there was a mad dash for anything and everything "Frozen." Shipments of film-related merchandise jumped nearly 500% in time for the 2014 holiday shopping season, according to an industry estimate, and the scramble paid off.

By one estimate, "Frozen" merchandise dethroned Barbie as the year's most popular doll and brought in more than $530 million.

2016: Hatchimals

Furry, loveable critters once again took center stage in 2016 with the introduction of Hatchimals, small plush figures that quite literally hatched out of a plastic egg. The Spin Master toy was a hot commodity by early November, with retailers nationwide struggling to meet surging demand and parents lining up around the block for a chance to score their own Hatchimal

Of course, the toy was not without its controversies. Some parents claimed that the toys swore in their sleep while others complained that their Hatchimal never actually hatched.

While Spin Master declined to release exact sales figures, industry analysts estimate that millions of the small creatures hatched their way into homes in 2016.

This story was originally published in November 2017.