The cabbage patch dolls, considered ugly by many, that became a must-have over night
Thirty-six years ago, in 1983, The Cabbage Patch craze ensued. The dolls were considered ugly by many, but the concept and subsequent marketing were stunning. Each doll was one-of-a-kind, but the novelty didn’t end there. Artist Xavier Roberts converted a medical clinic into a “hospital” where the dolls could be “adopted,” complete with a name and birth certificate all supplied by the “nursing” staff. He referred to the Cleveland, Georgia store as “Babyland General,” and he and Coleco had consumers by the heart- and purse-strings.
The adoptive parent even took an oath, pledging to take good care of the baby doll. In a video called “Cabbage Patch Kids ‘birthed’ in store,” among others, a group of boys are interviewed about the novelty, to which one smugly yet perhaps perceptively responds, “It sets sex education back a few years.” From England to Canada to the United States, people were literally going crazy over the toys.
What no one knew was that an annual and profoundly impactful phenomenon was born. “The Cabbage Patch frenzy became the blueprint for Tickle Me Elmo, Furby, and Black Friday marketing campaigns that we’re all so familiar with. It was engineered mania…To have the right toys was a status symbol — for both kid and parent.” The Cabbage Patch Kids doll was the original “it” toy, the must-have children’s product of the year.
It was all fun and games until someone got hurt. Literally. The ugly dolls were precipitating ugly behavior. By.Grown.Adults. The demand for the dolls skyrocketed to the point that people were mobbing stores. Physical fights broke out, and what started out as well-meaning parents turned into ruthless rebels who would stop at nothing to get that coveted prize. In 1983, in a northeastern Pennsylvania store, at least one person sustained a broken leg during what was almost the equivalent of a mini-riot.
By the end of 1983, approximately 3 million dolls were sold; all-time, according to this report, “…more than 130 million Cabbage Patch dolls were ‘born’ in the past 32 years, averaging to one ‘birth’ every 6.8 seconds.” Still have one? It may be worth something.
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