The Evolution of Mr. Potato Head

The first Mr. Potato Head (1952) - via National Institute of Health


Brooklyn-born toy inventor George Lerner tries to capitalize on kids who like to play with their food. Surprisingly, Lerner's idea of creating face and body parts that can be jabbed into potatoes is a hard sell. Toy companies worry that parents who've just lived through World War II-era food shortages will balk at the thought of wasting perfectly good food.

[YouTube Clip]


Hasbro sees the genius in Lerner's product and agrees to market it, creating the first-ever TV ads for a toy. It turns out that parents have few misgivings about squandering their potatoes; more than 1 million Mr. Potato Heads sell that year alone.

Mr and Mrs. Potato Head (1953) - photo via Dnnis Martin's excellent website (many more photos there)


Mr. Potato Head gets an arranged marriage. In 1953, Hasbro outfits him with an instant family: Mrs. Potato Head, son Spud, and a daughter, Yam. He also gets a car, a boat, and a kitchen in the deal. Within a few years, the likable Spud makes friends with pal Katie the Carrot and Pete the Pepper.


When parents complain about finding moldy potatoes under their kids' beds, Mr. Potato Head ditches his organic body for a plastic one. Ten years later, new rules about choking hazards compel Hasbro to merge the head and body into one legless lump.


Mr. Potato Head trades his dapper hat for a green baseball cap and exchanges his loafers for blue tennis shoes. In keeping with his new, sportier look, he also quits smoking in 1987 for the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout. To show his support for the anti-smoking campaign, he publicly hands over his signature tobacco pipe to U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop.


Arnold Schwarzenegger and the President's Council on Physical Fitness give him an award for abandoning his couch-potato lifestyle. Curiously, his new healthy habits don't stop Mr. Potato Head from endorsing Burger King, McDonald's, Wendy's, and Hardee's.


Mr. Potato Head makes his big-screen debut in Toy Story, the first film ever made using only computer-generated imagery. But perhaps his most prestigious gig is yet to come. In 2000, Mr. Potato Head becomes the official travel ambassador for Rhode Island, "the Birthplace of Fun," where Hasbro is headquartered.

The article above appeared in the Jan - Feb 2010 issue of mental_floss magazine. It is reprinted here with permission.

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Rickles is very much alive. He'll be on Conan on Feb. 2, performing at The Orleans in Vegas later in February and amongst other things will be seen in TOY Story 3 which comes out in June.
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One of the weirder bits about the whole Rhode Island "Ambassador of Fun" thing was that the city of Providence featured these giant fiberglass Mr. Potato Head statues painted for specific locations. Found a nice collection of them here:

I used to play piano at the Chapel where the Friar Potato lived; someone kept stealing his robe. And I was on the Main Green at Brown the day someone swiped a potato downtown and unveiled it on the Green. I also recall hearing that some other city in RI sent their sister city in Italy a "goodwill Potato Head" that was met with a less-than-stellar response. Weird times.

-Tony Cabral
Brown University '00
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