Few people know that Mr. Potato Head
was almost little more than a forgotten cereal premium. But history has
a way of being kind to the classics. And George Lerner was about to make
During the World War 2 era, George Lerner enjoyed success as a well known inventor and designer. Just before 1950, he designed and produced a first generation set of plastic face pieces. The push pin shaped noses, ears, eyes and mouth parts could be pushed into fruits or vegetables to transform the food into an endless array of magical anthropomorphic playmates.
The toy wasn't an immediate hit however. There was still a World War 2 mentality to conserve resources. Toy companies didn't think that customers would accept the idea of wasting a piece of food as a child's toy. But after awhile, George finally sold the toy to a cereal company, who planned to use the pieces as a premium giveaway in cereal boxes.
But George knew that his new toy deserved a bigger shot. And that shot came in a meeting with a family owned New England manufacturer. Henry and Merrill Hassenfeld were the second generation of brothers to run their family’s Rhode Island business. Although their roots were in textiles, they also enjoyed success making pencil boxes with surplus book binding fabric. They soon found that the boxes sold better when they were filled with pencils and other school supplies.
Merrill experimented with filling the boxes with small toys instead of school supplies, and the idea took off. They began making their boxes into doctor kits, nurse kits, paint sets and even junior air raid kits. In 1951, George Lerner approached Merrill with a set of toy face pieces as an idea to fill one of their boxes. Merrill loved the idea of making funny faces with fruits and vegetables...and bought the toy from the cereal company. It was a purchase that would become their first huge toy hit, and help boost their company, later called HASBRO, into the ranks of toy legends!
The Hassenfeld’s introduced their new Mr. Potato Head Funny Face Kit to the world on April 30th, 1952, and began one of America’s greatest toy stories. The earliest boxed set, Mr. Potato Head #2000, featured a package with goofy vegetable faces and says that you could use any fruit or vegetable to make a funny face man. The original price for this Mr. Potato Head in 1952 was under one dollar!
And for that dollar you got almost 30 parts, all a kid needed to transform any fruit or vegetable into all sorts of silly and bizarre faces. All those mothers that had urged their children not to play with their food were now facing a losing battle! Kids all over America embraced the little plastic pieces and poked holes in every piece of produce imaginable. Although the natural creative and imaginative appeal of the toy contributed to it’s popularity, Mr. Potato head could credit some of his early success to the emerging television industry. Most historians agree that Mr. Potato Head holds the distinction of being the first toy to be advertised on TV. It was obvious that the children of the 1950's were fascinated by this new gadget called TV, and everything they saw on it. Those early Potato Head commercials resulted in over $4 million in Mr. Potato Head sales in the first year!
This success made it apparent that this “Adam” of the spud world needed a mate. So in 1953, much to the delight of Mr. Potato Head, the Hassenfeld’s introduced Mrs. Potato Head. The two hit it off right away. I guess you could say the had “eyes” for each other! As with many young couples in the 1950’s, after the wedding it was time to begin the climb up the social ladder. And Hasbro was behind these two all the way! They were about to become the envy of vegetables everywhere with an impressive collection of “stuff”! New sets included items like plastic convertibles, boats and appliances. Throughout the 1950’s, Hasbro continued to broaden their social circle by introducing even more expanded playsets with new characters. Among these was set #2004 which included facial pieces to make “Pets”, and set #2006 included all new Brother Spud and Sister Yam. Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head continued their success as one of the toy industry’s hottest couples throughout the rest of the 1950’s. In addition to the TV exposure, Hasbro promoted their top 10 toys with ads in LIFE magazine around 1953 & 1954. Of course Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head were the centerpiece of these ads! The colorful 11" x 14" layout features Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head surrounded by 9 other toys produced by Hasbro! Today, the early 1950's playsets are highly sought after among collectors. Finding one with all the pieces and the original box is difficult, but not impossible. Most often missing is the cardboard inserts. You may have better luck locating several partial sets that can be combined to make one complete set.
1950s Mr. Potato Head Products (Click
item for photo and more information)
(All 1950’s products are by Hassenfeld Bros. or Hasbro unless noted)
—Set #2000-Mr. Potato Head (foam head insert) -Hassenfeld Bros.-1952 (above)
—Set #2000-Mr. Potato Head (cardboard head insert) -Hassenfeld Bros.-1952
—Set #2000-Mr. Potato Head Slim Dandy box-Hassenfeld Bros.-1952
—Set # 2000-Mr. Potato Head in “window" box-Hassenfeld Bros.-1953
—Set # 2002-Mrs. Potato Head in “window” box-Hassenfeld Bros.-1953
—Set #2002--Mrs. Potato Head Slim Dandy box-Hassenfeld Bros.-1952
—Set #2004-Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head Funny Face Kit - Hassenfeld Bros.-1953
—Set #2004-Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head Funny Face Kit w/black and white cover photos-Hassenfeld Bros.-1953
—Set # 2056- Mrs. Potato Head with stroller and Kitchen playset-Hassenfeld Bros.-1950s
—Set #2004--New Super Fun Pack Mr. And Mrs. Potato Head and Pets-Hasbro-1950s
—Set #2006-Mr.& Mrs. Potato Head Introducing Brother Spud and Sister Yam-Hassenfeld Bros.-1950s
—Set #2050x100-Mr. Potato Head with Car and Boat Trailer-Hasbro-1953
—Set #2052x100-Mrs. Potato Head Set w/Car & Trailer-Hasbro-1953
—Set #2053x100-Mr. And Mrs. Potato Head w/Cars, Boat,Shopping Trailers-Hasbro-1950s
—Set # 2075 x300-Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head Super Fun Pak w/ vehicles and kitchen -Hasbro-1950s
—Set # 2008- Mr. Potato Head Spud-ettes in Circus box-Hassenfeld Bros.-1950s
—Set # 2010- Mr. Potato Head Spud-ettes-Hassenfeld Bros.- 1950s
—Set # 4031- Spudettes on carded bag-Hassenfeld Bros.-1950s
—Set # 59x31-Spudettes on carded bag-Hassenfeld Bros.-1950s
—Set #69x31-Spudettes in single box-Hassenfeld Bros.-1950's
—Item # 5150 Mr. Potato Head Ice Pops-Hasbro-1950s
—Item # 615-Mr. Potato Head Halloween costumes-Halco-1950s
—Item # 628-Mrs. Potato Head Halloween costume- Halco-1950s
—Mr. Potato Head Pencil Box-Hassenfeld Bros.-1950s
—Item 69x50-Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head Eras-O-Book-Hassenfeld Bros.-1950s
—Item #2058-Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head Puppets -Hassenfeld Bros.-1950s
—Mr. Potato Head Cello-Masters Premium set-1956
—1950's Corn Crackos with Mr. Potato Head Premium Offer-1950s