The 80s and 90s were a much simpler time for Christmas shopping. The absence of technology and fancy gadgets made it much easier (and cheaper) for parents to pick out the perfect gift for their kids. But there was one toy that was particularly difficult for them to get their hands on – the classic cabbage patch kids. Today, you can easily order a classic cabbage patch doll, so why the wait? Get yours here.
These bizarre little toy dolls were in high demand in the 80s. So much so that customers were often required to put their names on the stores’ waiting list in order to get one when the stock arrived. Most retailers had a first-come-first-serve policy which created a buying frenzy similar to what’s seen on Black Friday sales nowadays.
The seemingly-innocent dolls led to vicious fights, shoving and shouting among potential customers as the demand far exceeded the supply. Nevertheless, by the end of the Christmas season of 1983, over 3 million cabbage patch kids had been bought. But 1983 was the first of many years of Cabbage Patch frenzy to come.
Throughout the 80s the toys flew off the shelves and sometimes the shortage of stock would lead to people waiting in line outside the stores for hours to purchase the special toy for their kids or loved ones.
For those who aren’t familiar with these dolls, Cabbage Patch Kids were 16-inch toys with a soft fabric body, plastic head and yarn hair. These bizarre figures were nothing the perfect Barbie Dolls but what made them so popular was the idea that they were supposed to be ‘adopted’ instead of just bought from the store. To add to their desirability, these dolls were unique in their features and their soft bodies made them the perfect toy to hug at night.
The toy manufacturer claimed that the most intriguing thing about the Cabbage Patch Kids was that each of them was unique in their shape and size. So if you bought a doll from your local toy store, chances were that it was the only piece of its kind, just like us humans! The company used different head moulds, eye color and shape, hair color and styles and even various clothing options to set the dolls apart from one another.
Giving each doll unique features really helped foster the idea of ‘adopting’ these Cabbage Patch Kids, because they seemed more real and human-like to kids. What made them even more exciting was the fact that each Cabbage Patch Kid would come with customized birth certificate that indicated the date of its manufacturing as well as the first and last name of the doll’s new owner. These small details added to the toy’s desirability and each kid wanted to have their own little collection of adopted dolls.
The story of these Cabbage Patch Kids began with the 21-year-old Xavier Roberts who invented the dolls in 1976 while he was still a student in an arts college. Two years after creating his first prototype, Roberts joined forces with five other students from his college and started a company called Original Appalachian Artworks which focused on manufacturing plush toys and handcrafted dolls.
At first, Roberts had to take his creations to arts and craft shows around the country to try to sell them. By 1981, orders for the Cabbage Patch Kids started pouring in and these toy creations even made it to the papers, appearing on the cover of some of the biggest magazines like the Atlantic Weekly.
As the demand soared, the cofounders quickly realized that couldn’t manufacture these dolls fast enough. Hence they outsourced the manufacturing to a company called the Coleco which started mass-producing the toys, but in just under a year, even the manufacturing company wasn’t able to keep up with the orders.
The shortage of stock lead to a massive buying frenzy in 1983 close to Christmas season and most retail stores started putting potential customers on waiting list for whenever the new shipment would arrive. In 1989, the manufacturing contract was given to Hasbro instead and it was decided to shrink the size of the dolls to 14 inch to save up on cost.