According to AP News, Potato Head, formerly with a “Mr.” tacked on to their name, is now gender-neutral. The move comes as Hasbro, the toy company behind the brand, begins an initiative that it hopes will broaden its appeal to modern youngsters. Other toy companies have also made efforts to honor all gender identities, with Barbie, Thomas the Tank Engine, and American Girl being notable examples.
Released in May 1952 but marketing at the end of that April, Potato Head was the first toy marketed directly to children, making way for an advertising effect known in the United States as “the nag factor” and in the United Kingdom as “pester power.” The effect referred to children watching these direct marketing campaigns, getting the message that they need the item, and then going to their parents to inquire incessantly about when they were going to get their Potato Heads.
The toy was originally just a kit containing plastic attachments you could plug into, or add to, a potato, but it made a killing in sales and kickstarted an industrial boom. According to Tim Walsh, author of the 2005 book Timeless Toys: Classic Toys and the Playmakers Who Made Them, over a million Potato Head kits were sold in 1952. Those are crazy numbers. It is no wonder the toy is still such a hit today. It is obviously made and marketed differently now, but the idea behind it remains the same.
Soon after Potato Head’s wildly successful debut, Hasbro decided to extend the family in a very ’50s way. Mrs. Potato Head, Brother Spud, and Sister Yam became available so that kids could complete the Potato Head family before relegating them to side dishes at their next family dinner. You can watch a commercial from the 1960s that gives you a better idea of what the toy used to look like right above here.
In November 1995, the now-closed video game subsidiary Hasbro Interactive even released a CD-Rom game for PC titled, “Mr. Potato Head Saves Veggie Valley.” To further cement Potato Head’s place in popular culture, Pixar’s Toy Story movies included the Hasbro staple in its core cast of characters.
Even crazier is the fact that Boise, Idaho’s 1985 mayoral race included Potato Head on the ballot. The Guinness Book of World Records recognized the toy in its “Most votes for Mr. Potato Head in a political campaign” category. It only received four votes, but are there any other potatoes you know with that kind of political support? Honestly, that’s even more wild than Kanye West’s short-lived presidential bid in the 2020 election. Maybe only slightly, but still wild.
Potato Head’s relevance and resonance are considerable and it will be interesting to see how the market responds to the reveal. Here’s to hoping backlash is minimal—or even better, non-existent—and that kids exploring their identities can find a friend in Potato Head. The toy has now been around for almost 70 years and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
The change will start showing up on the popular toy’s packaging later this year.