15 Toys That Raked In Millions (And Even Billions) Of Dollars
Children might not know what bank accounts or even money is, but their toys are part of one of the most lucrative industries. The type of toys that thrive during any given time period depends on everything from cultural trends and parenting styles to the state of the economy. Sometimes, a toy is popular simply because it’s really cute or silly. Who knows why kids love what they love?
When kids decide they love a new toy, its popularity can spread like wildfire. Some toys throughout history were so coveted that anyone who invested in them from the ground floor might just be a millionaire today. Maybe even a billionaire.
Here are 15 bestselling toys that made a lot of money.
15. Beanie Babies
Year released: 1993
No. sold: Unknown
Bottom Line: It's difficult to track down the exact number of Beanie Babies that have been sold simply because there is such a tremendous re-sale market for them, to this day. Some rare Beanie Babies still appear at high-end auctions with extremely high ticket items.
What is known is that McDonald's created 100 million Teenie Beanie Babies in 1997 and before they knew it, parents were lining up early in the morning to buy the Happy Meals containing the tiny plush toy and picking fights with cashiers who forgot to include the items. Many Beanie Babies have been styled after icons over the years, like the highly sought-after Princess Diana Beanie Baby, the Princess Bear.
14. Tickle Me Elmo
Year released: 1996
No. sold: Total unknown. 5 million in the first year
Bottom Line: If you stopped at a toy store in 1996 around Christmas, you might have seen parents getting into physical altercations over the last Tickle Me Elmo – that’s how popular this toy was. Based on the famous Sesame Street character, Tickle Me Elmo would say cute phrases when tickled.
It eventually spurred the creation of other similar Tickle Me Sesame Street character toys, but none would even come close to rivaling the feverish obsession children had with the Elmo version. At one point, the toy was sold on eBay for thousands of dollars per unit, and some still consider it a collector’s item.
13. Totally Hair Barbie
Year released: 1992
No. sold:10 million
Bottom Line: Barbie has always been popular, but in 1992, a hair-centric one named Totally Barbie took the doll shelves by storm. Totally Hair Barbie had ankle-length crimped hair and came with styling tools and gel, allowing children to create different looks on the long artificial tresses. There have been different Totally Hair Barbies, like the heart-themed and the star-themed ones.
During Margot Robbie’s press tour for the “Barbie” movie, she wore an outfit inspired by Totally Hair Barbie. In 2022, Mattel also released an all-new Totally Hair Barbie to celebrate its 30th anniversary, just in time for the blockbuster hit movie.
Year released: 1965
No. sold: 45 million
Bottom Line: In the year 1965, it seemed children everywhere wanted to try their hand at being a surgeon, and they wanted to do it on a small plastic man who had his insides exposed, ready to be operated on. Called Operation, the game was the brainchild of John Spinello.
Unfortunately, Spinello actually sold the patent for just $500 because he needed money at the time. His story went on to inspire a documentary covering the financial trouble he faced following that misstep. Hilariously, Spinello’s experience of sticking a safety pin in an electric socket and getting a shock inspired the game.
Year released: 1998
No. sold: 58 million
Bottom Line: If you were a parent in the late 1990s, these little colorful talking creatures probably terrorized your home. The fuzzy, chatty brainchild of Dave Hampton and Caleb Chung, Furbies were originally meant to be toy hybrids of several animals including a chicken, owl, pig and cat. Furbies came about during a technology boom in the toy world when it was becoming increasingly common to find toys that could move and talk.
Furbies speak their own language and can even communicate with each other. Today, there is an entire collector’s culture surrounding Furbies and recently, a new line came out with a jewel on its head, a pointier mohawk and brighter colors.
Year released: 1997
No. sold:82 million
Bottom Line: In the year 1997, kids everywhere suddenly took an interest in being caretakers – to a tiny digital alien-dinosaur-like thing. The Tamagotchi was also part of the technology-in-toys trend. It was a little handheld gadget with a pixelated screen. On that screen, children saw a little egg that would hatch and eventually begin to grow into a Tamagotchi – a fictional creature – so long as they took good care of it.
The toy would vibrate and beep when the creature needed care. In a dark twist, the Tamagotchi could also die if it was neglected. Hey, it beat that weird school assignment of taking care of a real egg for a week.
9. Mr. Potato Head
Year released: 1952
No. sold: 100 million
Bottom Line: Who would have thought something as simple as a plastic potato could be such a popular toy? But that’s precisely what happened in 1952 when the world received the first Mr. Potato Head, a simple, fake, starchy vegetable that came with removable ears, eyes, various hats, a pipe and eight different felt facial pieces.
Children loved moving the tater’s features around, putting its eyes on its head and its nose on its back. Pure silliness. Naturally, Mr. Potato Head needed company and by 1953, we got a Mrs. Potato Head. Mr. Potato Head was the first toy advertised on television, which no doubt led to its incredible success. Mr. Potato Head joined the National Toy Hall of Fame at the Strong in Rochester, New York in 2000.
8. Nintendo Game Boy
Year released: 1989
No. sold:118 million
Bottom Line: During the early 1990s, teachers across the country had to fight tooth and nail to get students to look up from their Game Boys during class. This handheld gaming console was an instant hit. The original Game Boy combined popular TV console games with handheld convenience, allowing gamers to continue their favorite activity wherever they were, like in the back of mom’s SUV on road trips or waiting for the school bus.
It also rapidly spurred competitor toys from other major players like Atari and Sega. The very first game on the Game Boy was Tetris. Over the years, Nintendo made other versions, like a flip-up Game Boy for even more compact play.
7. Cabbage Patch Kids
Year released: 1983
No. sold: 130 million
Bottom Line: Cabbage Patch Kids, the dolls that are “adopted” rather than bought, have an interesting history as they do not come from any of the major players in the toy world. In 1976, an art student named Xavier Roberts used his unique skills of quilting and sculpting to begin making the very first rudimentary Cabbage Patch Kids.
Roberts soon showed the dolls at festivals, where they took off like wildfire. By 1983, they would be featured on the cover of Newsweek and become one of the most successful toys in history. There have even been stamps made donning the cuddly dolls and an Olympic Mascot Cabbage Patch Doll.
6. My Little Pony
Year released: 1982
No. sold:At least 250 million
Bottom Line: Young horse lovers everywhere went crazy for the My Little Pony Toys. The equine dolls featured colorful bodies and manes and had unique names. They actually followed another popular toy called the Pretty Pony. Children loved brushing the animal’s bright manes and putting on make-believe horse races in their living rooms.
Eventually, the toys inspired a popular TV show by the same name that came out in 1986 and was produced in a collaboration between Sunbow Productions and Marvel Productions. In 2021, a computer-animated series called “My Little Pony: A New Generation” was released, keeping the love of these trotting toys alive.
5. Super Soaker
Year released: 1990
No. sold: 250 million
Bottom Line: If you were a parent with any sort of outside area for kids to play in and an accessible hose in the 1990s, then you probably lived in terror that you could be sprayed at any moment. Yup, the Super Soaker gave children the ability to send a large amount of high-pressure water shooting in the direction of their choice.
To explain just how powerful this toy water gun was, know that it was designed by a NASA engineer named Lonnie Johnson – so there was some serious tactical power in this thing. The first toy was actually called the Power Drencher and Johnson created it in his basement.
4. The Slinky
Year released: 1945
No. sold: 360 million
Bottom Line: The slinky is a beautifully simple toy made of no more than some metal coils. The coolest thing about this toy is that it was never meant to be a child’s plaything. The slinky was designed by mechanical engineer Richard James in 1943 when he was actually attempting to design something the Navy could use to keep items secure on ships when waters were rocky.
James made some mistakes but ultimately realized the item he’d created could make a great toy. His wife, Betty, named the Slinky, which first hit the shelves of Gimbles department store around Christmas of 1945. The item was wold out within two hours.
3. Rubik’s Cube
Year released: 1974
No. sold: 450 Million
Bottom Line: You’ve probably tortured yourself trying to solve a Rubik's cube or two in your life. This brain-twisting game was originally called the Magic Cube but was re-named the Rubik’s Cube in 1980 after its creator, Erno Rubik. Rubik mistakenly made the toy when he was working on creating a type of puzzle with cubes that could be moved around a stationary core.
At the start, each panel had the same color. Rubik twisted them up, realizing he could not set the toy back so that all sides were the same color. He then determined people might enjoy that very challenge and so the toy was born.
Year released: 1932
No. sold:220 million annually
Bottom Line: Legos have let the young architects, interior designers and engineers of the world practice their craft from their living room floors for nearly a century. These tiny plastic toys that connect together to create structures were the idea of Ole Kirk Christiansen, a real-life carpenter who needed a way to make extra income.
Christiansen eventually realized that mini prototypes of the real tools he used in his workshop would make popular toys, and these inspired the full Lego empire. Since its invention, Lego has been the inspiration for a theme park and several movies. Some of the most popular Lego franchise sets included Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and Ghostbusters.
1. Hot Wheels
Year released: 1968
No. sold: Six Billion
Bottom Line: Mattel co-founder Evan Handler invented the bestselling toy franchise of all time: Hot Wheels. These coveted toys gave young car enthusiasts pocket-sized renditions of some of the most popular models to play make-believe with. Handler worked with a General Motors designer and a rocket scientist to make the mini hot rods, creating ultra-realistic, to-scale toy versions of models like the Corvette and Thunderbird.
The original Hot Wheel was a Camaro, but since then, over 20,000 models have been made and the toy is still going strong. In fact, more than 15 Hot Wheels are sold per second around the world today. The supply chain issue during the pandemic made these tiny cars difficult to find, making collectible editions even more valuable.