One of the staple toy lines of the ’80s was Coleco’s Cabbage Patch Kids line. Every girl I knew as a kid had at least one Cabbage Patch Kid. I had a few, including an original from the first year Coleco produced them, 1983. In the latter part of 1983, leading up to the holiday season, these cute little dolls caused riot-like behavior in many stores across the US.
The Cabbage Patch Kids were the creation of Xavier Roberts, an artist from Cleveland, Georgia. He started selling the dolls at craft fairs in 1978, eventually hiring local seamstresses to work at Babyland General. Babyland General, which is still operating today, is conceptually for Cabbage Patch Kids what Build-A-Bear is for plush animals.
In 1982, Coleco licensed the Cabbage Patch Kids, and the first dolls were introduced in February 1983. By the time the holiday shopping season rolled around, the cute dolls with unique names became the hot toy for the holidays. Shoppers everywhere were clamoring to put Cabbage Patch Kids in the hands of their children, which led to stores having to figure out how to accommodate the demand. Because stores only got so many dolls, they did things like handing out tickets to parents who were at the front of the long lines forming in front of stores at opening. When tickets ran out, they had to turn away everyone who didn’t have one. Some stores just let people in to fend for themselves, which led to the now infamous Cabbage Patch riots.
As kids, our parents teach us to be kind and patient and to wait our turn. Seeing the news footage from the 1983 holiday season, there were a lot of parents who needed to take their own lessons to heart. People fought and clawed each other to get a doll for their child for the holidays. My husband’s aunt got scratched across her face trying to get one. My own mom had to fight through a crowd, even getting trapped between two other women who were fighting, to get my Cabbage Patch Kid, Viola Roxie, seen here at her adoption under our Christmas tree.
Cabbage Patch Kids remained a staple in the toy aisles through the ’80s and beyond, yielding all kinds of related merchandise, albums and videos, and even a magazine. They never again caused riots, but it wouldn’t be the last time parents fought one another to get that hot new toy. For example, in the ’90s, Tickle Me Elmo inspired frenzied parents to form into angry mobs to get one for their children.
As a toy collector, I’m fascinated by the history of toys. The Cabbage Patch Kids frenzy is a dark page in that history, but it’s one that a lot of my fellow ’80s kids were a part of. So many of us have stories about our parents and their battle scars from trying to put that perfect toy under the tree. Though I can’t condone the behavior, I can fully appreciate the dedication of our parents to making us happy.
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