The Secret Histories (and Controversies) of Your Fave '90s Toys

<p>From Furbies to Lisa Frank, learn the dark stories, scandals, and controversies behind your fave '90s toys.</p>


Nov. 13 2018, Updated 10:29 a.m. ET

Although Troll dolls and Lisa Frank stationery still have a special place in every '90s kid's heart, the reality is that many of our fave toys from that era were engrossed in scandals, from newsworthy controversies to unknown origin stories. Not like that'll stop us from bidding on Beanie Babies on eBay, but it is rather interesting to know. Below, the dark stories behind Furbies, slap bracelets, and more. You've been warned.

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1. Beanie Babies

beanie babies
Source: Getty Images

The '90s Beanie Babies craze was truly insane. Although as kids we only remember buying up the toys at stores and then trading them with our friends, the fad was actually a lot darker than you remember. People were so obsessed with getting their hands on rare Beanie Babies supposedly worth thousands, it ignited a wave of criminality and even an underground black market. Divorced couples fought over Beanie Baby assets, children were trampled, and a burglar dubbed "the Beanie Baby bandit" terrorized New Yorkers.

But another side to the Beanie Baby story was the company itself, namely its elusive billionaire founder, Ty Warner. In the '90s, the company aggressively went after knock-offs, filed more than 50 lawsuits, and even encouraged young consumers to report counterfeiters to the company. As for Ty himself, in 2014 he was sentenced to two years probation for concealing $107 million from the IRS in an offshore account. Apparently, Princess Bears are serious business.

2. Gak

Toys in the '90s were kind of gross, from Silly Putty to Floam to games about boogers. What were we thinking? However, the most popular of these "gross-out" toys was Nickelodeon's Gak, an oozy, slime-like substance that could be stretched and squeezed and...yeah, that's about it. But it later turned out this disgusting albeit innocent toy didn't have kid-friendly origins.

In 2014, Double Dare host Marc Summers admitted that "gak" was Philly street slang for heroin. "I just ruined your whole childhood," Marc laughed after revealing the shocking tidbit. "I never told that story before." Some secrets should be kept to yourself, Marc!

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3. Super Soaker

Water guns were straight-up puny compared to the Super Soaker, a massive water sprayer that was pretty much mandatory at every '90s pool party. But when the toy was launched in 1990, it was a victim of its own success. In 1992, the company came under fire when a water fight escalated and left a 15-year-old boy killed. There were also similar cases of rambunctious hooligans filling their Super Soakers with bleach and going on drive-bys. To remedy this, the company avoided using the word "gun" in its marketing and tried to distance itself from gun-related violence at the time. Fortunately, because it was the '90s and mass shootings weren't an everyday occurrence yet, the company continued to be successful despite the random acts of violence.

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4. Furby

People were getting into legit fist fights over these creepy robot dolls in the '90s that talked and responded to voices. It felt like cutting-edge technology back then, but since artificial intelligence was still a novelty at the time, there was a lot of paranoia about the dolls. Rumors said the doll was a Chinese-manufactured spy with a recording device inside that recorded conversations. The NSA banned employees from bringing the doll to the Pentagon, fearing they would record and repeat classified information. Tiger Electronics president Roger Shiffman had to bizarrely send out a statement that "Furby is not a spy." Weird times.

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5. Lisa Frank

Every girl in the '90s went back to school with a backpack full of Lisa Frank stationery, stickers, and pencil cases. Despite the adorable illustrations of unicorns and leopards, the company itself had a horrible reputation, with former employees describing founder Lisa Frank and her company as "abusive."

"It was like the worst place I'd ever worked," a former employee told Jezebel. "Which is kind of ironic, given that they have rainbows and unicorns everywhere."

Employees said Lisa and her ex-husband, then-CEO James Green, would loudly scream at employees, forbid coworkers from speaking to each other, and once even put chains and padlocks on the door to keep employees from leaving on time. Employees also alleged James and Lisa had cocaine habits.

Surprisingly, the company is still running today, but several layoffs and a revolving door of disgruntled employees have kept the brand from being what it was in its heyday.

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6. Teletubby Dolls

Parents might not have understood why kids were obsessed with the babbling alien toys, but they were everywhere in the late '90s. However, there was a little bit of controversy revolving the red Teletubby, Po. Parents started complaining that the doll was teaching their kids to say inappropriate phrases. "He was saying, 'Bite my butt,'" a concerned parent told CBS in 1998. "I said, 'Don't say that.' He told me Po was saying it." Hasbro denied Po would say such a thing and said the voice actress simply had a strong Cantonese accent. Whatever the case, the dolls were pulled from shelves and banned.

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7. Slap Bracelets

These bendy, fashionable bracelets that could be slapped on a wrist (or wielded as a weapon), were all the rage back in the early '90s. Unfortunately, their popularity spurred several Chinese knock-offs that caused several scandals. It started with kids getting cut on the sharp metal edges of the cheap, knock-off versions. The reports got so bad, many schools banned the bracelets all together. 

It got worse when an elementary school ordered a big batch of slap bracelets from a knock-off manufacturer. The bracelets were made with cheap fabric that, once worn away, revealed nude pictures printed on the metal. Parents were outraged, and the bracelets were sent back and replaced with genuine ones.

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8. Troll dolls

Before Beanie Babies, every '90s kid collected dozens of these spiky-haired dolls. Despite their popularity, inventor Thomas Dam, who made the first Troll doll in Denmark way back in 1954, didn't get a chance to patent his idea. According to The New York Times, out of the "estimated $4.5 billion made from Trolls throughout the world," Thomas barely saw a fraction of it. Thomas' company eventually won the war on its patent, but it was way after Thomas had died in 1989. Much like Beanie Babies, those ugly little dolls were serious business.

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