The Birth of the Beanie Babies

In the beginning, there was Chocolate the moose, Cubbie the bear, Flash the dolphin, Legs the frog, Patti the platypus, Pinchers the lobster, Splash the whale, Spot the dog, and Squealer the pig -- nine fuzzy, flabby characters whose debut would start a worldwide frenzy among toy collectors. They are the Beanie Babies.

The inexpensive, palm-sized critters were released in 1994 by Ty Inc. of Oakbrook, Illinois. The company draws its name from founder H. Ty Warner, who started the business in 1986 after he had previously worked for a stuffed-animal manufacturer.

Warner set out to create a line of low-priced toys that children could afford, a collection of happy animals available not through large retail chains but via more intimate specialty shops. Perhaps inspired by the success of Coleco's Cabbage Patch Kids more than a decade ago, Ty gives each character design a unique name and "birthdate."

Babies don't live forever, though. To ensure that the line is constantly evolving, Ty periodically "retires" certain characters and designs, creating valuable collectibles to toy fans around the world. Indeed, some of the rarest babies fetch as much as $1,500!

Today, just a few years after the Beanie Babies were born, the complete line contains more than 100 cuddly creatures, from Ally the alligator to Zip the cat. There have been baby dinosaurs, fish, insects, ghosts, bats, spiders, and a tie-dyed bear created as a salute to the late Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead.

In December 1997, Ty releaseed what it called "one of the most unique and special Beanie Babies ever made," a purple bear named Princess in honor of the late Diana, Princess of Wales. The company has pledged to donate all profits from Princess to the charity fund that bears Diana's name.

Ty,Inc.Despite the big bunch of babies sold so far, interest in Beanies hasn't slowed down. In the spring of 1997, fast-food giant McDonald's began a Happy Meal promotion featuring Teenie Beanies, a new line of tiny plush toys inspired by the originals. Two weeks after it began, McDonald's had distributed 100 million toys and was forced to end the promotion early, unable to satisfy the intense demand for the red-hot collectibles. Afterward, restaurant employees were given cheeky buttons which read, "I Survived the Attack of the Teenie Beanie Babies!!"

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