Black Friday and the holiday shopping season always bring wild-eyed shoppers trying to take advantage of bottom-dollar discounts. But every few years, a particular item — usually electronics or toys — sells even more briskly than usual, touching off a gift-finding frenzy that goes down in the history books. From Cabbage Patch Dolls to iPods and Hatchimals, here are some of the most sought-after items from Black Fridays past.
1983: CABBAGE PATCH DOLLS
In one of the earliest — and most infamous — examples of a Black Friday craze, shoppers cleaned stores out of Cabbage Patch Kids, which had been introduced earlier that year. As the holiday season wore on, several shoppers were injured during would-be buyers' attempts to get their hands on the dolls. About 3 million of the dolls were sold by the end of the year.
1985-1986: TEDDY RUXPIN
More than 1 million Teddy Ruxpin bears were sold in the last few months of 1985, and the talking animatronic bear maintained its "it toy" status in 1986. Feeling nostalgic? An updated version (smartphone-compatible, of course) was rolled out for the holidays last year.
Video consoles have become a Black Friday staple, and the original Nintendo pioneered the craze. A staggering 7 million consoles were sold in 1988. "Never has a toy been this successful," proclaimed John Stossel on a 1988 episode of "20/20," after waiting in a line with frustrated holiday shoppers trying to get their hands on popular games. In 2016, the original Nintendo got a reboot as the NES Classic, touching off another rush to the stores. Last year, the Nintendo Switch was one of the hottest tech gifts of the season.
1993-1994: POWER RANGERS
After shortages led to frustrated parents and some overnight camping outside toy stores during the holidays in 1993, the manufacturer ramped production way up in 1994, according to The New York Times. But many of the action figures remained hard to find that year, too. Power Rangers have had enormous staying power: They were even the No. 1 action-figure brandlast year, according to market researchers NPD.
1996: TICKLE ME ELMO
Laughing, wiggling Tickle Me Elmo dolls benefited from pre-holiday buzz courtesy of TV personalities such as Rosie O'Donnell and Bryant Gumbel. Black Friday saw the toy sold out in minutes at some stores, then came the inevitable trampled shoppers and inflated prices. Tyco shipped more than a million Tickle Me Elmos by December 1996, all of which were snapped up quickly, according to The New York Times. Tickle Me Elmo was reborn in 2006 as T.M.X. Elmo, which caused a similar shopping frenzy.
Around 1.8 million Furby toys flew off the shelves in 1998; a staggering 14 million were sold in 1999, according to The Motley Fool. The owl-like creatures with their own language intrigued so many people that retailers couldn't stock them fast enough for Christmas, and $30 Furbys started fetching $400 on auction sites such as eBay, CNN reported.
2000: RAZOR SCOOTERS
The now-ubiquitous aluminum Razor scooters were on just about every kid's Christmas list in 2000, and more than 5 million were sold during the year, notes the Holmes Report, which covers the public relations industry. They owed their popularity, in part, to the fact that plenty of adults were scooting around town on them, too. Unfortunately, experts say the scooters have also been a big reason for a spike in toy-related injuries since their introduction.
Though iPods were introduced in 2001, it took the digital music players a few years to go truly mainstream. In 2004, Apple added the colorful iPod mini to its lineup, grabbing the attention of gift-buyers everywhere. During the holiday sales months in 2004, Apple sold 4.5 million iPods, a 500 percent year-over-year jump, according to Macworld.
2005: MICROSOFT XBOX 360
In 2005, the Thanksgiving release of the Microsoft Xbox 360 had holiday shoppers scrambling from store to store. The $300 gaming console (and the first-ever from Microsoft) was in very short supply, with some showing up on eBay for an eye-popping $2,000, according to NBC News. Some shoppers even grumbled that Microsoft was deliberately kept supply low to keep buyers frenzied. Last year, Xbox One was one of the best gift buys at Walmart.
2006: PLAYSTATION 3 AND NINTENDO WII
The popularity of video-game consoles continued in 2006. Unfortunately, demand also far outstripped supply for the newly released Sony PlayStation 3, touching off a number of violent incidents. It was also a big year for the new Nintendo Wii, which sold a whopping 600,000 consoles in its first week, according to IGN.
2007: NINTENDO DS AND IPOD TOUCH
In 2007, gamers decided they wanted to play on the go. The handheld Nintendo DS dominated the holiday shopping season: More than 8.5 million were sold that year, 2.5 million of them in December, according to NBC News. Meanwhile, Apple released its first iPod Touch and sold 3.5 million in the final months of 2007 alone, according to Fortune.
2009: ZHU ZHU PETS
After a run of video games and Apple products, the Zhu Zhu Pet craze of 2009 seems almost quaint. The little electronic hamsters retailed for less than $10 but fetched six times that on eBay, according to Time. Cepia, the manufacturer, eventually sold more than 70 million Zhu Zhus internationally, according to USA Today. Updated versions of the toy have also found their way back into stores in the past couple years.
Amazon has always been cagey about its Kindle sales, but Forbes estimates that sales of the iconic e-reader hit a peak of more than 13 million in 2011. Amazon itself reported that sales of the e-readers and tablets on Black Friday 2011 quadrupled what they were in 2010, likely partially driven by the holiday release of the popular Kindle Fire. Last year it was one of the best holiday gift buys on Amazon.
There's no surprise that the Apple iPad was a hot holiday seller when it was released in 2010, but sales wouldn't peak until 2013, when more than 25 million iPads were sold during the holiday months. In fact, according to Forbes, the top three iPads made up around 18 percent of Target's Black Friday sales in 2013. But by 2017, revenue from the tablet was down 22 percent year-over-year.
2014: ANYTHING 'FROZEN'
Though Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles dolls actually took the No. 1 toy spot in 2014, the Disney "Frozen" Snow Glow Elsa doll was No. 2 – and "Frozen" items across toy categories generated more than $530 million in sales during 2014, according to MarketWatch. Shoppers fought over merchandise at the Disney Store in Times Square, and desperate parents paid inflated prices for the costumes and toys online, according to the New York Post.
The hottest toy of 2017, Fingerlings were inspired by a viral photo of a pygmy marmoset. The plastic monkeys that hang on to kids' fingers wowed with their 40 sounds and interactions. Parents were probably more impressed with the $15 price, though the toys were often sold for three times the retail price by third-party sellers on eBay and Amazon. How hot were they? A Fingerling was sold every minute of the week ended Nov. 1 that year, and Target and Walmart often limited the number that could be purchased by one person at a time.