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c. 1983

The Cabbage Patch Craze

Why on earth was this floppy-bodied doll so popular for a hot second?

The Cabbage Patch Kids dolls were the rage of the doll market during the holiday season in 1983, causing near-riots at several department stores as hundreds of people, some waiting at the doors for hours, scrambled to get their hands on one. (Photo by Bettmann/Corbis/Getty Images)

During the latter part of 1983, a spate of civilian riots broke out across America. Citizens inflicted physical violence on one another, even wielding baseball bats. Taking place not after dark but in broad daylight, at the heart of each riot sat the exact same thing—a cloth doll.

These were the Cabbage Patch Riots. For the holiday season of 1983, a Cabbage Patch Kid was THE must-have gift on every list—and demand way out-stripped supply.

Thousands of frantic parents stampeded stores that might take delivery of two or three hundred dolls max. Violence—and heartbreak—ensued.

What was the magic ingredient that caused a Cabbage Patch Kid—essentially a floppy-bodied doll—to be so utterly vital to a child’s satisfaction? There’s no obvious answer.

Maybe it was the fact that you couldn’t ‘buy’ a Cabbage Patch Kid, you could only ‘adopt’ one—which involved paying an adoption fee. Maybe.

What is obvious, though, is that the dolls made a lot of money for Xavier Roberts, who created them, and Coleco, who sold them.

While Roberts took out the patent, its not quite so clear whether he actually invented the line.

Born in 1955, Xavier Roberts learnt quilting skills from his mother. He used these skills to make dolls called ‘The Little People’, and sold them at craft fairs. There he met another woman, Martha Nelson Thomas, who was doing the same with her range of ‘Doll Babies’. 

Roberts bought some of Thomas’ dolls—and then resold them in a store at a higher price.

Outraged, Thomas protested and, she claims, Roberts then used her design to create the Cabbage Patch Kids. Thomas filed a suit in 1979, which was settled out of court in 1984.

Not that this history was of any consolation whatseover to the parents of Cabbage Patch-less children. By the time the Roberts/Thomas claim was settled, anyone wanting one was subject to a nine-month waiting list.

And then suddenly, of course, the moment had passed. While the Cabbage Patch Kids would continue, the feverish rioting had gone, for good.

In 1988, Coleco went bankrupt.

1983
A range of the Dolls
Bettmann / Corbis / Getty Images
1983
Shoppers queue to ‘adopt’ Cabbage Patch Kids
Getty Images
1983
At Hamleys, the top London toy store, hundreds of people clamored for the dolls when the store opened at 9:00am on December 3rd
Carl Bruin / Daily Mirror / Mirrorpix / Getty Images
1983
Hamleys toy store, London
Carl Bruin / Daily Mirror / Mirrorpix / Getty Images
1983
Hamleys toy store, London
Carl Bruin / Daily Mirror / Mirrorpix / Getty Images
1983
Hamleys toy store, London
Carl Bruin / Daily Mirror / Mirrorpix / Getty Images
1983
Hamleys toy store, London
Carl Bruin / Daily Mirror / Mirrorpix / Getty Images
1983
Hamleys toy store, London
Carl Bruin / Daily Mirror / Mirrorpix / Getty Images
1983
Xavier Roberts and his creations
Bryn Colton / Getty Images
1983
The Cabbage Patch Kids have left the building
Jacques M. Chenet / CORBIS / Corbis / Getty Images

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