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.