The 90s Toys & Games

Tickle Me Elmo

Tickle Me Elmo is a line of children’s toys produced by Tyco Toys, based on the popular character Elmo from the PBS educational TV show Sesame Street. It was a runaway success upon its first release in 1996, and has since led to the creation of many new versions of the toy. Tickle Me Elmo has also created some controversy due to its popularity and numerous crimes associated with it.

Puppeteer Kevin Clash first popularized the Elmo character in 1984, and by the mid-1990s the puppet had become a huge part of Sesame Street, even hosting its own segment of the show, Elmo’s World. Designers for Tyco’s children’s division, Tyco Preschool, devised a toy that would laugh when squeezed; if it was squeezed three times in sequence, the doll would shake violently and laugh harder. The toy was originally designed as a monkey, then changed to resemble the Tasmanian Devil from Looney Tunes. However, Tyco lost the rights to Looney Tunes just before gaining the rights to Sesame Street, so the character was changed.

After its release in late 1996, Tickle Me Elmo became a fad across America. Demand for the dolls was so high during the year’s winter holiday season that some dolls were sold via classified advertisements for over US$1500; it originally retailed for under US$30. Some frustrated shoppers resorted to criminal acts to obtain the toy for their children, and many assaults were reported in connection to Tickle Me Elmo; a clerk in Canada was trampled by hundreds of shoppers that saw him receive a box of the dolls from another worker, and one person in Florida was allegedly threatened at gunpoint over ownership of a later model, the Tickle Me Extreme (TMX).

Tyco also released Tickle Me Ernie and Tickle Me Big Bird dolls immediately after the success of Tickle Me Elmo, but none of the spinoffs achieved the fame of the original. Mattel bought Tyco in 1997 and transferred the Sesame Street line to its Fisher-Price division, which oversaw the release of such toys as the Tickle Me Elmo Surprise Edition (five dolls of which were “tickets” to win a cash prize) and TMX.



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