We Had A Near Riot – 1983 Holiday Toys

1983! What a year!

Sally Ride became the first woman in space! ARPANET started using the Internet Protocol, effectively creating the internet as we know it! National Lampoon’s Vacation, Trading Places, and Return of the Jedi came out in theaters! The Police released “Every Breath You Take”! Motorola released the first consumer mobile phones!

(Also the video game industry crashed, the U.S. invaded Grenada, famine in Ethiopia reached historic levels, and the IRA detonated a bomb in a department store during Holiday shopping season, so it wasn’t all roses and sunshine.)

What was in full swing, though, was a marriage of emerging technology and holiday consumerism that really set the stage for the different forms our favorite brands take nowadays.  1983 wasn’t the first year for licensed toys and software and scarcity-fueled obsessions, of course, but these things really seemed to be the norm for perhaps the first time. Let’s take a look at the holiday hotness that was the 1983 season.


Gifts for “Hackers”

Computer Chronicles is usually a little more with it than what we’ve got here. This segment really illustrates our tendency to refer to anything computer-related as “hacking” – a tendency we continue to this day! Check out the best gifts for hackers in 1983 – a word processing program, a Christmas card on a floppy disc, Reader Rabbit, and a stuffed animal that’s (supposed to be) voice-controlled.



G.I. Joe Base

G.I. Joe’s that perfect execution of a popular toy brand turned into a popular show, the textbook reason why laws were passed in the ’90s preventing toy shows from running commercials for their product during the show the product was about. The 1983 toy lineup featured the Headquarters base for the first time.

Also released in 1983 was the Personnel Carrier. I mean come on, can you imagine this commercial running during a G.I. Joe episode? You’d have no idea the commercial started!


Return of the Jedi

Speaking of proofs-of-concept, Star Wars wrote the book on how to license two hours of fun into billions of dollars of product.  Return of the Jedi was no exception, spawning a ton of new figures and playsets – some of which were my favorite Star Wars toys of all time.

This Sy Snootles and the Max Rebo Band ad is a great add-on to the superior Jabba the Hut/Jabba’s lair playset.


This spot’s a pretty good roundup of some of the new figurines, mostly from the Battle of Endor.

Staying on Endor, here’s my #1 toy – the Ewok Village.  This kid does a decent C-3P0 impression as well!


Care Bears

Greeting card company American Greetings hit pay dirt in 1983 with the Care Bears, sparking a plush craze and a show that stretched well through the rest of the decade.

Each bear had a defining emotion on their bellies, making them the perfect gift for someone needing cheering up from a broken leg, being away from your family, or…being a baby?

Every day can be a Care Bear day, according to this ad. You also get a peek at some of the animation from the show.

This one’s pretty interesting – it’s a Care Bears spot, but it’s for the greeting cards and it’s aimed at adults!


Cabbage Patch Kids

It would be irresponsible to do a write-up on 1983’s top holiday toys and include the word ‘craze’ and not conclude with Coleco’s  Cabbage Patch Kids.

These adorably creepy dead-eyed dolls found their way into the homes of every kid whose parents were lucky enough to find one, and served as the first instance of a scarcity-driven holiday craze that caused early morning panics at department stores and jacked-up prices on the secondary market.


You can imagine the fire this lit not just among shoppers but also the toy industry. This sort of craze for a product was possible? Could it be manufactured? We’d all find out in the years to come.