A Timeline of the Top-Selling Christmas Gifts… Ever.

A year-by-year look back over the last eight decades at the must-have presents that sent parents a-tramplin’.

Let's Rock Elmo
Courtesy of Hasbro

2011: Let’s Rock Elmo (Hasbro)

The Big Deal: Elmo doesn’t just laugh his ass off like he did 15 years ago or babble incessantly like he did in 2008. This time, the character that never fails to captivate toy-market watchers (one of whom actually calls this “virtually the only exciting product” of the season) applies a more mature instinct: He’s a bona fide rock star, albeit a very polite one. Let’s Rock Elmo comes with a mic, tambourine, and drum set (anything more than percussion costs extra) and can launch into versions of “What I Like About You” and “It Takes Two.” There are a few frightening video demonstrations out there, if you must.

The Weird Part: That Elmo is back yet again. And that he pairs surprisingly well with a certain adult singer-songwriter.

Where to Buy It Today: Prices starting at $50 on Yahoo! Shopping


Apple iPad
Photo: Ben Running
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2010: Apple iPad

The Big Deal: Really, were there any other contenders? It’s the first of its kind — a slim tablet that lets you seamlessly glide between movies, music, browsing the web, and Street Fighter beat-downs. With Wi-Fi and 3G, everything from racing simulators to magazines are just a touch away. And don’t get us started on that gorgeous LED display.

The Weird Part: You can use the iPad to do just about anything, but you’re probably going to waste all your time on Angry Birds, which has been purchased over 10 million times on Apple’s App Store.

Where to Buy It Today: Apple iPad Wi-Fi + 3G and iPad 2 available on Yahoo! Shopping at $499.

2007: iPod Touch (Apple)
Courtesy of Apple

2007: iPod Touch (Apple)

The Big Deal: The first touchscreen and Web-enabled iPod went from annual fanboy fantasy to national must-have, largely because it came at a fraction of the iPhone’s price tag. Christmas? There’s an app for that.

The Weird Part: Apple’s profits took a slight hit when they had to deal with a lawsuit filed by an irate mother claiming her child’s iPod Touch burst into flames while in his pocket, igniting his pants and “nylon/spandex underwear.”

Where to Buy it Today: Prices starting at $180 on Yahoo! Shopping

2006: Playstation 3 (Sony)
Courtesy of Sony

2006: Playstation 3 (Sony)

The Big Deal: Sony’s response to Microsoft’s Xbox 360had a North American launch inspiring such anticipation that pre-sale units hit $3,000 on eBay (retail topped out at $599), while mothers and mouth-breathers alike camped out for days to buy one in person.

The Weird Part: Legend has it one man on an advance line at a Walmart discovered there would not be any PS3s left by the time it was his chance to make a purchase. So he did the only logical thing: he treated people ahead of him in line to coffee spiked with laxatives. He got one.

Where to Buy it Today: Prices starting at $249.99 on Yahoo! Shopping

Xbox 360
Courtesy of Microsoft

2005: Xbox 360 (Microsoft)

The Big Deal: Beating Sony to the punch? Check. Internet connectivity for Halo tournaments stretching from nerds in Taiwan to schoolchildren in Toledo? You got it. Enough supply to meet holiday demand? Not so much. Frenzy ensued.

The Weird Part: Xbox 360 started production a mere sixty-nine days before its launch. Customers lucky or savvy enough to recognize the potential profits of Microsoft’sdilemma cashed in, as forty thousand units (or 10 percent of total supply) ended up on eBay within a week.

Where to Buy it Today: Prices starting at $207 on Yahoo! Shopping

2004: RoboSapiens (WowWee)
Courtesy of WowWee

2004: RoboSapiens (WowWee)

The Big Deal: What’s a RoboSapien, you ask? Why a remote-control, fourteen-inch-tall humanoid capable of performing sixty-seven preprogrammed actions and movements, including (but by no means limited to) break dancing, farting, and belching, of course!

The Weird Part: Prior to the resurgence of human movement with the success of Dancing with the Stars, humanity faced a sedentary period consisting entirely of RoboSapiens shaking their mechanical groove thangs onYouTube.

Where to Buy it Today: amazon.com

Bratz Dolls
Courtesy of MGA Entertainment

2001: Bratz (MGA Entertainment)

The Big Deal: Ah, Cloe, Jade, Sasha, and Yasmin. They’re the original quartet of ten-inch “teenagers distinguished by large heads and skinny bodies.” While their June 2001 launch proved disappointing, by Christmas they were well on their way to generating billions.

The Weird Part: If the Bratz remind you of Barbie dolls, you’re not the only one. Mattel won a $100 million copyright suit against MGA in 2008 (though it should be noted that Mattel requested $1.8 billion).

Where to Buy it Today: amazon.com

2000: Razor Scooters (Razor USA)
Courtesy of Razor

2000: Razor Scooters (Razor USA)

The Big Deal: This was the year we decided we didn’t want to drive… or walk. What to do? Dodge children in the streets! The original Razor also won Toy of the Year for establishing itself as a “classic mode of transportation, like bikes and skateboards.”

The Weird Part: Only downside? Any grown man on a scooter looks like a total zero. John Mayer celebrated this in a short film about his songwriting process.

Where to Buy it Today: toysrus.com

1998: Furby (Tiger Electronics)
Courtesy Tiger Electronics

1998: Furby (Tiger Electronics)

The Big Deal: Who wouldn’t want a furry robot that can talk and blink its eyes? Indeed, who wouldn’t want one so badly that they’d be willing to pay a huge markup? After retailing for $35, Furbies skyrocketed to $100 a pop, not to mention “collector’s items” like “tuxedo Furby” and “biker Furby.”

The Weird Part: Owners discovered Furbies were strikingly affected by magnets, inspiring a demonic-looking video craze.

Where to Buy it Today: ebay.com

Courtesy of Bandai

1997: Tamagotchi (Bandai)

The Big Deal: Housed in an egg-shaped computer, these digital pets required feeding and poo-cleaning, but the hard work paid off with the occasionally redeeming happiness monitor. Deeply creepy stuff, but apparently very popular: 70 million Tamagotchis have been sold to date.

The Weird Part: When a Tamagotchi “dies,” you can reset it and start again, but owners who truly cared for their pets found that heartless and instead had proper burials at (real) pet cemeteries, complete with gravesites and coffins.

Where to Buy it Today: ebay.com & Amazon.com

Beanie Babies
Courtesy of Ty Inc.

1995: Beanie Babies (Ty Inc.)

The Big Deal: First conquering Chicago and then spreading all over this plush nation, Legs the Frog, Squealer the Pig, Spot the Dog, Flash the Dolphin, Splash the Whale, Chocolate the Moose, Patti the Platypus, and dozens of other $5 bean-bag creatures with pun-tastic names devoured our hearts.

The Weird Part: Recognizing the willingness of Americans to abandon any shred of dignity to get what their children want, an Atlanta radio station dumped eggs and beans on people in exchange for free Beanie Babies.

Where to Buy it Today: bbtoystore.com

Courtesy of Playskool

1992: Barney Talking Doll (Playskool)

The Big Deal: Barney & Friends was aimed at a younger crowd that somehow found it irresistible to watch a man in a dinosaur suit sing some of the most mawkish songs ever. This talking doll brought the tunes all day long. Needless to say, parents were thrilled.

The Weird Part: Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers this show was not. From TV Guide’s “Worst 50 Shows of All Time”: “…his shows do not assist children… [T]he real danger from Barney is denial: the refusal to recognize the existence of unpleasant realities.”

Where to Buy it Today: ebay.com

1989: GameBoy (Nintendo)
Courtesy of Nintendo

1989: GameBoy (Nintendo)

The Big Deal: The first eight-bit handheld video game system to utilize cartridges, GameBoy went anywhere and didn’t force you to play the same game over and over again. Goodbye, couch! Hellooooo… other couch.

The Weird Part: Goodbye, Cold War! And thank you, USSR. A Soviet R&D center employed Alexey Pajitnov when he designed the puzzle game Tetris, which came bundled with the original GameBoy and to this day fills people of a certain age with an overwhelming desire to stack rectangles.

Where to Buy it Today: ebay.com

1985: Care Bears (American Greetings/Kenner)
Courtesy of American Greetings / Kenner

1985: Care Bears
(American Greetings/Kenner)

The Big Deal: The rare successful line of toys inspired by greeting cards — really — these plush teddy bears didn’t become a smash until their TV show offered children a glimpse of life in the Kingdom of Caring.

The Weird Part: There are few things weirder than the intro to the Care Bears cartoon. (Note: All viewers should know that the theme song may lodge itself deep in your brain and make you hate yourself for being so darned insufficiently caring. You’ve been warned.)

Where to Buy it Today: amazon.com

1984: The Transformers (Hasbro)
Courtesy of Hasbro

1984: The Transformers (Hasbro)

The Big Deal: Without them, we might never have discovered Megan Fox. Or how to turn plastic robots into cars, planes, tape recorders, insects, and dinosaurs. Transformative, indeed.

The Weird Part: Before this decade’s Michael Bay calamities, there was the 1986 animated movie featuring the vocal talents of Orson Welles, who shrewdly died eight months before the movie premiered.

Where to Buy it Today: hasbrotoyshop.com

1983: Cabbage Patch Kids (Caleco)
Courtesy of Caleco

1983: Cabbage Patch Kids (Caleco)

The Big Deal: Here’s how their Web site puts it: “One day, a young boy named Xavier Roberts wandered into a magic cabbage patch hidden behind a beautiful waterfall. He discovered busy little Bunnybees sprinkling cabbages with magic crystals. Suddenly, all sorts of different kids and babies peeked out of the cabbages!”

The Weird Part: Few toys have inspired this kind of stampede. While the shoving has died down over the years, CPK continue to go strong and are now one of America’s longest running doll lines.

Where to Buy it Today: amazon.com

1980: Rubik's Cube (Ideal Toys)
Courtesy of Ideal Toys

1980: Rubik’s Cube (Ideal Toys)

The Big Deal: ‘Twas another Christmas delight from the other side of the Iron Curtain. A professor at Budapest’s Academy of Applied Arts and Design, Erno Rubik often built geometric models. One of them (a 27-piece cube) started being marketed in Hungary in 1977 and by 1980 was frustrating millions of Americans.

The Weird Part: It’s been said there’s one correct answer and “43 quintillion wrong ones” to this puzzle. So it was quite a feat when Northeastern University researchers found a way to solve it in 26 moves in 2007, instead of the 27 previously believed necessary.

Where to Buy it Today: rubiks.com

1959: Barbie
Courtesy of Mattel

1959: Barbie (Mattel)

The Big Deal: Good ideas are one thing, but it helps if you’re married to the co-founder of Mattel. Inspired by a doll she saw on a trip to Germany, Ruth Handler created Barbara Millicent Roberts. And with the help of ads aimed at kids instead of their parents, billions of dollars followed.

The Weird Part: Some say that Barbies lead to girls seeking unrealistic bodies, but researchers have calculated that if Barbie were an actual woman standing 5’6″, her figure would be an in no way implausible 39-21-33.

Where to Buy it Today: mattel.com

The Slinky
Courtesy of poof-slinky.com

1943: The Slinky (Poof-Slinky)

The Big Deal: While marine engineer Richard James was devising a spring to hold shipboard marine torsion meters steady, one fell from his desk and proceeded to spring end over end across the floor. When stairs also proved no obstacle, toys stores came calling.

The Weird Part: As if applications in the music, military, and space industries weren’t enough, James had to go and take a fan’s suggestion for the Slinky Dog in 1952. Hundreds of thousands of units later (including a 1995 Christmas craze based on the Toy Story character), and it’s still making the Chia Pet look bad.

Where to Buy it Today: poof-slinky.com

1936: Monopoly (Parker Brothers)
Courtesy of Parker Brothers

1936: Monopoly (Parker Brothers)

The Big Deal: Charles Darrow patented the real-estate adventure in 1935, and Hasbro claims that approximately 750 million people have partaken, making it the most played board game in the world — Guinness says so.

The Weird Part: Once and for all, the little guy with the monocle is not Mr. Monopoly; he is named Rich Uncle Pennybags. Let’s get it right, people.

Where to Buy it Today: hasbrotoyshop.com

Duncan Yo Yo
Courtesy of Duncan

1929: Yo-Yos (Duncan)

The Big Deal: After hotel bellhop Pedro Flores attracted a crowd playing a traditional Filipino game with an object on a string during his lunch break, he started the Flores Yo-Yo Company. (Incidentally, “yo-yo” means “come-come” or “come back.”)

The Weird Part: While the designed hasn’t changed — two equal-sized pieces connected by an axle to loop the string — marketers have built in a five-year cycle to make yo-yos popular again when kids forget about it. Because toys, no matter how classic, can always be forgotten.

Where to Buy it Today: yo-yo.com

More from Esquire:

Unforgettable Movies to Rent Over the Holidays

The Best Photos of 2011 

What Your Kids Really Want For Christmas

The Top Tech Gifts Under $100

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