8 Fun Facts About Pillow People

vontoo_home_goods, eBay
vontoo_home_goods, eBay

With $120 million in sales from 1986 to 1996, Pillow People can lay a pretty good claim to being one of the great success stories of the plush toy industry. The anthropomorphic bedding offered different personas (Mr. Sandman, Beddy Bye Bunny) and licensed characters like Garfield in an effort to keep children feeling comfortable and secure after the lights went out.

Despite a love for all things ‘80s, the poly-filled people haven’t yet staged a comeback. While we wait for a company to revitalize the brand, check out some facts we dug up about their unique sales approach and the mystery of their “lost” animated series.

1. THEY WERE INSPIRED BY A NIGHTMARE.

Penny Ekstein-Lieberman had a perfect background for toy development. A former therapist with advertising credits, Ekstein-Lieberman conceived of the Pillow People after she ran in to comfort her daughter, who had just woken up from a nightmare. Sensing a need for a “friend” with a soothing face a child could turn to in order to curb their nocturnal fears, Ekstein-Lieberman developed the line as her answer to a security blanket and found a distributor in Springs Industries. The first six People—Sweet Dreams, Pillow Fighter, Mr. Sandman, Rock-A-Bye Baby, Punky Pillow, and Big Footsteps—were released in 1986.

2. THEY WEREN’T SOLD IN THE TOY DEPARTMENT.


2571ted, eBay

While Pillow People were an immediate hit, not all parents knew where to look for them. Consumers who visited the toy section of department stores would emerge empty-handed. That’s because Spring Industries was a home furnishings distributor and placed the Pillow People in the home goods or bedding sections of retail stores.

3. THEY HAD THEIR OWN PETS ...

Like any successful line of kid merchandise, Pillow People immediately looked to branch out into ancillary products. One easy spin-off: pets, which were introduced in time for the holiday 1987 season and included Little Bo Sleep, Dina Snore, and Drowsy Dog. The line also expanded to include licensed bedsheets, towels, slippers, and sleeping bags.

4. ... AND THEIR OWN HOLIDAY SPECIAL.

Pillow People Save Christmas was a 1988 seasonal special in the vein of annual animated presentations like A Charlie Brown Christmas. Airing regularly for roughly a decade, it was produced by Ekstein-Lieberman and told the story of a ragtag band of pillow creatures who fight a nightmare witch plotting to ruin the holiday season in North Pillow Valley. The special can be seen on YouTube (above).

5. A REGULAR ANIMATED SERIES DISAPPEARED.

On the strength of the holiday special, Ekstein-Lieberman pursued an ongoing Pillow People animated series via her Sandbox Entertainment production company. In this incarnation, the People would be residents of Snoozeville and charged with inserting good dreams into the sleep-scape. Three insomniacs (Wake Up, Stay Up, and Hush-Up) try to thwart their plans. Although Sandbox apparently completed preproduction work on close to 13 full episodes in anticipation of a fall 1996 debut, there’s no evidence the series ever made it to the air [PDF].

6. THEY CAMEOED IN FILM AND TELEVISION.

Pillow People mania reached sufficient heights in the 1980s and 1990s that set designers for film and television projects began adding them to scenes. The Window Rattler frequently popped up on Full House; Sweet Dreams makes an appearance in the 1988 Tom Hanks film Big; and Punky Pillow cameos in 1987’s Adventures in Babysitting.

7. THERE WERE PILLOW PEOPLE KNOCK-OFFS.

A true sign of success is fending off copycat products from companies looking to capitalize on your brand recognition. Pillow People was no different: Bibb Company released Dream Pals, a line of sleep companions that licensed characters from Pound Puppies. Similarly square-faced, they went by names like Rip Van Rabbit and Bunky Bear.

8. THEY WERE REPLACED BY AN ALL-STAR TEAM.


banfampicks, eBay

Pillow People sold strongly from 1986 to 1991, but were eventually phased out to make room for a line dubbed Pillow Stars that featured recognizable characters based on licensed properties. Among the more popular sellers: Trolls, the California Raisins, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Disney characters including Mickey Mouse, the Little Mermaid, and Snow White. (The latter was accessorized with a tiny Dopey.)

While the line was briefly revived in 1996, the Pillow People have since gone dormant. Ad agency Omlet bought a stake in the brand in 2011 but has yet to pursue any product. If you’re still desperate for a bedtime buddy, they’re usually available on eBay, often at premium collector's prices. A Window Rattler in "very good" condition recently sold for $250.

7 Ways Victorian Fashion Could Kill You

An 1862 engraving showing a skeleton gentleman at a ball asking a skeleton lady to dance, meant to represent the effect of arsenic dyes and pigments in clothing and accessories.
An 1862 engraving showing a skeleton gentleman at a ball asking a skeleton lady to dance, meant to represent the effect of arsenic dyes and pigments in clothing and accessories.

While getting dressed in the morning can seem like a hassle (pajamas are so much more comfortable), few of us worry about our clothes leading to our death. That wasn’t the case during the Victorian era, when fashionable fabrics and accessories sometimes came at great price for both makers and wearers. In Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present, Alison Matthews David, a professor in the School of Fashion at Ryerson University in Toronto, outlines the many toxic, flammable, and otherwise highly hazardous components of high style during the 19th century. Here are a few of the worst offenders.

1. Poisonous Dyes

A drawing of Victorian fashions likely made with arsenic dyes
A drawing of Victorian fashions likely made with arsenic dyes
Bloomsbury Visual Arts

Before the 1780s, green was a tricky color to create on clothes, and dressmakers depended on a combination of yellow and blue dyes to produce the hue. But in the late 1770s a Swedish/German chemist named Carl Wilhelm Scheele invented a new green pigment by mixing potassium and white arsenic on a solution of copper vitriol. The pigment was dubbed Scheele’s Green, and later Paris Green, among other names, and it became a huge sensation, used to color walls, paintings, and fabrics as well as candles, candies, food wrappers, and even children’s toys. Not surprisingly, it also caused sores, scabs, and damaged tissue, as well as nausea, colic, diarrhea, and constant headaches.

Although fashionable women wore arsenic-dyed fabrics—even Queen Victoria was depicted in one—its health effects were worst among the textile and other workers who created the clothes and often labored in warm, arsenic-impregnated rooms day after day. (Some scholars have even theorized that Napoleon might have been poisoned by the arsenic-laced wallpaper hung in his St. Helena home.)

Arsenical dyes were also a popular addition to artificial flowers and leaves, which meant they were frequently pinned to clothes or fastened on heads. In the 1860s, a report commissioned by the Ladies’ Sanitary Association found that the average headdress contained enough arsenic to poison 20 people. The British Medical Journal wrote of the green-clad Victorian woman: “She actually carries in her skirts poison enough to slay the whole of the admirers she may meet with in half a dozen ball-rooms.” Despite repeated warnings in the press, and from doctors and scientists, the Victorians seemed in love with emerald green arsenic dyes; ironically, they acted like a reminder of the nature then swiftly being lost to industrialization, David says.

2. Pestilential Fabrics

Soldiers of the Victorian era (and earlier) were plagued by lice and other body parasites that carried deadly diseases such as typhus and trench fever. But soldiers weren’t the only victims of disease carried via fabric—even the wealthy sometimes wore clothing that was made or cleaned by the sick in sweatshops or tenements, and which spread disease as a result. According to David, the daughter of Victorian Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel died after her riding habit, given to her by her father as a gift, was finished in the house of a poor seamstress who had used it to cover her sick husband as he lay shivering with typhus-induced chills. Peel’s daughter contracted typhus after wearing the garment, and died on the eve of her wedding.

Women also worried about their skirts sweeping through the muck and excrement of city streets, where bacteria was rife, and some wore special skirt-fasteners to keep them up from the gunk. The poor, who often wore secondhand clothes, suffered from smallpox and other diseases spread by fabric that was recycled without being properly washed.

3. Flowing Skirts

Giant, ruffled, crinoline-supported skirts may have been fine for ladies of leisure, but they weren’t a great combination with industrial machinery. According to David, one mill in Lancashire posted a sign in 1860 forbidding the “present ugly fashion of HOOPS, or CRINOLINE, as it is called” as being “quite unfitted for the work of our Factories.” The warning was a wise one: In at least one printing office, a girl was caught by her crinoline and dragged under the mechanical printing press. The girl was reportedly “very slim” and escaped unharmed, but the foreman banned the skirts anyway. Long, large, or draped skirts were also an unfortunate combination with carriages and animals.

4. Flammable Fabrics

A woman with her crinoline on fire
Bloomsbury Visual Arts

The flowing white cotton so popular in the late 18th and 19th centuries had dangers to both maker and wearer: It was produced with often-brutal slave labor on plantations, and it was also more flammable than the heavy silks and wool favored by the wealthy in the previous centuries. One type of cotton lace was particularly problematic: In 1809 John Heathcoat patented a machine that made the first machine-woven silk and cotton pillow “lace” or bobbinet, now better known as tulle, which could catch fire in an instant. The tulle was frequently layered, to add volume and compensate for its sheerness, and stiffened with highly combustible starch. Ballerinas were particularly at risk: British ballerina Clara Webster died in 1844 when her dress caught fire at London’s Drury Lane theatre after her skirt came too close to sunken lights onstage.

But performers weren’t the only ones in peril: Even the average woman wearing the then-popular voluminous crinolines was at risk of setting herself ablaze. And the “flannelette” (plain cotton brushed to create a nap and resemble wool flannel) so popular for nightshirts and undergarments was particularly combustible if hit with a stray spark or the flame of a household candle. So many children burned in household accidents that one company came out with a specially treated flannelette called Non-Flam, advertised as being “strong’y recommended by Coroners.”

5. Arsenic-Ridden Taxidermy

Dead birds were a popular addition to ladies’ hats in the 19th century. According to David, “fashions in millinery killed millions of small songbirds and introduced dangers that may still make some historic women’s hats harmful to humans today.”

But it wasn’t the birds that were the problem—it was the arsenic used on them. Taxidermists of the day used arsenic-laced soaps and other products to preserve birds and other creatures. In some cases, entire birds—one or several—were mounted on hats. Some Victorian fashion commentators decried the practice, though not because of the arsenic involved. One Mrs. Haweis, a writer on dress and beauty, began an 1887 diatribe against “smashed birds” with the sentence: “A corpse is never a really pleasant ornament.”

6. Mercury

No upper-class man of the Victorian era was complete without his hat, but many of those hats were made with mercury. As David explains, “Although its noxious effects were known, it was the cheapest and most efficient way to turn stiff, low-grade fur from rabbits and hares into malleable felt.” Mercury gave animal fur its smooth, glossy, matted texture, but that velvety look came at a high cost—mercury is an extremely dangerous substance.

Mercury can rapidly enter the body through the skin or the air, and causes a range of horrible health effects. Hatters were known to suffer from convulsions, abdominal cramps, trembling, paralysis, reproductive problems, and more. (A chemistry professor studying toxic exposure at Dartmouth College, Karen Wetterhahn, died in 1996 after spilling just a few drops of a supertoxic type of mercury on her glove.) To make matters worse, hatters who drank while they worked (not an uncommon practice) only hastened mercury’s effects by hampering the liver’s ability to eliminate it. While scholars still debate whether Lewis Carroll’s “mad hatter” was meant to show the effects of mercury poisoning, his trembling limbs and wacky speech seem to fit the bill.

7. Lead

A Victorian facial cream containing lead
A Victorian facial cream containing lead
Bloomsbury Visual Arts

Pallor was definitely in during the Victorian era, and a face spackled with lead white paint was long favored by fashionable women. Lead had been a popular ingredient in cosmetics for centuries, David writes, because it “made colors even and opaque and created a desirable ‘whiteness’ that bespoke both freedom from hard outdoor labor and racial purity.” One of the most popular lead-laced cosmetic products was called Laird’s Bloom of Youth; in 1869, one of the founders of the American Medical Association treated three young women who had been using the product and temporarily lost full use of their hands and wrists as a result. (The doctor described the condition as “lead palsy,” although today we call it wrist drop or radial nerve palsy, which can be caused by lead poisoning.) One of the women’s hands was said to be “wasted to a skeleton.”

This article was republished in 2019.

The 25 Highest-Paying Entry-Level Jobs for New Graduates

iStock/kali9
iStock/kali9

When they finish their final exams, college seniors can look forward to job hunting. Roughly 1.9 million students in the U.S. will receive their bachelor's degrees this school year, and while some new graduates may be happy to take the first job they're offered, others will be looking for something that pays well—even at the entry level. According to Glassdoor, recent grads qualified for the 25 jobs below will have the best luck.

To compile this list of the highest-paying entry-level jobs in the U.S., the job search website identified employment opportunities with the highest median bases salaries reported by users 25 or younger. Positions in the tech industry dominate the list. Aspiring data scientists can expect to make $95,000 a year at their first job out of college, while software engineers have a median annual base salary of $90,000. Other entry-level tech jobs like UX designer, Java developer, and systems engineer all start at salaries of $70,000 or more.

Banking and business positions, including investment banking analysta ($85,000), actuarial analysts ($66,250), and business analysts ($63,000), appear on the list as well. The only listed position that doesn't fall under the tech, finance, or business categories is for physical therapists, who report a median starting salary of $63,918.

You can check out the full list of the 25 highest-paying entry-level jobs below.

  1. Data Scientist // $95,000
  2. Software Engineer // $90,000
  3. Product Manager // $89,000
  4. Investment Banking Analyst // $85,000
  5. Product Designer // $85,000
  6. UX Designer // $73,000
  7. Implementation Consultant // $72,000
  8. Java Developer // $72,000
  9. Systems Engineer // $70,000
  10. Software Developer // $68,600
  11. Process Engineer // $68,258
  12. Front End Developer // $67,500
  13. Product Engineer // $66,750
  14. Actuarial Analyst // $66,250
  15. Electrical Engineer // $66,000
  16. Mechanical Engineer // $65,000
  17. Design Engineer // $65,000
  18. Applications Developer // $65,000
  19. Test Engineer // $65,000
  20. Programmer Analyst // $65,000
  21. Quality Engineer // $64,750
  22. Physical Therapist // $63,918
  23. Field Engineer // $63,750
  24. Project Engineer // $63,000
  25. Business Analyst // $63,000

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