Dominique Godbout, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Dominique Godbout, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

12 Media Accounts of Beanie Babies Hysteria, Circa the 1990s

Dominique Godbout, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Dominique Godbout, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Ty Warner had struck gold. In 1996, his Beanie Babies had surpassed $250 million in sales, creating a phenomenon that was unlike anything the toy industry had ever seen. Millions of stuffed animals were methodically captured and stored in plastic, expected to mature in value like a war bond. For a time, it seemed U.S. currency would soon convert from paper to plush.

This never happened. Instead, some people went bankrupt investing in Beanies, ignoring the paradox of what it means to own a manufactured collectible. But prior to the Great Beanie Fallout, it was difficult to open a magazine or newspaper and not read about how you, too, could fund a child’s college education by stocking up on Kiwi the Toucan. If you weren’t around—or simply chose to forget—here are a few media snapshots of the Beanie fever that gripped a nation.

1. Leading to a Life of Crime

“I had one customer who told me her car was broken into because she had a retired Beanie Baby sitting on the dashboard …The thieves didn't touch the radio.''

The New York Times, March 14, 1997

2. As Courtroom Spectacle

“A divorced couple who couldn't agree on how to split up their Beanie Baby collection were ordered by a judge Friday to divide up the babies one by one in a courtroom. Maple the Bear was the first to go ... 'I don't agree with the judge's decision to do this. It's ridiculous and embarrassing,’ Frances Mountain said moments before squatting on the courtroom floor alongside her ex-husband to choose first from a pile of stuffed toys.”

The Associated Press, November 6, 1999

3. The Beanie as Car Dealership Trade-In

“Kelly Flagg, 14 … began collecting Beanie Babies as toys when they were introduced in 1993. She buys duplicates to trade, some of which are now valuable enough to barter for big-ticket items … she intends to sell the collection to buy a Corvette.”

The New York Times, October 30, 1997

4. Creating Financial Advisors

"Basically, if you can afford to do this, simply putting away five or ten of each and every new Beanie Baby in super mint condition isn't a bad idea."

The Beanie Baby Handbook, 1998

5. No Child is Safe

"In a way, it was a good thing the weather was so-so for the first-ever Beanie Baby swap and sale held Thursday at Jacobs Beach by the town's parks and recreation department … [Pam] Ertelt's 6-year-old daughter, Meryl, was injured in the mad rush for the popular toys. Someone in a big hurry to get to the Beanie Baby sale crashed into the little girl as she and her mother were walking to the tent, leaving the youngster with a bloody leg.”

The Hartford Courant, June 27, 1997

6. Bearing Witness to the Horror

“During several Beanie Baby quests, my son was trampled by a herd of women racing to the shelves to capture an endangered animal—the last Ziggy the Zebra, perhaps. And I have witnessed younger children, near tears, leaving shops empty-handed while someone else's grandma carried home a bag bulging with her latest Beanie bounty.”

The Christian Science Monitor, March 9, 1998

7. Crowd Control

"In pastoral Lancaster, Pa., where the Amish still ride buggies, a McDonald's manager summoned police when Teenie buyers got out of control. ‘I responded and observed approximately 50 people standing inside,’ Officer Delene Brown wrote in her report. ‘They said they were waiting for Zip cats to go on sale. The employees said the cat will not be sold until all the Dobie dogs are gone, and there were still over 100 dogs to be sold.’”

The Washington Post, June 8, 1998

8. As a Sophisticated Smuggling Operation

“As long as the Beanie Babies are for personal use and people buy no more than three of the same kind, crossing over the Canadian border with more than one Beanie Baby won't be a problem anymore, said Kathy Lisius, supervisory import specialist for the U.S. Customs Service … The restrictions come at a time when Beanie Baby smuggling has dramatically increased. More than 8100 have been confiscated since February at the Blaine crossing. ‘Last year, we didn't detain any Beanie Babies,’ Lisius said. ‘Now, people are smuggling Beanie Babies in similar places where they hide drugs, such as hidden compartments and the spare tire holders.’”

The Seattle Times, July 18, 1998

9. Dubious Financial Advice, Part Two

“Richard Gernady, a purveyor of collectibles, received a phone call in December that he will not soon forget. The caller, a middle-aged insurance agent from New York who was fed up with some underperforming stocks in her portfolio, told him she intended to sell them and reinvest the capital in a different class of assets: Beanie Babies. Ultimately she spent $12,000 on ‘all my best Beanies,’ recalled Gernady, owner of the Cat's Meow shop in Glenview. ‘I told her she was doing the right thing.’”

Chicago Tribune, June 23, 1998

10. Death by Beanie

“In October 1999, Jeffrey White, then 29, shot security guard Harry Simmons, 63, at a lumberyard in Elkins, W.Va, a small town where people used to line up at 4 a.m. outside the Hallmark store when a Beanie Babies shipment was due. Police said that White, who later confessed to the crime, blamed Simmons for getting him fired from his job at the lumberyard. But the two also had a dispute over $150 and several hundred dollars' worth of Beanie Babies that Simmons lent White, purportedly to start a trading business.”

The Los Angeles Times, August 31, 2004

11. The Beanie Forger

“A woman named Lu Venia recently had a 'Peanut' sent to her Beanie repair shop in Warrenton, Va. A self-described ‘Beanie Doctor,’ she examined its suspiciously crusty coat of polyester plush and realized something was seriously wrong. ‘The blue dye came right off,’ recalls Venia, who discovered that the toy was a much-less-valuable Light Blue Peanut dipped in dark blue dye. 'I felt terrible telling that collector that she got a rotten Peanut,' Venia says.”

The New York Times, July 5, 1998

12. At Least It's Not Crack

“The Wards, of Northeast Philadelphia, have more than 500 Beanies. They said they spent Memorial Day weekend last year in McDonald's eating Happy Meals, three meals a day, to get every limited edition Teenie Beanie, and plan to do the same thing this year … Their daughter, Kris White, said she was a little worried about them. 'She buys them clothes,’ she said of her mother. ‘They have them all over the house. She just bought the one in the kitchen a special chef's outfit.’

Dave Ward shrugged. ‘It's better than gambling or drugs, right?’' he said. ‘And we have it under control now. We only spend about $500 a month on Beanies.’”

The Hartford Courant, May 17, 1999

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Authorities Want This Roadside Bear Statue in Wales Removed Before It Causes More Accidents
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There are no real bears in the British Isles for residents to worry about, but a statue of one in the small Welsh town of Llanwrtyd Wells has become a cause of concern. As The Telegraph reports, the statue is so convincing that it's scaring drivers, causing at least one motorist to crash her car. Now road safety officials are demanding it be removed.

The 10-foot wooden statue has been a fixture on the roadside for at least 15 years. It made headlines in May of 2018 when a woman driving her car saw the landmark and took it to be the real thing. She was so startled that she veered off the road and into a street sign.

After the incident, she complained about the bear to highways officials who agreed that it poses a safety threat and should be removed. But the small town isn't giving in to the Welsh government's demands so quickly.

Wooden bear statue.

The bear statue was originally erected on the site of a now-defunct wool mill. Even though the mill has since closed, locals still see the statue as an important landmark. Llanwrtyd Wells councilor Peter James called it an "iconic gateway of the town," according to The Telegraph.

Another town resident, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Telegraph that the woman who crashed her car had been a tourist from Canada where bears are common. Bear were hunted to extinction in Britain about 1000 years ago, so local drivers have no reason to look out for the real animals on the side of the road.

The statue remains in its old spot, but Welsh government officials plan to remove it themselves if the town doesn't cooperate. For now, temporary traffic lights have been set up around the site of the accident to prevent any similar incidents.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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10 Scientific Benefits of Being a Dog Owner
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The bickering between cat people and dog people is ongoing and vicious, but in the end, we're all better off for loving a pet. But if anyone tries to poo-poo your pooch, know that there are some scientific reasons that they're man's best friend.

1. YOU GET SICK LESS OFTEN.

Dog snuggling on a bed with its person.
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If cleaning commercials are to be believed, humanity is in the midst of a war against germs—and we shouldn't stop until every single one is dead. In reality, the amount of disinfecting we do is making us sicker; since our bodies are exposed to a less diverse mix of germs, our entire microbiome is messed up. Fortunately, dogs are covered in germs! Having a dog in the house means more diverse bacteria enters the home and gets inside the occupants (one study found "dog-related biodiversity" is especially high on pillowcases). In turn, people with dogs seem to get ill less frequently and less severely than people—especially children—with cats or no pets.

2. YOU'RE MORE RESISTANT TO ALLERGIES.

Child and mother playing with a dog on a bed.
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While dog dander can be a trigger for people with allergies, growing up in a house with a dog makes children less likely to develop allergies over the course of their lives. And the benefits can start during gestation; a 2017 study published in the journal Microbiome found that a bacterial exchange happened between women who lived with pets (largely dogs) during pregnancy and their children, regardless of type of birth or whether the child was breastfed, and even if the pet was not in the home after the birth of the child. Those children tested had two bacteria, Ruminococcus and Oscillospira, that reduce the risk of common allergies, asthma, and obesity, and they were less likely to develop eczema.

3. YOU'LL HAVE BETTER HEART HEALTH.

Woman doing yoga with her dog.
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Everything about owning a dog seems to lend itself to better heart health. Just the act of petting a dog lowers heart rate and blood pressure. A 2017 Chinese study found a link between dog ownership and reduced risk of coronary artery disease, while other studies show pet owners have slightly lower cholesterol and are more likely to survive a heart attack.

4. YOU GET MORE EXERCISE.

Person running in field with a dog.
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While other pets have positive effects on your health as well, dogs have the added benefit of needing to be walked and played with numerous times a day. This means that many dog owners are getting 30 minutes of exercise a day, lowering their risk of cardiovascular disease.

5. YOU'LL BE HAPPIER.

Woman cuddling her dog.
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Dog owners are less likely to suffer from depression than non-pet owners. Even for those people who are clinically depressed, having a pet to take care of can help them out of a depressive episode. Since taking care of a dog requires a routine and forces you to stay at least a little active, dog owners are more likely to interact with others and have an increased sense of well-being while tending to their pet. The interaction with and love received from a dog can also help people stay positive. Even the mere act of looking at your pet increases the amount of oxytocin, the "feel good" chemical, in the brain.

6. YOU HAVE A MORE ACTIVE SOCIAL LIFE.

Large bulldog licking a laughing man.
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Not only does dog ownership indirectly tell others that you're trustworthy, your trusty companion can help facilitate friendships and social networks. A 2015 study published in PLOS One found that dogs can be both the catalyst for sparking new relationships and also the means for keeping social networks thriving. One study even showed that those with dogs also had closer and more supportive relationships with the people in their lives.

7. YOUR DOG MIGHT BE A CANCER DETECTOR.

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Your dog could save your life one day: It seems that our canine friends have the ability to smell cancer in the human body. Stories abound of owners whose dogs kept sniffing or licking a mole or lump on their body so they got it checked out, discovering it was cancerous. The anecdotal evidence has been backed up by scientific studies, and some dogs are now trained to detect cancer.

8. YOU'LL BE LESS STRESSED AT WORK.

Woman working on a computer while petting a dog.
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The benefits of bringing a dog to work are so increasingly obvious that more companies are catching on. Studies show that people who interact with a pet while working have lower stress levels throughout the day, while people who do not bring a pet see their stress levels increase over time. Dogs in the office also lead to people taking more breaks, to play with or walk the dog, which makes them more energized when they return to work. This, in turn, has been shown to lead to much greater productivity and job satisfaction.

9. YOU CAN FIND OUT MORE ABOUT YOUR PERSONALITY.

Man running in surf with dog.
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The kind of dog you have says a lot about your personality. A study in England found a very clear correlation between people's personalities and what type of dogs they owned; for example, people who owned toy dogs tended to be more intelligent, while owners of utility dogs like Dalmatians and bulldogs were the most conscientious. Other studies have found that dog owners in general are more outgoing and friendly than cat owners.

10. YOUR KIDS WILL BE MORE EMPATHETIC.

A young boy having fun with his dog.
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Though one 2003 study found that there was no link between pet ownership and empathy in a group of children, a 2017 study of 1000 7- to 12-year-olds found that pet attachment of any kind encouraged compassion and positive attitudes toward animals, which promoted better well-being for both the child and the pet. Children with dogs scored the highest for pet attachment, and the study notes that "dogs may help children to regulate their emotions because they can trigger and respond to a child's attachment related behavior." And, of course, only one pet will happily play fetch with a toddler.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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