It was named one of the 100 best toys in history by no less an amusement authority than TIME magazine. It’s been in near-perpetual production for nearly 40 years, an eternity in the kids’ product market. It taught children about the value and reward of hard work, because it was kind of a huge hassle to use.
It’s the Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine, the heir apparent to the Easy-Bake Oven in the culinary toy genre. Introduced by Hasbro in 1979, it’s become a perennial favorite of Peanuts collectors, ‘80s nostalgia addicts, and kids who enjoy breaking a sweat by hand-cranking their own flavored ice shavings.
The rough idea for the machine was invented by Hasbro (then known as Hassenfeld Brothers) designer Sam Speers in the early 1960s. Speers developed the Frosty Sno-Man Sno-Cone Machine, which spit out chunks of ice through Frosty’s gaping belly. After kids stuffed cubes into the top of his head and turned the hand crank on the back, they could fill up a (small) cup and flavor it with the included sweetener. Budding entrepreneurs were encouraged to charge their friends for the treat with the included sales sign.
Frosty endured well into the 1970s, at which point Hasbro took notice of the potential for a cast change. By this time, Charles Schulz’s Peanuts had become a licensing phenomenon like no other. By 1967, mini-boutique shops were set up in department stores to centralize the volume of merchandise: plush dolls, shirts, night lights, and books.
To maintain focus on his art, Schulz opened a business office strictly for business deals, the Charles Schulz Creative Development Corporation, in 1970. (While employees were expected to maintain quality control, the sheer volume of licensees meant the occasional slip: Charlie Brown sold razor blades in Germany before Schulz put an end to it.)
In both the strip and in ancillary products, it was Snoopy who took center stage. The beagle was at one point the most popular licensed character of any in the retail business, which made a revised Sno-Cone machine with the dog perched on top a can’t-miss proposition for Hasbro. Thanks to the annual airings of A Charlie Brown Christmas, the characters had always held wintry, cold connotations. So Frosty was phased out, and Snoopy was brought in.
Despite the tendency for some children to violently mash action figures in the internal ice-shaving mechanism and the labor involved in getting even a small cup of ice, the Sno-Cone Machine sold so well for the next 25 years that Hasbro CEO Al Verrecchia called it an “annuity” in 2004. “It just keeps coming off the line, year after year,” he said.
Toy and crafts company Cra-Z-Art took over the license in 2012, making a near-identical Snoopy Sno-Cone with only a few exceptions. According to Cra-Z-Art spokesperson Charlie Zakin, the hand crank is easier to turn and the unit now has a clamp to secure it to a table during operation. And yes, it still comes with the tiny red shovel.