America's product-loving culture has thrived on amazing ingenuities and inventions over the last century. Over several generations, we've seen kitchen appliances cut meal prep time and the creation of programmable toys that interact with their human owners. From powdered drink mixes to color film, what better way to illustrate these innovations than a trip down memory lane of some of the most iconic products of our time?
Classic toys like Barbie and the Easy-Bake Oven speak to multiple generations, while others such as Atari and Furbies were short-lived but remain generational touchstones. Some products even become shorthand for moments in time: America's obsession with Beanie Babies, for example, often conjures up parallels to the dot-com bubble.
Whether a product signifies convenience or obsession, many were not only jumping-off points for later inventions and improvements but also earmarks of their cultural eras. When Spandex and Lycra hit the market in 1959, they replaced previous fabrics less suitable for heat, sweat, and water. But the shift to Lycra swimsuits, for instance, also marked a turning point in women’s fashion norms and the increasing acceptability of displaying the female body in athletics and leisure. The link to today’s yoga pants and “athleisure” generation is undeniable.
Perhaps the two most common trends you’ll find as you browse this list: convenience and compactness. Introduced in 1953, Eggo frozen waffles sped up breakfast time. In 1969, Sony’s Walkman hit stores and made home listening handheld. The perfect representation of both efficiency and size? The 1994 birth of the Foreman Grill.
Stacker compiled the most iconic products released each year over the last 100 years. We're not saying wisdom can be gleaned from these choices like some sort of consumer horoscope, but at the very least this list can show how much technology and style has changed in the blink of an eye. Just think—this year's class of senior citizens (ages 65 and older) were born the same year as the invention of Tylenol; on the flip side, this year's high school seniors were born the same year as the Roomba.
Click through to see the iconic products released the year you were born, from 1919 to 2019.
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Legend has it that the Band-Aid was created by a Johnson & Johnson employee for his wife, who was prone to suffering nicks in the kitchen. Rather than wait to return and dress the wounds at night, Earle Dickson invented the Band-Aid so his wife could attend to her own wounds throughout the day. The product became such a success that it's now become the standard name for most adhesive bandages.
Wonder Bread was first baked at Taggart Baking Company in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1921. But it wasn't until 1930, a few years after Continental Baking bought the brand, that they first began to sell it as sliced bread. That ingenious tweak, some believe, birthed the saying, “the best thing since sliced bread.”
Steven J. Poplawski created and patented the drink mixer (the granddaddy of the blender) in 1922 and sold it to drug stores and soda fountains to make malted milkshakes. In 1946, Poplawski's Stevens Electric Company was bought by Oster Manufacturing Products, who still make blenders to this day.
Louisiana's iconic hot sauce was born in New Orleans. The recipe was included in the purchase of a sno-ball syrup company by Alvin Baumer, but quickly it became clear that the cayenne-based hot sauce was the real star acquisition for Baumer Foods. Almost 100 years later, it's still a staple through the South and beyond.
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First sold in 1924 as a cold cream and makeup remover, the paper company Kimberly Clark in 1930 began marketing the product as a disposable handkerchief. Today, the paper is so ubiquitous that many people simply refer to all facial tissues as Kleenex.
Mexico's biggest beer company was born in Mexico City in 1925. Three years later, Cervecería Modelo was already selling 8 million bottles of Modelo and Corona a year. The company today—now known as Grupo Modelo—produces almost every well-known Mexican beer, including Corona, Modelo, Victoria, and Pacifico.
First created and sold by the Skinner Manufacturing Company in 1926, raisin bran would eventually become a staple ingredient of Kellogg's cereals. In 1944, Skinner, which owned the trademark on raisin bran, sued Kellogg's, claiming the company's marketing of its similarly named cereal was against the law. Kellogg's eventually won because the court ruled one could not trademark a name “which is merely descriptive of the ingredients.”
Kool-Aid was dreamed up by an enterprising young Nebraskan named Edwin Perkins, who managed to dehydrate a concentrated fruit soft drink back into its sugary powder form. He called his new concoction Kool-Aid, and the rest is history.
The canned pasta company was actually created by a well-respected, Cleveland-based Italian chef, Ettore Boiardi. He began selling prepackaged versions of his beloved spaghetti dinners in 1928 and quickly changed the name on the package to Boyardee so American consumers could phonetically pronounce his surname. Today, Boiardi's image is still featured on his product's cans.
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Charles L. Grigg spent two years perfecting his lemon-lime soda before eventually releasing it in 1929, two weeks before the Great Depression began. Grigg's soda was initially sold as Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda, but eventually was shortened to the snappier 7-Up. Until 1950, 7-Up was made with lithium, a salt sometimes prescribed to treat bipolar disorder and depression.
1930 was a big year for Continental Baking Co. Not only was Wonder Bread now sold in sliced form, but the company's irresistible, individually wrapped snack cakes for dessert also reached the market. Dreamed up by James A. Dewar in Continental's Chicago-based Hostess bakery, the Twinkie was made using an existing mold used for strawberry shortcakes but filled with banana cream. The cakes were an instant hit: By 1980, Continental was selling 1 billion Twinkies per year across the globe.
According to General Mills lore, a fresh batch of biscuits on a train led to the creation of Bisquick. General Mills salesman Carl Smith was shocked while on a cross-country trip by a cook's quick, delicious biscuits and inquired in the kitchen. The man showed Smith his secret recipe: pre-blended lard, flour, baking powder and salt mixture he kept on ice. Smith brought the idea back to General Mills where the company managed to replace the lard with oil so it didn't need refrigeration. In 1931, Bisquick reached grocery stores nationwide.
During the Great Depression, Charles Elmer Doolin owned a Texas-based confectionary and realized he needed a salty snack to go alongside all the sweets. He went in search of that savory snack and found it at a gas station, where a Mexican man sold fried chips made of masa, which he called “fritos” (or little fried things). Doolin bought the recipe and started tinkering until he built his perfect chip. That little fried thing made him a very rich man.
While large swaths of the country struggled to make ends meet, the Great Depression led to a boon of culinary creativity. Kraft created Miracle Whip as a way to offset the struggling mayonnaise market it had dominated until the market crashed, and people began making their own at home. Though Miracle Whip is mayonnaise-eque, it's technically sold as a salad dressing. By the 1950s, six out of every 10 salad dressings sold were Miracle Whip.
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First introduced by Nabisco to the Northeast late in 1934, Ritz landed on the national market in the beginning of the following year. By 1938, Ritz was the world's best-selling cracker.
After almost two decades of work, Leopold Godowsky Jr. and Leopold Mannes managed to invent a three-color film that could be mass-marketed and processed. Kodachrome, sold by Eastman Kodak, was incredibly popular in both movie and still film right away. The Kodachrome film was a hallmark of photography throughout the 1960s and 1970s but began to fall off as competitors' technology improved the developing process and then digital entered the market. Kodak discontinued the line in 2009.
Though Dr. Earle Haas first invented the cylindrical cardboard applicator tampon in 1929, it wasn't until 1936—when businesswoman Gertrude Tenderich bought the patent and launched Tampax—that the modern tampon spread across America. While there were other tampons on the market, perhaps the most important innovation aside from the cardboard applicator was the marketing. Tampax's 1936 ad in the American Weekly said, “Your doctor will be the first to tell you that Tampax is the most natural and the most hygienic method of sanitary protection... accepted for advertising by the American Medical Association,” and soon it became a hit.
The scent now synonymous with Terry Crews, Isaiah Mustafa, Bruce Campbell, and “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” was actually first released as a fragrance for women. In 1937, Schultz Company, founded by William Lightfoot Schultz, offered Early American Old Spice for women before following up with Old Spice for men the next year.
Nestlé's instant coffee brand was first sold in Switzerland in 1938. It took seven years of research and development from the company's coffee specialist Max Morgenthaler and his team to figure out how to create a coffee that would dissolve in hot water. But because of World War II, the brand did not instantly catch on. It was American troops stationed in Europe who helped spread the coffee's popularity after the war after becoming hooked on the stuff when it was given to them as part of their rations.
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In honor of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth's visit to Canada in 1939, Samuel Bronfman began crafting a blended whiskey to gift the royal couple. The end product was Crown Royal, regally adorned in a cut-glass bottle and a royal purple and gold bag. Crown Royal remains Canada's top-selling whiskey.
Fanta's inception in Germany during the heart of World War II led to rumors that the soft drink was created by or for the Nazis. In reality, Fanta was made by the head of Coca-Cola in Germany, Max Keith, when it became impossible to get the Coca-Cola syrup under the Third Reich. During the war, the soda was a potpourri of whatever flavors and sweeteners were available. After 1945, Coca-Cola re-entered Germany and took over production of the new soft drink.
In 1941, General Mills physicist Lester Borchardt created a machine that could puff oats into the shape of an “o.” Later that year, CheeriOats were born. A lawsuit by Quaker Oats in 1945 led to General Mills changing the name to Cheerios. With decades of commercials connecting Cheerios with popular animated characters—Bullwinkle, Hoppity Hooper, and Snoopy—the cereal became a smash with kids.
Gibson's famous acoustic guitar was built to replace the cheaper, Depression-era J-35, and to compete with the popular Martin D-28. Referred to as “The Workhorse,” this axe is known for its sunburst finish and great sound, but also for its legendary players. The J-45 was favored by Buddy Holly, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and even Miley Cyrus.
Texans Eric Huzenlaub and Gordon Harwell developed the process of converted rice (soaking, steaming, and then drying rice to make it white), but it was a partnership with the candy king Forrest Mars Sr. that turned the process into a brand. At a dinner in Chicago later in the 1940s, Harwell and Mars decided upon the name Uncle Ben's (named for a well-known African American Texas rice farmer); legend has it that they paid the restaurant's maître d′ $50 to pose for the iconic portrait that adorns the product.
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Originally designed for the Navy, mechanic Witton Dinges's Electric Machine and Equipment Co. created the indestructible-yet-lightweight aluminum alloy chair to be used on ships. Designers and architects rediscovered the chair in the 1990s, transforming it into a high-society retro nod to 1940s Americana. The rebranding saved the struggling Hanover, Pennsylvania, furniture company.
When Phillip Sollomi returned to Kansas City, Missouri, after the war in 1945, he opened a chicken restaurant called The Wish-Bone. He started serving his mom's Sicilian salad dressing there in 1948, and customers instantly went crazy for it so he started selling bottles of the dressing. In 1957, he sold the business to Lipton and it became a global salad dressing juggernaut.
Invented by chemical engineer Dr. George Rieveschl at the University of Cincinnati in the early 1940s, beta-dimethylaminoethyl benzhydryl ether hydrochloride (which he renamed Benadryl) turned out to have antihistamine benefits without any major side effects. Rieveschl sold the rights to the drug to Parke-Davis, who started selling it in 1946. When the Food and Drug Administration allowed Benadryl to be sold over-the-counter in the 1980s, sales rose to more than $180 million per year.
Nabisco added Wheat Thins to its cracker portfolio in 1947. The crackers—which the company prefers to call a “snack”—gained popularity during 1970s with iconic commercials featuring TV star Sandy Duncan.
Many refer to Polaroid as the Apple of their time, which would make Edwin Land that era's Steve Jobs. Land dropped out of Harvard and started his company utilizing new polarizing technology; in 1948, Polaroid sold its first camera in Boston right before Christmas. The company soon became a behemoth in photography.
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Legend has it, candy maker James O. Welch named his miniature chocolate mint patties Junior Mints after his favorite play, “Junior Miss,” which was based on Sally Benson's New Yorker stories. Whatever the name, the candy took off and helped lead to the sale of Welch's company to Nabisco in 1963. The Junior Mint was canonized into modern pop culture history with a famous "Seinfeld" episode, in which Kramer drops one of the candies into a patient during surgery.
Clearasil was created by Ivan D. Combe, a savvy marketer who sold the acne medication over-the-counter starting in 1950. Many credit the product's success with the placement of an ad on Dick Clark's “American Bandstand” and its use of teenage testimonials. Combe sold the brand to Vick Chemical in 1960. Almost 50 years later, the Clearasil account became a juicy plot point on “Mad Men.”
Mister Bee Potato Chips was founded by Leo and Sara Klein in West Virginia in 1951. The chips are a favorite in West Virginia, but also sell well throughout the country. The factory made 6 million bags of chips in 2016. The chip company remained family-owned and operated until 2010.
Invented by George Lerner, Mr Potato Head was first sold by Hasbro in 1952. Initially, the toy company sold plastic facial parts meant to decorate and anthropomorphize an actual potato. One decade later, Hasbro started to include a plastic potato head as a base for the parts.
In 1953, three San Jose-based brothers Tony, Sam and Frank Dorsa invented the frozen waffle, selling it in supermarkets as “Froffles.” However, customers began referring to them as Eggos, because of their eggy flavor, and so the brothers renamed their product in 1955. The Dorsas sold their frozen waffle brand to Kellogg's in the 1970s, and the waffles became a household staple. Eggo continues to dominate the frozen waffle market to this day.
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In October 1954, Texas Instruments released the first commercially available transistor radio, called the Regency TR-1. At the time, the average radio was the size of a lunch box, but TI's release could fit in consumers' pockets. Even at the steep price of $49.95 (the equivalent of $468.25 today), the radios were a hit; 100,000 units were sold in the first year.
The family-run, Philadelphia-based McNeil Laboratories in 1955 released Elixir Tylenol, an aspirin competitor specifically targeted at pain relief for kids. The new medication was so successful that Johnson & Johnson bought McNeil Laboratories in 1959.
In 1956, after a decade of research and development at Procter & Gamble, Secret was released as the first antiperspirant/deodorant made specifically for women in a cream form. Two years later P&G released the first roll-on version (Secret Ice Blue), eight years before they released a spray-on Secret (Secret Super Spray or Secret Aerosol).
Initially a wax company, S.C. Johnson became a juggernaut with the release of Raid in 1956, and Off!—the first aerosol insect repellent—in 1957. Herbert Johnson, who took over the company from his father, Samuel Curtis Johnson, invested heavily in advertising, which helped build S.C. Johnson into the force it is today.
The plastic hula-hoop was designed and built by Arthur “Spud” Melin in 1958. When it was released to the public by Melin and Richard Knerr's company Wham-O, the gadget exploded in popularity. Wham-O sold an estimated 25 million hula-hoops over its first four months on the market. The year before, Melin and Knerr invented the Frisbee (first sold as the Pluto Platter).
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French electrician André Cassagnes created the ingenious drawing board in the late 1950s, initially naming it L'Écran Magique (The Magic Screen). He sold the invention to the Ohio Art Company for $25,000; they renamed it the Etch A Sketch and began selling it to the public in 1960. The toy was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 1998.
Two years after the birth of Barbie, Mattel released the first Ken doll, accessorized with red swim trunks and a yellow towel. Did you know Barbie's beau's last name is Carson, he hails from Wisconsin, and he met Barbie on a TV commercial shoot? In 1961, when Ken was first sold, he cost $3.50.
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The Cincinnati-based Kenner Products released the first Easy-Bake Oven in November 1963. The product was a kids-safe play oven that used an incandescent bulb to heat the contents of the oven to 350 degrees. The design of the oven changed with the times, with each model giving a child the feel of cooking in a real (albeit pint-sized) kitchen.
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Coca-Cola has long been the brand to beat in the soda field. But in the 1960s, Pepsi made a play for baby boomer business with its “Generation Pepsi” campaign. The most enduring release during that period was 1964's Diet Pepsi (first test-run as "Patio" in 1963), the first diet cola from the brand. Diet Rite and Tab were already on the market at the time (introduced in 1958 and 1963, respectively); meanwhile, Coca-Cola didn't release Diet Coke until 1982.
During the dead of summer 1965 in Gainesville, Florida, University of Florida football coaches sat down with researchers Dr. Robert Cade, Dr. Dana Shires, Dr. H. James Free, and Dr. Alejandro de Quesada and asked why their players were struggling in the heat. The team went to work and created a carbohydrate- and electrolyte-heavy drink to aid the Florida Gators' players; hence the name Gatorade.
In the late 1950s, Omar Knedlik created the idea for the ICEE, which he later turned into a brand. Knedlik in 1955 gave 7-Eleven a test run of his ICEE machines. The store franchise was so impressed with the idea that in 1956, they signed up under two conditions: They could change the name, and they could have a non-compete with Knedlik's ICEE. Ad exec Bob Stanford thought up Slurpee (for the sound the machine makes), and the rest is history.
Jim Delligatti, one of the earliest and most prominent McDonald's franchise owners, introduced a new burger with two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, and onions on a sesame seed bun at his McDonald's in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, in 1967. The sandwich became such a craze that it made the national McDonald's menu by the next year. The McDonald's ad team originally leaned toward “The Blue Ribbon Burger,” but it was a 21-year-old secretary named Esther Glickstein Rose who called it “The Big Mac.”
Mattel released the first of its iconic toy Hot Wheels in 1968. Mattel co-founder Elliot Handler asked his team to build the coolest toy car set on the market and they returned with hot rod designs that could be raced on a track (sold separately). Mattel made deals with the “big three” car companies—General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler—and released 16 muscle car designs that have come to be known as “the Sweet 16.” The first Hot Wheel was a Camaro, which came out in May 1968.
In 1970, the first man had just walked on the moon and America was ready for the future. And just like that, competing freeze pops hit stores on both coasts of the country—Fla-vor-ice in the East in 1969, and Otter Pop out West in 1970. Today, both brands are owned by Illinois-based Jel Sert, and both taste exceptionally similar.
While less visible or tangible than the Otter Pop or Capri-Sun, 1971's Intel 4004 microprocessor has had far more of an effect on lives today. The first commercially available microprocessor meant that engineers could code custom-designed programs onto the chip, launching the age of software as we know it. Intel advertised the 4004 as “a new era of integrated electronics,” and they were right.
Another one of Silicon Valley's early triumphs was a table tennis video game named "Pong." Developed by Allan Alcorn (who later hired Steve Jobs), "Pong" was the first game released by Atari, and was the first video game to be a runaway hit. The game is credited with creating the video game market, which was worth $138 billion in 2018.
First sold in 1973, Dawn, which continues to dominate the dish soap market, became well known for its ability to clean oil off wildlife. The brand boasts that the International Bird Rescue has used Dawn to clean oil off birds since 1978, but its most memorable wildlife rescue moment came after the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989.
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Meow Mix first arrived in stores in 1974 and was an instant sensation due to its iconic advertising. The jingle, which has a cat singing “meow” again and again, became a 1970s TV staple. The brand restored and reintroduced the original ad to a new generation in 2002.
In 1975, William Morris talent agent Walter Amos (already well known for his chocolate chip cookies) used a $25,000 investment from Marvin Gaye and Helen Reddy to open a cookie company in Los Angeles. In its first year, Amos sold $300,000 of sweets; by 1982, he brought in $12 million. Eventually, Amos was pushed out of his own company as it started to stumble, but the brand remains a force in the cookie world to this day.
The idea for a stretchy muscle man toy was concocted by design director Jesse Horowitz in 1974, and perfected over the next two years. Kenner's vice president of research and development, James “Jeep” Kuhn, had the idea to use boiled-down corn syrup inside a latex mold. When Stretch Armstrong was placed on shelves in time for Christmas 1976, it quickly became a signifier of the time, like G.I. Joe.
The 1970s was a wild decade—wild enough that Ralston Purina managed to release a cereal that let kids eat cookies for breakfast. Cookie Crisp was obviously hip with youngsters, but sold itself as a healthy choice as well. Throughout the years, the cereal has regularly changed its mascot—a wizard, a cop and robber, a dog, and a wolf—but is best known for its tagline: “You can't have cookies for breakfast, but you can have Cookie Crisp!”
The LaserDisc was supposed to be the future of home movies when it was released in 1978. The product was certainly a technological marvel, packing films onto large discs that could be read by a moving laser. DVDs eventually arrived and ate up the last scraps of the LaserDisc market. But for 1980s film buffs, the 12-inch spinning discs were absolutely futuristic. The first LaserDisc was sold as the MCA DiscoVision.
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Legend has it the Walkman was born from a request from Sony co-founder Masaru Ibuka to have a more portable way to listen to opera. A designer built a prototype that would become the Walkman, which first hit the market in July 1979. Sony finally retired the portable cassette player in 2010, but not before it sold 200 million units of the iconic tape players.
The story of Big League Chew is a home run. Relief pitchers Jim Bouton and Rob Nelson sat in a bullpen in the Independent League in 1977 and thought up the idea of shredding chewing gum and putting it into a pouch like chewing tobacco. When the product was called up to the big leagues in the spring of 1980, it was a sensation. Big League Chew sold $18 million worth of gum in its first year.
Personal computing took off the moment International Business Machines Corporation (IBM)—the market-dominating tech industry of the time—released its first personal computer. In 1981, the IBM Model 5150 contained an Intel processor and ran Microsoft's MS-DOS operating system. The computer was quickly and widely cloned and the PC market exploded from that point forward.
The CD player hit the market like a hurricane in 1982. Consumers were blown away by the futuristic concept that 72 minutes of music could fit on a shiny disc that was one-third of the size of a record. In 1983 and 1984, Americans bought 400,000 CD players.
After eight years of research and development, General Mills created the Fruit Roll-Up, a fun, fruit-flavored treat. With the joy gained from unrolling the sticky snack and a run of commercials and gimmicks (the temporary tongue tattoo of the early 2000s was a sensation), the Fruit Roll-Up became a massive success for the food behemoth.
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Athletes and brands have long been natural partners, but no two are closer linked than Nike and Michael Jordan. The original Air Jordan shoe was built for Jordan in 1984, and he started wearing them in his rookie season. The next year, when the Air Jordans were released to the public, they changed sneaker culture forever. Because of the enduring success of his sneaker brand and his ownership of an NBA team, Forbes valued Jordan at $1.65 billion in 2018.
Some products are iconic for their lasting impact on the market, while others live on in infamy for less than stellar reasons. Coca-Cola's attempt to rejigger its formula for its flagship cola in 1985 was certainly the latter. Called "New Coke" by the public, the attempt to remix a classic fizzed out quickly. New Coke was made available in April 1985, and three months later, “old” Coke was back.
James E. Winner, Jr. created the design for the Club, the red steering wheel lock that was meant to make cars unstealable. The effectiveness of the Club has been up for debate throughout the years, but the effectiveness of its marketing has not; the invention made Winner a wealthy man (and the target of a lawsuit by a man who claimed he actually created the idea).
In order to stave off disaster as kids' taste for bologna waned, Oscar Mayer launched the Lunchable, a pre-wrapped lunch tray with crackers, bologna and slices of cheese in 1988. The Lunchable—which was almost named Crackerwiches, Snackables, or Fun Mealz—became an instant sensation, making Oscar Mayer $200 million in its first 12 months. Since that day, Lunchables still dominates a large slice of the lunch market; in 2017, consumers bought $1.36 billion worth of Lunchables.
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Following the massive success of the Nintendo Entertainment System, which was released in the United States in 1986, Nintendo rolled out its handheld gaming console, the Game Boy. When it reached American store shelves in July 1989, Game Boy sold out its entire 1 million unit shipment within a matter of weeks. The two most important games at the time of the launch were "Tetris" and "Super Mario Land."
Developed by Alan Kligerman for AK Pharma, Beano is a dietary supplement that helps reduce excessive gas and bloating. The product was released in 1990, and covered reverentially by The New York Times. It's marketing and winkingly funny name made Beano a household name.
General Mills and Betty Crocker rolled out Fruit Gushers in 1991, and the sweet gummy pockets of sugary fruit juice became an instant hit with kids. Claims that Gushers were a good source of vitamin C and made from real fruit were a bit precarious, but the snack remained a staple of lunches throughout the next decade.
Close friends Daymond John, Keith Perrin, J. Alexander Martin, and Carl Brown decided to go into business selling tie-top hats in 1992, launching the brand FUBU. In the years since the clothing and sportswear brand has sold $6 billion worth of products.
Conceived by Ty Warner, the plastic-pellet filled Beanie Babies were a cute toy that became an internet sensation. The “Original Nine” versions were released at the New York Toy Fair near the end of 1993, and to the general public in 1994. Warner was a genius at supply and demand, giving small amounts of the toy to many stores and retiring animals after a short period of time. The Beanie Baby bubble led collectors to buy Beanie Babies for thousands of dollars on eBay.
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Invented by Michael Boehm, the George Foreman Grill is an ingeniously simple (a rigged hot-plate that can sandwich around a piece of meat) and perfectly marketed appliance. Boehm reached out to the heavyweight champ and sent him a prototype, leading to a match made in As Seen on TV heaven. Boehm sold the rights to the grill to Salton, who made Foreman a partner, and the champ made a reported $200 million off the grill that carries his name.
After trying to sell their acne product to Neutrogena in 1993, two dermatologists, Dr. Katie Rodan and Dr. Kathy Fields, licensed their product to the infomercial company Guthy-Renker in 1995. Proactiv was perfect for television sales, becoming trendy among teenagers on the strength of its celebrity spokespeople including Jessica Simpson, Justin Bieber, and Kendall Jenner. Proactiv made $1.5 billion in 2017, according to Forbes.
Launched a year after Sony's Playstation, the N64 is remembered as the beginning of the end of Nintendo's dominance in the video game console world in the 1990s. Though somewhat outpaced by the Playstation, the system was home to some legendary games, including "GoldenEye 007," "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time," and "Mario Kart 64." The console actually launched with Super Mario 64, a game many credit with changing video gaming forever.
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Tamagotchi, the pocket-sized digital pet, was released in Japan in 1996 but hit the United States like a meteor in May 1997. FAO Schwarz sold out of its 10,000 count shipment of Tamagotchis on its first day. Bandai has sold an incredible 82 million Tamagotchi since its release, and Bandai America rereleased Tamagotchi in 2017 to celebrate its 20th anniversary.
An even more viral toy release flummoxed markets the next year when Tiger Electronics unveiled its speaking, psychedelic Furby. Inventors David Hampton and Caleb Chung were inspired by the Tamagotchi and set about making an electronic companion toy you could pet. The Furby was a runaway smash, selling 1.8 million units its first year, and has become another favorite target of 1990s toy collectors.
Joe Pellettieri, a developer for the novelty gift maker Gemmy Industries, credited his wife for sparking the idea for his best-selling singing fish Big Mouth Billy Bass. Pellettieri's wife mentioned that the company didn't sell anything for the outdoorsmen crowd, and so the developer bought the rights to “Take Me to the River” and “Don't Worry, Be Happy,” and the Big Mouth Billy Bass was born. The singing mounted fish became a surprising success, selling a rumored $100 million worth of novelty gifts.
Sony's second-generation video game console, the Playstation 2, is the best-selling system ever made. In 2011, Sony announced it had just sold its 150 millionth PS2. The PS2 went head-to-head with Sega's Dreamcast, Nintendo's GameCube, and Microsoft's Xbox, and outdueled them all. Sony's PS2 brought in $250 million when it came out.
On Oct. 23, 2001, Steve Jobs, in jeans and his black turtleneck, announced the release of the first iPod. The announcement was met skeptically—at the time, it was unclear if there was a market for an MP3 player from Apple. By 2011, Apple had sold over 304 million iPods, and the technology and design became a framework for the world-changing iPhone.
iRobot in September 2002 released the first Roomba, a robotic vacuum that navigates around a house with a series of sensors. The Roomba feels like the stuff of sci-fi fantasy and captured the public's attention. By 2004, iRobot had sold 1 million Roombas.
McDonald's McGriddle is a salty, rich breakfast sandwich flanked by maple syrup-soaked pancakes. The result is what many consider the best fast-food item, and genius for a company whose hotcake sales had plummeted. The new item was credited with 40% of same-store sales growth the year it was released.
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Manoj Bhargava's Living Essentials released 5-Hour Energy in 2004 and took over the energy shot market. Bhargava ingeniously sold the B-vitamin and caffeine drink as a shot, so it didn't go directly up against Red Bull. As of 2011, 5-Hour Energy accounted for 90% of the energy shots sold, equaling $1 billion.
Cole Mulick, Jaisen Freeman, and Jeff Wright—the guys behind the caffeinated malt liquor sensation Four Loko—were in a fraternity together at Ohio State University. When they graduated, they started Phusion Projects, through which they released the first Four Loko iteration in 2005. In 2008, they made about $4.5 million; in 2009, they made around $45 million. By 2010, when they came to the New York market, they brought in well over $100 million. Soon after their boom, the drink—famous for its camouflage can and chemical fruit flavors—became regulated throughout the country.
Beats by Dre was created by Dr. Dre and Interscope Records founder Jimmy Iovine in 2006 (with a boost from Monster cable). In order to make sure the expensive headphones landed with a bang, Dre and Iovine tapped their wide-ranging network of athletes and musicians. The headphones were an absolute chart-topper, controlling 70% of the headphones market by 2012. In 2014, Dre and Iovine sold Beats to Apple for $3 billion.
The iPhone is on the Mount Rushmore of truly game-changing products. Released in 2007, the Apple icon completely changed the cellphone, but more so, how everyone interacted with the world. There are entire books written about the creation of the iPhone, but one easy measure of its significance: More than 45% of smartphone users in the U.S. have Apple iPhones. Apple has sold more than 1.5 billion iPhones as of 2018.
In January 2008, Apple unveiled its MacBook Air: a new laptop that was 0.16 inches at its skinniest point had begun to ship. The MacBook Air's initial suggested retail price was $1,799. Mac sales in the fiscal year 2019 generated "the highest annual revenue ever from Mac business," according to Tim Cook, Apple's chief executive, who notes the MacBook Airs are especially popular with back-to-school shoppers.
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Late in 2009, Fitness IQ's Shake Weight landed on the As Seen on TV market with a fascinating new product and a viral, campy, suggestive commercial. The innovation of the Shake Weight was that 2.5- or 5-pound dumbbells oscillate, creating more strain on muscles during lifting. The biggest coup for the company was the many innuendo-laden spoofs of their ad, including one by “Saturday Night Live.” By August of 2010, the Shake Weight had brought in $40 million in revenue.
Apple dubbed its iPad “magical and revolutionary” in its 2010 press release. The tablet largely was: With Wi-Fi and 3G, a touch screen, and Apple's signature sleek design, the iPad felt futuristic. Microsoft actually created the first tablet almost a decade before, but the timing and the look were wrong. More than 360 million iPads have been sold since 2010.
Though Rihanna's first perfume technically arrived in Macy's in December 2010, it was widely available at the beginning of 2011. The singer's endorsement help make the scent a hit, selling $80 million worth of product in its first 12 months. More recently, Rihanna has launched her own brand, Fenty Beauty, in 2017.
Microsoft's response to the iPad came to stores in 2012. The Surface was a hybrid laptop/tablet, and came with a touchscreen, a detachable keyboard, and a stylus pen. Microsoft hit its stride with the Surface Pro 3, which raised the tech giant's Surface revenue to $3.6 billion in 2015.
Google Glass is an iconic product more for its infamy than its life-changing impact. In April 2013, Google began selling prototypes of its futuristic augmented reality headset to specially selected “Glass Explorers” for $1,500. The plan was for these trendsetters to test the product and build anticipation for a 2014 release. Instead, the glasses, equipped with a built-in camera and an air of superiority, sparked outrage, negative reviews, and an unfortunate nickname for its wearers: Glassholes. Google retired the program in 2015.
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In 2014, Amazon released its first smart speaker, the Echo, which was equipped with a talking assistant named Alexa. Amazon has continued to build Alexa into all of its smart-home products, and the tech giant has dominated the smart-home market. As of 2018, Amazon controlled three-quarters of the smart-home space. Further illustrating the effect Alexa has had on the U.S., Alexa appears on this list of most popular baby names of the past decade: The name's peak popularity came in 2015 when 6,050 babies born were named Alexa.
Samsung released its virtual reality headset in 2015, which works by clicking in a Samsung smartphone in a screen for the Gear VR. Samsung's design has made the Gear VR much cheaper than competitors the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive. As of 2017, Samsung led the VR market, accounting for 21% of the revenue.
The 2016 release of Snapchat's Spectacles created a, well, spectacle. The company deployed Snapbots—quirky yellow vending machines that sold stylish glasses capable of recording 10-second video clips for $130 a piece—at secret locations around the world. The rollout was a massive promotional success, making the product a must-have accessory and further building Snapchat into a tech giant to watch.
Last year, Facebook began shipping its Portal device, a futuristic piece of smart-home video chatting hardware. The Portal has a high-definition screen and is meant to sit on a table in a kitchen or living room. Facebook has advertised Portal as a means to connect grandparents with distant grandkids. Unfortunately for Facebook, the release couldn't have come at a worse time, as faith in the company was plummeting after it had just allowed 90 million users' data to be exposed in a security breach.
Fitbit, the creator of the iconic wearable fitness tracker, was founded in 2007 and its line of wristbands and watches has caught on with consumers in the past five years. The Versa 2 was the most recent update in 2019 and includes a larger OLED display, improved sleep tracking, more sustainable charge, Spotify sync capability, heart analysis, and is even waterproof for pool workouts or some time in the sauna after a gym session.
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