80 Totally Awesome Facts About the '80s

LightFieldStudios/iStock via Getty Images
LightFieldStudios/iStock via Getty Images

The 1980s were the birthplace of so many things that have become commonplace in our lives: Personal computers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies, and two-pound cell phones. It was a strange, magical time that is still widely celebrated thanks to our obsession with nostalgia, but here are 80 things you might not know about the 1980s.

1. Toni Basil was 38 years old when she recorded "Mickey."

Thanks to the music video, the 1982 song, "Mickey" became a cheerleader anthem even though its singer was more than a few years out of high school. It was also originally called, "Kitty," but producers changed it so it would be about a man.

2. Hacky sacks were all the rage, but they were hardly a 1980s invention.

Hacky sacks had a major moment in the 1980s, but they’ve been around since 3000 BCE—when Chinese Emperor Wong Ti used to kick around a leather ball filled with hair.

3. Casey Kasem quit the Transformers cartoon because of a racist script.

Legendary DJ and voice actor Casey Kasem played Cliffjumper on the animated Transformers, but he left the show over a racist script containing an Arab character named Abdul, King of Carbombya. They still made the episodes.

4. Clark Kent helped name the Walkman.

The Sony Walkman
Getty Images

Sony named the Walkman after the Pressman audio recorder featured popularly in Superman. They originally called it the Sound-About in the United States and the Stowaway in the United Kingdom.

5. Waterbeds were an immensely popular luxury item.

In 1987, 20 percent of all mattress sales were waterbeds. The waterbed market was worth $2 billion.

6. Roald Dahl had an existential crises writing Matilda.

Roald Dahl struggled to write the book-devouring character because he was genuinely afraid that books in general were becoming unpopular. Fortunately for all of us, he was wrong.

7. April 24th is "New Kids On The Block Day" in Massachusetts.

Michael Dukakis is famous for losing to George H.W. Bush in the 1988 presidential election, but people forget about his larger contributions to history—like, for instance, declaring April 24, 1989 "New Kids On the Block Day" in Massachusetts.

8. Luke Skywalker was almost trained by Buffy.

In early outlines for The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda was named Buffy. Jedi and vampire slayer?

9. You could buy the phone from your favorite show.

In 1984, if you wanted a phone shaped like lips, like the one that D.J. had on Full House, it would cost you $70. Nowadays, no one even knows the price of a landline phone—and many people will never know the thrill of chatting on a hamburger phone or a banana phone or a Mickey Mouse phone or one of those transparent phones where you could see all the wires inside. A lip-based telephone will run you about $20 today.

10. Barbra Streisand's stylist invented the crimping iron.

Young woman with crimped hair
kparis/iStock via Getty Images

Stylist Geri Cusenza invented the crimping iron after hours of braiding and unbraiding Barbra Streisand's hair for a photo shoot, unleashing a hairstyle that would rule over the decade.

11. Ms. Pac-Man had an … interesting tagline.

When the video game character was introduced in 1982, her tagline was: "The new femme fatale of the game world." Sure. Fine.

12. Jolt cola found a slogan to stick with.

Jolt Cola, which was introduced in 1985, used the same slogan, "all the sugar and twice the caffeine," for 24 years straight. In the late 2000s, they changed it to "Maximum caffeine, more power," which just doesn't have the same punch.

13. DC Comics was nice enough to let The Karate Kid keep its name.

Ralph Macchio stars in 'The Karate Kid' (1984)
Ralph Macchio in The Karate Kid (1984).
Columbia Pictures

Before The Karate Kid movie, The Karate Kid was a completely unrelated DC Comics superhero. Columbia Pictures actually thanked DC Comics in the movie's credits for letting them use the name.

14. Christian Bale once helped sell Pac-Man cereal.

In the 1980s Christian Bale starred in a commercial for Pac-Man cereal, thus giving us the name for his inevitable autobiography: From Pac-Man to Batman.

15. A lot of popular books were ghostwritten.

Ghost writing was incredibly common in the 1980s, especially among serials aimed at tweens and teens. For example, The Baby-sitter's Club author Anne M. Martin ghost wrote the first Sweet Valley Twins book, and Sweet Valley Twins author Peter Lerangis ghostwrote 43 Baby-sitter's Club books.

16. Olivia Newton-John’s song Physical was meant to be macho.

According to songwriter Steve Kipner, the Olivia Newton-John song Physical was originally written for "a macho male rock figure like Rod Stewart." The singer also worried after she recorded it that it was too raunchy.

17. The Razzies were born out of a bad double feature.

Speaking of Olivia Newton-John: After publicist John J.B. Wilson watched a double feature of Can't Stop the Music and Xanadu, he was inspired to start the Golden Raspberry Awards, a.k.a. "The Razzies." The parody plaudits for bad filmmaking were initially awarded at his home Oscar party.

18. Halley's Comet was first observed via spacecraft in 1986.

Chinese astronomers first noticed it in 239 BCE. We won't see it again from Earth until 2061.

19. Boomboxes demanded some serious arm strength.

A retro boombox
BrAt_PiKaChU/iStock via Getty Images

According to boombox expert Fred Brathwaite, those boxes were so heavy that "some cats that would carry their boxes all the time, they would develop massive forearms and biceps." Some boomboxes were 26 pounds.

20. You're a big fan of Project Ii—whether you know it or not.

When American Greetings was developing Care Bears, they were top secret and only called "Project II." Project I, by the way, was none other than Strawberry Shortcake.

21. a Strawberry Shortcake convention lasted into the 2000s.

Incidentally, Strawberry Shortcake has her own annual convention in Cleveland that kicked off in 2003 and lasted more than a decade.

22. A soap opera helped make Rick Springfield a global pop star.

In 1981, Rick Springfield accepted a role on General Hospital after recording his album, "Working Class Dog." The show got around 14 million viewers daily, which may be why Jesse's Girl hit number one that year. It's his only single to ever hit the top spot.

23. You can visit a Rainbow Brite museum.

Your wish has come true. There's a Rainbow Brite museum in North Carolina made up of 1500 items of memorabilia from one woman's Rainbow Brite collection.

24. Nintendo got its console into stores with an offer they couldn't refuse.

In 1985, in an attempt to convince stores in New York City to carry the new Nintendo Entertainment System, a Nintendo exec promised that they could send back the ones they didn't sell free of charge, but they ended up selling 50,000 that holiday season.

25. Leopard print helped Simon Le Bon get his lead singer gig.

A photo of the band Duran Duran
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Simon Le Bon showed up for his Duran Duran audition in pink leopard prints pants. Nick Rhodes said, "Anyone who looks that stupid is positively the one."

26. Eddie Murphy's debut musical album was produced by Rick James and Stevie Wonder.

It cost over half a million dollars to make Eddie Murphy's album "How Could It Be," featuring the infamously bad single Party All the Time, which is now in your head. You're welcome.

27. Real-life scientists inspired Jem And The Holograms.

The last names of Jem (a.k.a. Jerrica Benton) and the Holograms were the names of real scientists who worked on hologram technology.

28. Don't Worry, Be Happy still makes people happy.

The 1988 song Don't Worry, Be Happy still has many fans, including Hillary Clinton, who received a teddy bear that sings the song from former Secretary of State George Schultz. Her memoir claims, "I kept it in my office, first as a joke, but every so often, it really did help to squeeze the bear and hear that song."

29. Lisa Frank has her own proprietary ink.

It's a mixture that makes colors brighter.

30. Members Only jackets were a big, big deal.

Another brand that did well for itself in the 80s: Members Only. Thanks to their famous jackets, the company brought in $100 million a year.

31. Hairspray helped relaunch hairspray.

An aisle full of hair care products
JackF/iStock via Getty Images

In 2002, Aqua Net Hairspray had an unlikely comeback when the musical Hairspray, based on John Waters' 1988 film, started on Broadway. Because nothing says fashion like a musical that takes place in 1960s Baltimore. (Which was kind of Waters's point.)

32. Jon Bon Jovi hated Livin' On A Prayer (at first).

Speaking of hairspray: Jon Bon Jovi didn't like the song "Livin' on a Prayer" and almost scrapped it from the Slippery When Wet album before it gave them their first number one song.

33. Two famous '80s styles were invented decades before the 1980s.

Thanks to Dynasty and Working Girl, shoulder pads in women's clothing became very popular during the 1980s, but designer Elsa Schiaparelli actually invented the style in the 1930s. Also people have been perming their hair since 1872.

34. "Mr. T" is not a stage name.

A photo of Mr. T
Michael Buckner/Getty Images

When he turned 18, Laurence Tureaud legally changed his name to Mr. T, because he wanted people to call him Mister, which he considered a sign of respect that white people didn't generally grant black men.

35. Baby Animal on The Muppet Babies had two famous voices.

Both Dave Coulier and Howie Mandel voiced Animal on Muppet Babies. What a great program.

36. Cheers didn't get off to a good start.

The cast of 'Cheers'
NBC

The Cheers premiere in 1982 was ranked almost last in ratings, but its finale 11 years later brought in 80.4 million viewers.

37. ALF did wunderbar in Germany.

Speaking of sitcoms: ALF was very popular in Germany. The country actually has a city named Alf, and people kept stealing the sign due to the show's popularity. It also led, for some reason, to ALF making hit hip-hop records.

38. John Hughes wrote Sixteen Candles for Molly Ringwald before ever meeting her.

Molly Ringwald and Michael Schoeffling in 'Sixteen Candles' (1984)
Molly Ringwald and Michael Schoeffling in Sixteen Candles (1984).
Universal Pictures

John Hughes wrote Sixteen Candles after an agent sent him a stack of actresses' head shots, including Molly Ringwald's. He put her picture over his desk and wrote the bulk of the film in one weekend.

39. John Hughes wrote Ferris Bueller's Day Off in six days.

But Hughes often wrote pretty quickly. In fact, the script for Ferris Bueller's Day Off took him just six days as he raced an oncoming writer's strike.

40. Most of Run DMC didn't like the name "Run DMC."

Russell Simmons—Joseph "Run" Simmons's brother, who helped promote the band and get their first single produced—actually came up with the name "Run DMC," which the rest of the group hated. They wanted to be called the "Devastating Two" or the "Dynamic Two MCs."

41. Gelly roll pens have something in common with gluten-free baking.

Gelly Roll pens were invented in the 1980s, but it took a while to come up with the perfect ink formula after trying things like grated yam and egg whites. A member of the team saw an ad for the food additive xanthan gum, which turned out to be the missing ingredient.

42. The Terminator most iconic line was supposed to be "I'll come back."

Arnold Schwarzenegger in 'The Terminator' (1984)
Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator (1984).
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

The line, "I'll be back," from the Terminator movies was written in the movie's novelization as "I'll come back." But before you write that off as a typo: "I'll come back" is how the line was written in the original script.

43. Jane Fonda helped popularize leg warmers.

Jane Fonda gets some of the credit or, arguably, blame for making leg warmers trendy. She wore them in her very first workout video and encouraged people to wear them to "feel like athletes."

44. Jennifer Beals accidentally launched the ripped sweatshirt craze.

Another reason for the leg warmer craze: the movie Flashdance, which also gave us the collarless sweatshirt. Actress Jennifer Beals once shrunk a sweatshirt in the dryer then cut around the collar so it could fit. She wore that to her audition, and the style made it into the movie.

45. The ubiquitous "Baby On Board" signs might not have been so great.

Baby on board sign hangs in the back of a car
StockSolutions/IStock via Getty Images

Stickers for your car that said "Baby on Board" were very popular in the '80s. But, according to a 2012 study, one in 20 drivers blame such stickers for obscuring their vision and causing accidents.

46. The oldest known emoticon is from 1982.

Computer Scientist Scott E. Fahlman offered them as a way of showing lightheartedness on message board posts. :-)

47. The Clapper wasn't the only product with that ear worm jingle.

The Clapper is notorious thanks to its commercial jingle, but the exact same song was actually used earlier in the 1980s in a commercial for Sine-Off cold medicine.

48. Slash almost joined Poison.

Future Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash auditioned for Poison but realized he wasn't right for the job when they asked him if he'd wear make-up.

49. Richard Page almost joined Toto.

Similarly, Richard Page—the lead singer of Mr. Mister—turned down the lead singer job in two other bands, Toto and Chicago, because, you know, he was waiting for Mr. Mister to come alone. It's unclear how he feels about the rains down in Africa.

50. Van Halen's famous "M&M" request had a serious purpose.

A pack of milk chocolate M&Ms
Samohin/iStock via Getty Images

In the 80s, Van Halen famously requested a bowl of M&Ms minus all the brown candies backstage at their shows. It wasn't to be snooty jerks. They added it to their contracts to make sure that people running the venue actually read the entire rider. If they saw brown M&Ms, they knew the venue wasn't detail-oriented and that there might be some (potentially dangerous) technical problems on stage.

51. Fraggle Rock was HBO's first original series.

Fraggle Rock was HBO's first original series. It was a lot like the content that HBO makes now, but there was less violence than Game of Thrones, fewer drugs than Euphoria, and just about as much scheming as Succession.

52. The Pee-Wee's Playhouse theme song had a famous singer.

Cindy Lauper! She revealed in her autobiography that she sang the theme song for the wacky show.

53. Neil Armstrong turned down MTV.

Astronaut Neil Armstrong is photographed after walking on the moon
NASA/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When MTV premiered in the 1980s, they wanted to use Neil Armstrong's "One Small Step" quotation from the moon landing, but Armstrong refused, so they tossed in a beeping sound over the video collage of the Apollo 11 landing instead.

54. The Beastie Boys opened for Madonna.

The opening act for Madonna's first ever tour? The Beastie Boys, who often got booed for screaming obscenities. But it worked for Madonna. It turns out that the audience hating the opening act makes them that much happier to see the headliner.

55. "Fight For Your Right" is a parody song.

The Beastie Boys, by the way, wrote "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party)" as a parody of rock songs (so many parentheses). It was a joke. They refused to play it live.

56. Bright Lights, Big City's publisher thought the setting would limit its greatness.

While Jay McInerney was working on his novel Bright Lights, Big City, his publisher said that no great American novels took place in New York, to which Jay McInerney probably replied, "Have you read The Great Gatsby?"

57. A three-year-old inspired the Polaroid camera.

Little girl holds up a photo taken with an instant camera
Rawpixel/iStock via Getty Images

All the cool '80s kids had a Polaroid 660. The brand itself was started in 1944 by Edwin H. Land because his three-year-old daughter didn't understand why she couldn't see a picture right after it was taken, so he fixed that problem for her, and then became a billionaire. Listen to your toddlers, people.

58. The Ghostbusters crew made three Stay Puft suits

It cost $20,000 to create the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man suit for Ghostbusters. The crew had to make three of them, which were all destroyed during filming.

59. Dr. Ruth was almost in Dirty Dancing.

Eleanor Bergstein, who wrote and produced Dirty Dancing, was friends with Dr. Ruth. Anyways, Bergstein wanted to cast Dr. Ruth as Mrs. Schumacher, but Dr. Ruth declined when she realized the character was a thief.

60. Doc Brown almost had a chimp sidekick.

Doc and Marty in the movie 'Back to the Future.'
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Doc Brown had a chimpanzee in early drafts of Back to the Future, but the head of Universal said no movie with a chimpanzee ever made any money. Which is just completely unfair. I mean, granted MVP: Most Valuable Primate hadn't been made yet, but surely that exec was familiar with the Ronald Reagan movie Bedtime for Bonzo. Anyway, Doc Brown's chimp would have been named Shemp.

61. Miami Vice didn't have a real Ferrari at first.

Sonny Crockett's car on Miami Vice was originally a Corvette that the crew made to look like a Ferrari, but eventually Ferrari gave the show a Testarossa.

62. There was a literal book about what "real men" don't do.

In the 1980s, the book Real Men Don't Eat Quiche spent 55 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. According to the book, here are a few things that real men don't do: have meaningful dialogues, catch rays, drink light beer, or wear gold chains or anything with more than three zippers.

63. We didn't have Chicken McNuggets until 1981.

A plate of chicken nuggets
rez-art/iStock via Getty Images

Believe it or not, America lived in ignorance of McDonald's Chicken McNuggets until the 1980s. They were released to test markets in 1981. Supposedly, by the way, they only come in four shapes: the boot, the ball, the bow tie, and the bell.

64. Michael Jackson's Beat It had a famous guitarist.

Eddie Van Halen! He rocked the guitar solo in Michael Jackson's Beat It for free as a favor to Quincy Jones. It lasts 20 seconds.

65. Thriller almost got a Fred Astaire cameo.

Fred Astaire almost guest-starred as a zombie in Michael Jackson's music video for Thriller. He even attended a rehearsal.

66. Pat Benatar expanded what music videos could do.

Pat Benatar's Love Is a Battlefield music video was the first ever to feature spoken dialogue. Near the beginning of the story where Benatar's rebellious teen character runs away from home, her father tells her she can "forget about coming back" if she leaves.

67. Spandex is an anagram of expands.

Fitting for the stretchy, synthetic fabric.

68. Paula Abdul choreographed for ZZ Top and Janet Jackson.

Such great team-ups. Abdul designed the dance for ZZ Top's Velcro Fly in 1985, and her 1986 design work for Janet Jackson's Nasty solidified her status as an elite choreographer. She also crafted the giant dance sequence in Coming to America.

69. the inventor of the Rubik's Cube struggled to solve it.

Person playing with a Rubik's Cube
xmagic/iStock via Getty Images

So don't feel too bad. After creating the set of colored cubes, Erno Rubik was fascinated by their beauty, saying, "It was tremendously satisfying to watch this color parade." Then he wondered how to figure it out. It took him a month, but there are also over 43 quintillion possible combinations, so a month isn't too shabby. Rubik also gave us the key to not figuring it out: Just enjoy the satisfaction of the color parade.

70. Hair mousse is named after the french word for foam.

It was invented in France and popularized in North America in the 1980s thanks to L'Oreal.

71. The guy who wrote Heathers wanted Stanley Kubrick to direct it.

A still from 'Heathers' (1988)
Getty Images

Daniel Waters initially wrote Heathers as a three-hour-long dark comedy with Kubrick in mind as his dream director. Obviously Kubrick didn't direct it, or any movie after 1987's Full Metal Jacket until he made his final film, 1999's Eyes Wide Shut.

72. Rick Allen's mom got him his Def Leppard gig.

Drummer Rick Allen joined Def Leppard when he was just 14 years old after his mom responded to the band's ad for him. He auditioned against two others, including the band's original drummer who wanted the job back.

73. Prince wrote Manic Monday.


BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images

Manic Monday by the Bangles was written by Prince under the pseudonym Christopher. That was before his pseudonym was a symbol. He also wrote "Nothing Compares 2 U" for Sinead O'Connor and hits for Alicia Keys, Chaka Khan, and more.

74. Quoting Top Gun at Topgun comes with a fine.

People at the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School (a.k.a. TOPGUN) reportedly receive a $5 fine every time they quote Top Gun. Which is tough, fair, and worth it to toss out a few cracks about feeling the need for speed during class.

75. Ray-Ban was very happy with top Gun.

Tom Cruise in Top Gun
Paramount Pictures

On the other end of the $5 fine spectrum: Ray-Ban Aviator sales jumped 40 percent after Val Kilmer snapped his teeth at Tom Cruise on the big screen.

76. Reese's Pieces were happy with E.T.

But if you think that's impressive, after E.T. came out, Reese's Pieces sales increased by 65 percent. The original script called for Elliot to use M&Ms to draw out the alien, but Mars famously turned them down (and lost out).

77. Wendy's fired the "Where's The Beef?" lady for being unfaithful.

Clara Peller, who said the "Where's the beef?" line in Wendy's ads, got fired from Wendy's when she did a commercial for Prego spaghetti sauce in which she said, "I found it!"

According to Wendy's, that quote inferred "That Clara found the beef at somewhere other than Wendy's restaurants." We all know there is only one location for the beef.

78. Fake Cabbage Patch Kids were a real problem for the FBI.

Photo of Cabbage Patch Kid dolls
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

While parents were scrambling to find Cabbage Patch Kid dolls in stores, the FBI was hunting down thousands of counterfeit versions that sold for cheap and had "a strong chemical odor." They were tipped off to a massive operation when customs officials seized 240 fake dolls heading from Canada into Michigan.

79. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s Uncle Phil voiced Shredder in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon.

The late James Avery was a familiar presence in households all over the world as Will Smith's sensible, put-upon father figure in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but he also voiced the cruel nemesis of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in their late-80s animated show. Enjoy using this to win $5 bets with your friends. 

80. The recording for the star-packed song We Are the World lasted until 3 a.m.

Stevie Wonder wanted to record a verse in Swahili, and was waiting for a phone call about correct pronunciations. When the call finally came, Ray Charles said, "It's three o'clock in the g*ddamn morning. Swahili, sh*t—I can't even sing in English no more."

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11 Amazing Facts About Alligators

Cindy Larson/iStock via Getty Images
Cindy Larson/iStock via Getty Images

Alligators are pretty terrifying as they are, but scientists are making discoveries about the reptilian ambush predators that only add to that reputation.

1. Alligators have an extremely powerful bite.

You really, really don’t want to be bitten by an alligator. A 2004 study of wild and captive alligators found that large individuals bite down with 13,172 Newtons—or 2960 pounds—of force, one of the most powerful bites ever recorded for a living animal [PDF].

2. Alligators can consume almost a quarter of their body weight in one meal.

Alligators don’t have a problem with their eyes being bigger than their stomachs. Thanks to a special blood vessel—the second aorta—they’re able to shunt blood away from their lungs and towards their stomachs, stimulating the production of strong stomach acids to break down their meals faster. Juvenile alligators are capable of eating about 23 percent of their body weight in a sitting, which is equivalent to a 180-pound person eating more than 41 pounds of steak au poivre at a meal.

3. Alligators eat their young.

One of the biggest threats to an American alligator? Other alligators. When alligators are born they’re small enough to be light snacks for their older neighbors, and a 2011 study estimated that, in one Florida lake, bigger alligators ate 6 to 7 percent of the juvenile population every year.

4. An alligator's stomach can dissolve bones.

Alligator resting on a log in a swamp
cbeverly/iStock via Getty Images

An alligator stomach is a hostile environment. Their stomach acids have a pH of less than 2—in the range of lemon juice and vinegar—and most soft-bodied prey is totally digested in two to three days. If you wound up in a gator stomach, however, you'd stick around a bit longer. Bone and other hard parts can take 13 to 100 days to disappear completely.

5. Alligators have antibiotic blood.

Alligators are tough—and not just because of the bony armor in their skins. Serum in American alligator blood is incredibly effective at combating bacteria and viruses, meaning that even alligators that lose limbs in mucky swamps often avoid infection.

6. Prehistoric ancestors of today's alligators lived 70 million years ago.

Alligator forerunners and relatives have been around for a very long time. The largest was Deinosuchus, a 40-foot alligatoroid that lurked in coastal habitats all over North America around 70 million years ago. Damaged bones suggest that unwary dinosaurs were a regular part of the “terrible crocodile's” diet. Fortunately, modern American alligators don’t come anywhere close to measuring up.

7. Alligator pairs often stick together.

A decade-long genetic study of Louisiana alligators found that some females paired with the same males multiple times, with one in particular choosing the same mate in 1997, 2002, and 2005. Even some females that mated with multiple partners still showed long-term fidelity to particular males.

8. Alligators love fruit.

Baby alligator riding on an adult's back
BlueBarronPhoto/iStock via Getty Images

Alligators aren’t strict carnivores. They also eat fruit when they get the chance, and might be important seed-dispersers. That might not sound so scary at first, but just watch this video of an alligator mashing a watermelon.

9. Despite their short legs, alligators can climb trees.

While on the lookout for alligators, you should remember to occasionally look up. American alligators, as well as several other species of crocodilian, are surprisingly accomplished climbers [PDF]. As long as there’s enough of an incline for them to haul themselves up, gators can climb trees to get to a better basking spot, or get the drop on you, as the case may be.

10. Alligators use tools to lure their prey.

Alligators might be reptilian innovators. Scientists have observed Indian and American species of alligator luring waterbirds by placing sticks and twigs across their snouts while they remain submerged. When the birds go to pick up the twigs for nesting material, the gators chomp. 

11. Alligators have no vocal cords, but they still make sounds.

Alligators are among the most vocal reptiles, despite not having vocal cords. By sucking in and then expelling air from their lungs, they can make different sounds to defend their territory, call to mates or their young, or fight off competitors—such as a guttural hiss or a frankly terrifying bellow.

13 Salty Facts About Mr. Peanut

Mr. Peanut attends the 90th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
Mr. Peanut attends the 90th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
Noam Galai/Getty Images

On January 22, 2020, in a morbid bit of pre-Super Bowl marketing, Planters took to the internet to announce that Mr. Peanut—the dapper little legume who has been peddling Planters peanuts for more than a century—has died at the ripe old age of 104. In order to pay tribute to the literal face of America's peanut industry, we’ve assembled some facts and history about this shell of a man.

1. Mr. Peanut was created by a 14-year-old.

Mr. Peanut wasn’t hatched from a cynical ad firm brainstorming session. His adorable visage was the product of a 14-year-old from Suffolk, Virginia named Antonio Gentile. Gentile entered a contest held by the Planters Chocolate and Nut Company in 1916 to crown a new peanut mascot. The aspiring Don Draper sketched out a doodle of a “Mr. P. Nut” strutting with a cane. After getting freshened up by a graphic designer—including donning his trademark spats and monocle—Gentile’s design was picked up and he was awarded $5.

(Postscript: The Gentile family became friendly with the Obici family, owners of the Planters empire, and Gentile’s nephews once suggested that the Obicis helped put him through medical school; he became a surgeon.)

2. Mr. Peanut has a full name.

According to Planters, Mr. Peanut is something of an informal moniker. The full name given to him by Gentile was Bartholomew Richard Fitzgerald-Smythe.

3. Mr. Peanut once weighed more than 300 pounds.

Although peanuts can be a highly sensible snack, full of healthy fats and protein, they can also be a source of too many calories. Case in point: the 300-pound cast iron Mr. Peanut, a display item made in the 1920s and 1930s. Planters would use the heavyset mascot on top of a fence post at their Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania factory.

4. Mr. Peanut survived the Great Depression.

During the economic downturn of the 1930s, things like “snacks” and “nutrition” suddenly became optional rather than expected. Though many food products struggled to cope with slimmed-down wallets, Planters plastered Mr. Peanut on bags of peanuts that sold for just five cents each. Declaring it a “nickel lunch,” the company was able to use the affordability of peanuts as a selling point.

5. Mr. Peanut went to war.


Getty Images

Specifically, World War II. When the U.S. entered the conflict, Mr. Peanut volunteered for service as a character featured on stamps and propaganda posters.

6. Mr. Peanut is a monocle enthusiast.

Food mascots rarely take sides on hot-button issues, but Mr. Peanut made an exception in 2014 when a fashion movement threatened the return of the monocle. After getting wind of men wearing the single-lens reading accessory, Mr. P issued a press release stating that he took notice of the “hipsters” following in his “stylish footsteps” and implied few could pull it off. The monocle has yet to fully re-emerge.

7. Mr. Peanut's Nutmobile predates the Wienermobile.


Planters

Though the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile usually takes most of the engine-driven PR credit, Planters actually introduced the NUTMobile, a shell-shaped portable advertising car, in 1935—a year prior to the Wienermobile’s introduction. A Planters salesman designed and drove the car, adding a decorative Mr. Peanut passenger behind him. (Mr. Peanut did not operate the vehicle because Mr. Peanut is not real.)

8. Mr. Peanut is in the Smithsonian.

How influential has Mr. Peanut been to the food industry? In 2013, the Smithsonian admitted his cast-iron incarnation into its National Museum of American History. The statue was exhibited as part of a series on marketing for the institution’s American Enterprise series; Antonio Gentile’s family also donated his original sketches for posterity.

9. Fans didn't want Mr. Peanut to change.


Planters

For the company's 100th anniversary in 2006, Planters held an online vote to see whether peanut aficionados wanted to see Mr. Peanut experiment with a sartorial change: Fans could vote for adding cufflinks, a bow tie, or a pocket watch. In the end, the ballot determined they wanted to keep him just the way he is.

10. Mr. Peanut has a fan club.

Mr. Peanut has appeared in so many different licensed products in an effort to expand his popularity—clocks, peanut butter grinders, and coloring books among them—that a collector was having trouble keeping track of them all. In 1978, Judith Walthall founded Peanut Pals, a Mr. Peanut appreciation club that circulates a newsletter and holds conventions. You can join for $20—practically peanuts.

11. Mr. Peanut has remained mostly silent.


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Mr. Peanut was already a few decades old when television came into prominence, which afforded him an opportunity to jump off packaging and magazine pages. Despite the new medium, Planters decided they liked him best when he didn’t talk—at all. The mascot was silent all the way up until 2010, when Robert Downey Jr. was commissioned to deliver his first lines. Bill Hader took over voicing duties from Downey in 2013.

12. Mr. Peanut found a buddy.

When Planters unveiled an updated Mr. Peanut for contemporary audiences in 2010, he was sporting a grey flannel suit as well as a new sidekick—Benson, a shorter, single-peanut tagalong. A Planters spokesman clarified to The New York Times that the two are “just friends” and live in separate residences.

13. In the 1970s, Mr. Peanut ran for Mayor of Vancouver.

Amid a burgeoning alternative art scene in 1970s Vancouver, a performance artist named Vincent Trasov decided it would be interesting to run for mayor of the city while in the guise of Mr. Peanut. Hailing from the “Peanut Party” and meant to be a commentary of the Nixon-era absurdities of politics, he was endorsed by novelist William S. Burroughs and received 2685 ballots—3.4 percent of the vote.

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