With Black Friday’s shopping insanity looming, you may think your child’s desire for a violent video game or sickeningly adorable American Girl doll represents a low point in holiday consumerism.
That would ignore the real tragedy of toy-making: the release of Magic Potty Baby.
This grotesque playset, released by Tyco in time for the 1992 gift-giving season, allowed kids to sit the included baby on a plastic toilet, watch the sealed chambers fill with a yellow liquid, then “flush” the pretend urine down a nonexistent plumbing system. (The chamber could be turned upside-down to restore the discharge to the top, letting the entire vile operation begin anew.)
Magic Potty Baby had obvious ancestry in Betsy Wetsy, the incontinent doll produced by Ideal in 1937 that held her popularity well into the 1950s. Like Dy-Dee, an even earlier model, Betsy Wetsy proved successful with girls fascinated by activities of the bladder.
Dy-Dee actually sued Ideal for infringement; a judge rightfully ruled you couldn’t patent urination. While Betsy conquered her courtroom rivals, she posed a problem for parents: Her pants-wetting action caused both messes and pleas to buy more diapers. Worse, it allowed bigger brothers the opportunity to fill up dolls with water and then use them as impromptu squirt guns.
When Tyco reimagined the concept for a hip 1990s audience, they promised the toilet would cause no mess—thus the “magic” of Magic Potty Baby.
While parents may have appreciated Tyco’s desire to eliminate fake pee from carpets, psychologists were less enthused. Magic Potty Baby was one of many dolls released in 1992 that featured anatomical functions: Mattel’s My Bundle Baby was a pregnancy simulator, with girls able to wear the infant over their belly and feel its beating heart. Tyco’s other big release, Baby Feel So Real, had a “realistic” skeleton.
“These toys are going too far,” Dr. David Elkind, a professor of child study at Tufts University, told The New York Times in early 1992. “What happens if it doesn’t work? Is the baby dead?”
Psychological trauma aside, Magic Potty Baby was met with a chilly critical reception. The Baltimore Sun dubbed the flushing action as having “the kind of ambiance normally associated with a bus station restroom.” Tyco spokesperson Rick Anguilla told The Morning Call the company heard complaints it was “somehow too graphic.”
Tyco, however, knew their target audience. Retailing for $29.95, the doll sold out in some stores, earned valuable endcap space at Toys "R" Us, and became a success story of the 1992 season. For girls four years old and younger, Anguilla said, going potty “is what their world is all about.”