Remembering Doodle Bear: The '90s Toy That Encouraged Kids to Draw Outside the Lines

In the era of the Beanie Baby Bubble, the Doodle Bear was a refreshing addition to the toy aisle. Instead of feeling pressure to shrink-wrap the stuffed animals and keep them as collector's items, '90s kids were encouraged to scribble on them with markers.
Tyco Doodle Bear Commercial  (1996)
Tyco Doodle Bear Commercial (1996) / member berries

The 1990s gave kids Game Boys, slap bracelets, and Bop Its. It also brought them the beloved Doodle Bear. Between episodes of Blossom and Full House, many Millennials watched commercials featuring the pastel stuffed animals. Decorated with scribblings drawn on by smiling pre-teens, the plush toy would dance to the catchy jingle, “When there's no room for something new, I hop in that washing machine and come out nice and clean.” 

While '90s kids will forever associate the toy with their childhoods, its origins actually date back to the 1950s.

Reviving a '50s Fad

Doodle Bear was invented by Ed Kaplan, the founder of the toy invention studio EKA Associates. He spent his career creating toys for kids. For years, he worked for Knickerbocker Toy Company—the business behind the Raggedy Ann doll—and later for AmToy, a toy division for American Greetings. Then, he went out on his own, working with designers to create toys that were eventually licensed by famous brands such as Hasbro, Mattel, Fisher-Price, and more.

Doodle Bear became one of his most famous inventions. It was inspired by a fad popular during the 1950s and '60s where people would autograph stuffed toys—usually dogs—to celebrate a special event, like a graduation. Kaplan had the idea to revive the old autograph dog as a teddy bear. “Someone in the office had some washable markers and started signing on it. When she took the prototype home, her daughter started [coloring] the bear in. She put it in the washing machine and it came out clean,” Douglas Kaplan, son of the inventor, recalled in an interview with Mojo Nation.

A Short-Lived Success

This lightbulb moment led to the creation of Doodle Bear. Tyco released the toy in 1995, and it became an immediate hit. Nineties kids everywhere relished the ability to stamp, tattoo, and doodle their stuffed bears. After decorating every square inch, they could run it through the washing machine and pull out a blank canvas (unless a sibling scribbled on it with a permanent marker, but we digress).

Douglas Kaplan said Doodle Bear amassed over $50 million in sales during its first year. From the moment it was made available to kids until today, it has accumulated over $500 million in sales. Mattel bought Tyco in 1997 and expanded the toy, causing sales to triple between 1997 and 2000.

Soon after that, it was taken off the market. “Lots of toys run their course and companies drop things for new products and new lines,” Douglas explained in the Mojo Nation interview. 

A Doodle Bear for a New Generation

In 2004, Play Along re-launched Doodle Bear, giving kids access to the characters Penny, Artie, Markie, Drew, and Gelly. They also created unique spin-offs from the toy, such as Doodle Monster, Magic Glow Doodle, Doodle Dinosaurs, and Doodle Ponies. By 2010, sales slowed, and Doodle Bear changed hands again to Fisher-Price. Their license to sell the toy ended in 2013 because of poor sales.

The Doodle Bear of the ‘90s now lives in the memories of Millennials, but it has remained a popular toy for kids for almost every generation since then. Considering its success, its impact on the toy industry won't soon be forgotten. “We created something you could doodle on, cuddle, wash, and then doodle on again. It’s the combination of something you can doodle on and something you can cuddle that’s special,” Douglas told Mojo Nation. TOMY re-released the toy in 2019 and gave it a brand-new look for its—brace yourself25-year anniversary.

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