At some point, anyone who had a stuffed animal wished that it could talk. Kids look upon these toys as friends and companions, so it’s only natural for them to wish they could come to life.
In 1985, this dream became a reality when Worlds of Wonder introduced a mechanical marvel known as Teddy Ruxpin.
This triumph of technology used cassette tapes (and later on, electronic cartridges) to speak, sing and tell stories to its young owners. Its ability to bring an age-old dream to life made this toy one of the biggest success stories of the 1980s.
Ken Forsse, an engineer who worked to develop theme attractions for the Disney company, invented the toy. His idea was to create an electronic speaking toy animal that would teach good values to his kids, and this dream came to life with the help of partners Larry Larsen and John Davies.
They utilised the same technology used in the talking creatures seen at Disneyland attractions and scaled it down to toy size. They also created their own toy company, Worlds of Wonder, to market Teddy Ruxpin to toy stores.
In 1985, Worlds of Wonder sent the first Teddy Ruxpin dolls to the toy stores. All kids had to do was plug a cassette tape into Teddy’s back, press play, and the bear came to life. In addition to the music and Teddy’s speaking voice on the tape, these cassettes also included inaudible commands that made Teddy’s electronic eyes and mouth move in perfect synchronization with the voices on the tape. The end result was a teddy bear that truly came to life.
To keep things interesting, other tapes were sold with storybooks so Teddy could share more adventures with his young owners.
Over time, 40 different tape/storybook combos were invented for Teddy Ruxpin, including titles like “Teddy Ruxpin’s Birthday” and “Wooly and the Giant Snowzos”.
By the end of 1985, Teddy Ruxpin had become the toy phenomenon of the year. Not only did this toy have undreamt-of technology, but its imaginative stories taught children about important things like friendship and sharing.
The stories and songs that Teddy told to his owners also benefited from elaborate production that included music and several voice actors to bring the tales to life.
In fact, the fantasy world and characters that Teddy spoke about were so well-liked that they inspired their own cartoon series, The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin, in 1987. These cartoons were later sold on videocassette and became best-sellers.
Teddy Ruxpin’s success also led to another talking toy known as Grubby. This caterpillar-like creature was Teddy’s best friend.
By connecting Grubby (pictured at right) to Teddy with a special cord, the caterpillar would speak his own voice parts in a cassette story that involved him.
Other talking Ruxpin character toys were developed, but none ever made it to toy stores. Meanwhile, Teddy Ruxpin’s ownership changed hands in 1989 when Playskool bought the license to make these toys. Their Teddy Ruxpin toys were slightly smaller and used tiny cartridges instead of cassette tapes.
Most recently, Teddy Ruxpin has changed hands once again. The latest Teddy Ruxpin toys were sold by Yes! Entertainment and were slightly smaller than the previous ones. They are not currently being produced, but classic Teddy Ruxpin toys are eagerly traded back and forth by toy collectors.
The tape/storybook sets and cassettes of the animated show are also hot items with collectors. The long life of the Teddy Ruxpin toys and the continued interest they inspire show that plenty of people are still in love with the idea of a teddy bear that can talk.