Cabbage Patch Kids dolls, which were created in 1978 and quickly catapulted into the arms and hearts of children everywhere, have been considered classic for decades. Even if you never owned one, you certainly know someone who did. Yet, there’s something about them that very few people know.
As it turns out, those adorable, “adoptable” dolls with their round, dimpled faces actually have a pretty dark backstory. Their parent company has done its best to sweep their shameful scandal under the rug—but now it’s finally being exposed…
When Cabbage Patch Kids dolls were introduced in 1978, they were an immediate hit. Noted for their adorable smiles and “desire” to be adopted by children, they were suddenly everywhere you looked!
Their prominence on the toy market was so abrupt that consumers never had the time of day to even think about where they came from. And perhaps that was what their creator, 21-year-old Xavier Roberts, had planned all along…
Truth be told, the Cabbage Patch Kids actually had a rather shameful backstory that Xavier and company executives have been attempting to keep secret all these years. But now, they’re finally being held accountable for what they did.
When Xavier first began developing the dolls, they were actually called the “Little People.” It was at that time that he developed the concept that the dolls could be “adopted” rather than purchased. It was an idea that no one had ever heard before!
At first, the dolls were only sold in Xavier’s own gift shop, but eventually they got their own store, the Babyland General Hospital in Cleveland, Georgia. After that, the young man’s business began to quickly blossom…
It wasn’t until four years later, in 1982, that he began to license out a smaller version of the toys to a company called Coleco. Xavier gave the dolls the Cabbage Patch Kids monicker and developed their unusual background story.
Xavier’s idea for the dolls’ story was this: when he was just 10 years old, he’d accidentally discovered the kids while following a BunnyBee. After that, it had become his mission to help find all the Cabbage Patch Kids loving homes. But Xavier had a dirty secret…
Apparently Xavier’s dolls weren’t as original as he’d led people to believe. In fact, there was already another line of dolls on the market that was practically identical to the Cabbage Patch Kids!
Several years before Xavier first introduced his product, an artist named Martha Nelson Thomas had already begun crafting similar dolls—which she called Doll Babies—to sell at local arts and crafts fairs.
One day, Xavier stumbled upon Martha’s dolls at a craft fair and was so smitten with them that he purchased several for himself. As Martha soon learned, he was more than just a fan of her idea…
Xavier loved Martha’s idea so much that he wanted to steal it. That included many of the details behind Martha’s Doll Babies, as well. For example, people didn’t buy Martha’s Doll Babies, they “adopted” them—and they came complete with a certificate and all!
Xavier brought the dolls back to his gift shop and began “re-adopting” them out to children, unbeknownst to Martha, at a higher price. Not only were the dolls not his own creation, but he’d completely stolen her business model, too!
Martha had already garnered lots of positive attention when she first introduced Doll Babies in the early 1970s. Right away, people could tell she really cared about the product she created.
Speaking of her love and dedication for her dolls, Martha’s longtime friend Guy Mendes said, “Martha was basically flat-out reinventing the doll. The Doll Babies were her brood. She shopped for them. She dressed them. They were expressions of her.”
When Martha caught wind of what Xavier was doing, she visited his gift shop, saw how much he was charging people, and demanded he give them back. In response, he wrote her an angry letter saying he’d sell his own dolls if she didn’t allow him to sell hers.
And so, not long after that, Xavier began selling the “Little People” dolls that launched his own career. Sadly, he was about to make a fortune on an idea that was never truly his…
Unfortunately, caught up in the passion of making her dolls, Martha never filed for a copyright before Xavier stole her idea. In the late 1970s, however, she did file a lawsuit against him, even though it didn’t go to trial until 1985.
Thankfully, the court ultimately ruled in Martha’s favor and she and Xavier ultimately came to an undisclosed settlement agreement. “She couldn’t tell us what the settlement was but she said her children would go to college,” her friend Guy recalled.
In the end, it wasn’t about money for Martha. She was passionate about creating dolls children could adopt and play with. Her dolls would never be as famous or lucrative as the Cabbage Patch Kids, but she at least had her integrity (and some much-deserved credit).
Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for Xavier. He’d taken his idea from someone else without permission. He might have made a good living doing what he did, but at the end of the day, the idea wasn’t his—and now everybody knows.
It’s heartbreaking to think someone could have the gall to just steal an idea from someone—no less become rich off it. It certainly makes you want to keep your good ideas close to the vest.
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