Cabbage Patch Kids are 40 years old but remain America's most sensational toy story. 

The pudgy baby dolls ignited a first-of-its-kind consumer craze during the Christmas shopping season of 1983 — including toy store-aisle fist fights that put some people in the hospital and many parents on Santa’s naughty list.

"Stampeding crowds knocked down an elderly man in North Miami Beach, Florida, trampled a pregnant woman in Bergen County, New Jersey, injured five in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania," The Christian Science Monitor reported in Dec. 1983. 

Cabbage Patch Kids even inspired the retail phenomenon today known as Black Friday.


Shoppers stood in line for hours outside malls waiting for doors to open. They chased truck drivers and bribed department store managers when the doll delirium exploded on the day after Thanksgiving

The credit, or blame, goes to Xavier Roberts. The artisan from Appalachia launched Cabbage Patch Kids. 

Xavier Roberts

Xavier Roberts, who launched the Cabbage Patch dolls, holds a collection of Cabbage Patch Kids ahead of the toys' introduction into the U.K. Christmas market in London, England, on Thursday, Dec. 8, 1983. (Bryn Colton/Getty Images)

"Roberts seems to inhabit the character of a mystical figure in the toy industry," James Zahn, editor-in-chief of The Toy Book, told Fox News Digital.

"Everybody knew his name. [His signature] is right there on the butt of every Cabbage Patch Kid. But nobody really knew who the guy was." 

"Roberts seems to inhabit the character of a mystical figure in the toy industry." — James Zahn, toy expert

The Cabbage Patch Kids craze represents a triumph of rural American entrepreneurship and the ability of a determined small-town artisan to overcome personal adversity. 

Roberts was raised by a widowed mother in the Appalachian foothills of rural Georgia.

Line for Cabbage Patch Kids

Police were called to dispel a disturbance at the Toys "R" Us in Huntington, New York, on Nov. 25, 1983. The toy store had run out of Cabbage Patch Kids dolls and holiday shoppers who had waited for hours for the dolls were irate.  (Dick Yarwood/Newsday RM via Getty Images)

Yet he’s rarely appeared in public or granted interviews since 1983, making him both a reclusive hillbilly artisan and living legend.

"Cabbage Patch Kids," said Zahn, "are the prime example of the lightning-in-a-bottle phenomenon that the toy industry has been looking to recreate every single day since."  

Born in ‘city of mountain breezes’

Xavier Roberts was born on Oct. 31, 1955, to Harold "Happy" and Eula Roberts in Cleveland, Georgia, a rural community of 3,500 residents, the seat of White County, in the Appalachian Mountains. 

"City of mountain breezes," boasts Cleveland’s municipal government website.

Appalachian Mountains Georgia

Sky Valley, Georgia, Blue Valley Overlook, Nantahala National Forest, panoramic view, Appalachian Blue Ridge Mountains.  (Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

It’s an area "rich with artisans, crafting and creative people," Carol Franks, curator of the White County Historic Courthouse Museum, told Fox News Digital. 

Xavier Roberts was the youngest of six children. He was just 5 years old when his father was killed in an auto accident.


He carved out his own path as a natural artist with a curiosity for crafting techniques.

As a 21-year-old art student, he discovered "the old German technique of fabric sculpture, which dates back to the early 1800s," according to a biography provided by Cabbage Patch Kids.

"The resulting ‘babies’ are a combination of his interest in sculpture and the quilting skills passed down for generations in the Appalachian Mountains."

Xavier Roberts

Xavier Roberts, who launched Cabbage Patch dolls, sits surrounded by a collection of Cabbage Patch Kids ahead of the toys' introduction into the U.K. Christmas market in London on Thursday, Dec. 8, 1983.  (Bryn Colton/Getty Images)

"Roberts’ creations featured a pudgy face with close-set eyes and hair fashioned of colored yarn," writes The Strong National Museum of Play of Rochester, New York. 

Roberts dubbed his dolls Little People. 

He "started creating soft sculptures in 1976 and selling his Little People Originals in 1978, influenced by the designs of art student Martha Nelson," Jackie Cucco reported for The Toy Book in February.

"Cabbage Patch Kids are the prime example of the lightning-in-a-bottle phenomenon that the toy industry has been looking to recreate every single day since."

"That same year, he incorporated the company Original Appalachian Artworks and opened BabyLand General Hospital to the public, a renovated medical facility in Cleveland, Georgia, where kids could adopt the handmade baby dolls."

The concept of "adopting" the dolls proved critical to their future success. Each one came with a birth certificate, giving children a sense of responsibility and concern for their doll. 

BabyLand General Hospital

Xavier Roberts of Cabbage Patch Kids opened BabyLand General Hospital as a home for the dolls and tourist destination for toy lovers in his hometown of Cleveland, Georgia, in 2009.  (Courtesy BabyLand General Hospital)

Little People dolls drew nationwide media attention by 1981, including a cover story in Newsweek. 

The dolls also drew controversy. 


Martha Nelson (later Thomas), the artist cited in The Toy Book article, claimed she did more than just "influence" Roberts’ doll designs. 

"It was my idea," Nelson told The Christian Science Monitor in Dec. 1983.

"I started working on the design in 1971 and developed it over the years."

Cabbage Patch Kid with adoption papers

Cabbage Patch Kids feature clever marketing. Each doll comes with an adoption certificate.  (Courtesy BabyLand General Hospital)

She sued Roberts for $1 million, claiming he stole her doll concepts after the two met and did business together in 1976. 

The claim was settled out of court for undisclosed terms.

‘Cabbage Patch Kids Riots’ of 1983

Little People dolls were rebranded Cabbage Patch Kids in 1982, after Roberts signed a sophisticated licensing deal with toy-making giant Coleco.

His dolls enjoy an organic small-town origin story.

Customers scramble for Cabbage Patch Kids

Cabbage Patch Dolls at Hamleys, a top London toy store. Hundreds of people clamored for the dolls when the store opened at 9 a.m. on Dec. 3, 1983.   (Carl Bruin/Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

But the frenzy was orchestrated by a New York City legend of public relations, Richard Weiner, and powered by the money and distribution reach of Coleco, a former giant of the toy industry.

"Weiner … sparked the fad by winning segments on three network morning TV shows in early November" of 1983, public relations industry newsletter O’Dwyers wrote in a 2014 obituary.

Cabbage Patch Kids appeared in 1983 at the International Toy Fair in New York City. 

"He introduced the dolls at a press conference in the Central Park Zoo in June."

Cabbage Patch Kids also appeared that year at the International Toy Fair in New York City and at "mass adoption" events at high-profile, kid-friendly locations such as children's museums that generated nationwide headlines.

Johnny Carson with Cabbage Patch Kid

On "The Tonight Show," host Johnny Carson holds a Cabbage Patch doll during a new products segment on Dec. 16, 1983.  (Frank Carroll/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Cabbage Patch Kids even appeared on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson back when late-night talk had the power to both shape and define the national culture.

The simmering demand exploded the day after Thanksgiving — not yet known as Black Friday — with a frenzy dubbed the Cabbage Patch Kids Riots.

"A crowd of 5,000 stormed a Charleston, West Virginia, department store," Time magazine reported days later. 


"They knocked over the display table. People were grabbing at each other, pushing and shoving. It got ugly," a manager told Time magazine, which added that "he armed himself with a baseball bat to defend his position behind the counter."

One woman suffered a broken leg "when another crowd of 1,000 turned violent after waiting eight hours to get into a Zayre store in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania," the article reported.

Cabbage Patch Kids 1983

Shoppers who waited three hours in the rain pick up rare Cabbage Patch Kids Dolls at the Toys "R" Us in Commack, New York, on Nov. 25, 1983. (Dick Yarwood/Newsday RM via Getty Images)

Roberts apparently witnessed some of the nationwide chaos in person.

"I'm just amazed," he told Time. "Sometimes I just stand there watching, and no one knows that I'm the one who started it all."

BabyLand General Hospital

Xavier Roberts, now 68, remains the quiet force behind Cabbage Patch Kids, according to several sources.

The patriarch of Cabbage Patch Kids "is still pulling the strings from behind the curtain," said Zahn.

BabyLand General Hospital

Xavier Roberts, the creator of Cabbage Patch Kids, opened BabyLand General Hospital as a home for the dolls and a tourist destination for toy lovers in his hometown of Cleveland, Georgia, in 2009.  (Courtesy BabyLand General Hospital)

He rarely makes public appearances, but enjoys the status of a living legend in the industry.

Roberts built a sprawling new BabyLand General Hospital in 2009 in his hometown of Cleveland, Georgia. 

"Cabbage Patch Kids offered American children a soft, cuddly playmate in a world of hard toys and cold electronics." — National Toy Hall of Fame

Cabbage Patch Kids are still born there, including exclusive handmade dolls — stitched much like Roberts’ original Little People and sold for a premium. 

BabyLand is a major tourist attraction, bringing about 250,000 people each year to the tiny town in the Appalachian foothills. 


The movie "Billion Dollar Babies: The True Story of the Cabbage Patch Kids," narrated by Neil Patrick Harris, made the independent film festival circuit in 2022. It played at select theaters around the country last week and will appear at others here in December.

Xavier Roberts in London

Xavier Roberts is pictured with some of his Cabbage Patch Kids in the bath at the Mayfair Hotel in London on Oct. 22, 1984, during a European tour.  (Ron Burton/Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

Cabbage Patch Kids were inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in November — on the 40th anniversary of their explosion into the national consciousness.

Cabbage Patch Kids "offered American children a soft, cuddly playmate in a world of hard toys and cold electronics," the National Toy Hall of Fame noted in its induction announcement.

"Consumers could not get enough of the dolls, each with its own name, its unique, lumpy rounded face, and adoption papers."

National Toy Hall of Fame inductees

The 2023 National Toy Hall of Fame inductees. From left, NERF, Fisher-Price Corn Popper, Cabbage Patch Kids, and baseball cards. They will be permanently installed at the Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, New York. (National Toy Hall of Fame via AP)

In addition to inciting the frenzy of 1983, the Hall of Fame noted, Cabbage Patch Kids inspired later holiday crazes, including Tickle Me Elmo, Beanie Babies and Furby.


"None ever matched the phenomenon of Cabbage Patch Kids," said Zahn. 

The reclusive "Xavier Roberts," he added, "is almost like a mythical figure."

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