There was a time, not long ago, when little bean-filled animals were coveted by Americans of all ages. They littered car dashboards, kids' bedrooms, and for adults, were as lucrative as trading stocks. The Beanie Babies craze in the 1990s was nothing short of a cultural phenomenon. Which is why when Ty Incorporated, the maker of Beanie Babies, announced it was retiring the plush animals, it was nothing short of a calamity in the Beanie Babies community.
It was such a dramatic announcement that the "CBS Evening News" covered it in September of 1999. CBS News correspondent Anthony Mason was tasked with the assignment of essentially delivering the little stuffed creatures' eulogy.
"For years nothing's been hotter than those cuddly little animals with cute little names," reported Mason. "But abruptly this week the makers of Beanie Babies, Ty Incorporated, announced over the internet that it's over. "
Shop owner Joe Diamond had to post the news on the shelves of his store. The doomsday was set for December 31, 1999.
"Beanie babies are dead, it's over," he said. "Millennium, no more Beanie Babies."
There would be no more Quackers the Duck or Pinkie the Flamingo, the company announced every last one would be retired. The impending deadline motivated collectors to rush to stores to try and get their hands on their beloved Beanie Babies before it was too late.
"That's why I'm here now buying them," said a shopper Mason interviewed.
"I'm checking right now to see what I'm missing in my collection," said another buyer.
The internet was still getting its sea legs in 1999 but there were enough avid fans to support an online community dedicated to Beanie Babies. Leonard Tannenbaum's Beanie Nation website was overwhelmed with mournful messages like "The End is Coming." The sheer volume of comments nearly crashed his site.
"To them this is really affecting their lives more than most things that you guys have on the news, this to them is everything," said Tannenbaum.
For perspective, collectors had been known to pay $5,000 for certain Beanie Babies like Peanut the Elephant.
"But isn't that cute, what would you rather have, a new car or Peanut the Elephant?" joked Tannenbaum.
In truth the fad was starting to fade. Store owners said Pokemon was the new hot toy.
"But it's not the same as Beanie Babies, Beanie Babies were unto themselves," said shop owner Joe Diamond.
"I will survive, it'll be difficult but I will manage," said a shopper.
The billionaire creator of Beanie Babies, Ty Warner, managed just fine until he got into legal trouble. In 2013 he plead guilty to tax evasion charges and was sentenced to two years' probation and fined $100,000. The sentence was controversial, questioned as "too light" by critics.
But Warner's legacy lives on in the minds of everyone who grew up in the 1990s. And to this day, his plush toys are fetching big bucks. One auction on EBay lists two Princess Diana Beanie Babies for $652,000.