City Cast

Inside Chicago’s Role in Beanie Babie Mania

Sidney Madden
Sidney Madden
Posted on July 31
Beanie Babies creator Ty Warner

Beanie Babies creator Ty Warner in New York City in 2003. (Chris Hondros / Getty)

Thirty years after Beanie Babies were introduced to the world, a new film is out depicting the rise and fall of the plush toy empire and its eccentric Chicagoland creator.

Who is Ty Warner?

Before the LaGrange native was known as a reclusive billionaire, he was a toy salesman who got fired for selling his own products on the side. After seeing plush toy cats abroad, Warner returned to Chicagoland to launch Beanie Babies, Chicago magazine reported.

A table of Beanie Babies

A table of Beanie Babies in 2002. (Lea Suzuki / San Francisco Chronicle / Getty)

What made Beanie Babies so special?

The toys were stuffed with plastic pellets, which gave them more mobility than other toys on the market. 

But they were so popular in the ‘90s because Warner would amp up demand by routinely retiring animals, putting out limited stock, and being selective where the toys were sold. Collectors on eBay went wild. A $5 toy could be valued for a couple thousand dollars.

The frenzy was worldwide: Ty Inc. pulled $1.4 billion in 1998, according to Morning Brew. In Oak Brook, where Warner lived, seeing 100 parents outside a toy store wasn’t unusual.

But all good things must come to an end …

As demand waned, Warner announced in 1999 all toys would be retired but reversed course and brought them back. Interest wasn't the same though.

Warner has since been convicted for tax evasion, faced abuse allegations from a former partner, and has been caught up in legal disputes with luxury hotels he owns.

And the film?

Based on Zac Bissonnette’s book of the same name, some critics are taking issue with the fictional liberties filmmakers took. Others are unimpressed with yet another movie about a commercial product without much thoughtful critique.

+ Speaking of films with Chicago connections, we explored the local sneakerhead scene after “Air” was released.

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