1998 had its fair share of noteworthy moments: there was Google, the International Space Station, and then there was the year’s hottest animatronic toy.
That’s right, the big toy fad of 1998 was none other than Furby. Released by Tiger Electronics, Furby was one of the first attempts at producing a domestically-aimed robot and has since undergone a number of revivals.
The big-eyed and furry electronic creature rose to immediate fame and people were literally going crazy for them. Initially released for around US$35, high demand saw Furby prices skyrocket upwards of $100.
So how did they work?
Your brand-new Furby would arrive speaking ‘Furbish’ – a unique language all Furbies used with short words, simple syllables and various sounds. Part of the appeal was its limited use of English words and phrases, which would develop over time in place of Furbish. An electric motor and system of cams and gears helped to close a Furby’s eyes and mouth and raise its ears.
#1 FURBIES STILL SELL FOR A MINT ONLINE
Tiger Electronics revamped the toy in 2012, but you can still find the older, more classic models online selling for crazy prices. If you have a few Furbies stored away in your house somewhere, now might be the time to consider reviving them (or checking out their resale value on eBay!).
#2 THERE ARE LOTS OF SPECIAL FURBIES
Regular Furbies weren’t the end of development for Hasbro. Between 1998 and 2002, there were a number of special Furbies put out for sale, including Wizard Furby, Santa Furby, Jester Furby, President Furby, Kid Cuisine Furby and Hi-C Furby.
#3 AT ONE POINT THEY WERE CONSIDERED A SECURITY THREAT
The National Security Agency once banned Furby because it was feared they would listen in on classified conversations and possibly repeat confidential material. By 1999, after the craze had put endless Furbies beneath Christmas trees, the NSA issued a memo that banned them from its offices in Fort Meade.
#4 THAT SECURITY CONCERN DIDN’T GO AWAY
In recent years, Hasbro released Furby Connect, which uses an internet-connected mobile app to help it interact with the world around it. The UK consumer group ‘Which?’ in conjunction with a security consulting firm called ‘Context’ warned that a lack of robust security measures made it possible to hack into the toy and use it as a surveillance device.
#5 YOU CAN SAY MORE THAN 100 WORDS IN FURBISH
Furbish, as we mentioned above, is the Furby’s native language. Fresh from the box, Furby starts out speaking only Furbish and then begins to incorporate English into its day-to-day vocab. In 2005, an English to Furbish dictionary included 121 words including ‘whassup’ – doo-oo-tye, ‘monster’ – moh-moh and ‘diamond’ – ay-koo.
#6 HASBRO WAS SUED OVER FURBY’S RESEMBLANCE TO A MOGWAI
After its 1998 Toy Fair debut, designers at Tiger Electronics intentionally shrunk the Furby’s ears in an effort to downplay its resemblance to the Mogwai from the Gremlins movies. But it wasn’t enough to avoid a copyright infringement lawsuit from Warner Bros., which sued Hasbro for the trademark infringement in late 1998.
Did you own a Furby? What was your favourite/least favourite thing about them? Share your stories in the comments below.