Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and Ty Warner are all inventors who raked in a pretty penny for their creations. Though that last name may not ring a bell, Mr. Warner amassed the greatest fortune of the three. His invention didn’t bring light to the world or allow the human voice to travel amazing lengths, it was designed to simply sit on a child’s shelf. Warner’s barely stuffed stuffed animals, better known as Beanie Babies, netted him more than $4 billion. Check out our slideshow for nine other largely useless—and in some cases just plain dumb—products that made their creators millions.
1. Billy Bob Teeth
These prosthetic dentures that make you look like an inbred hillbilly came about thanks to a partnership between a dental student and ex-college football player, both in need of money to pay off student debt. The silly novelty launched a line of products—including zombie feet sandals and hats with hair—that have grossed roughly $40 million since 1994. The company’s new bigger seller? Novelty pacifiers.
When applied directly to the forehead, this small homeopathic stick supposedly relieves headaches. HeadOn became popular thanks to an unbearably annoying commercial that went viral. While the product is made almost entirely of wax and cannot be backed by a single iota of scientific research, more than six million tubes were sold at about $8 a pop in 2006 alone. The placebo effect is clearly in effect.
3. The Pet Rock
Advertising executive Gary Dahl managed to make millions by decorating rocks with googly eyes and selling them as pets. His product—if you can even call it that—debuted in 1975 and swept the nation. In the first six months Dahl sold five million rocks at $3.95 apiece, nabbing a profit equal to $56 million in today’s economy. Why parents didn’t just glue their own googly eyes on a rock from the yard remains a mystery.
4. The Snuggie
Despite the fact that you can make your own sleeved blanket by wearing a bathrobe backwards, the Snuggie has snagged an impressive $200 million in profit. Ridiculous commercials made this product a media sensation and source of parody. Buzz from the likes of Jon Stewart, Jay Leno and Bill Maher is why more than 20 billion Snuggies have been sold since 2008. Buy the new camo version and you can murder helpless animals without getting cold!
All the rage in 1996, Tamagotchi is an electronic pet on an egg-like keychain that “dies” without near-constant attention. Using a variety of annoying sounds, the virtual pest—we mean, pet— alerts its owner when it desires food, wants to play or needs someone to clean up a massive dump. As of 2010, 74 million Tamagotchis had been sold, grossing about $900 million. Moreover, the toy has led to two films, three animated series and several Nintendo games.
6. The Plastic Wishbone
Saddened that only two people can make a wish at each Thanksgiving table, grown man-boy Ken Ahroni started LuckyBreak, a company that produces fake wishbones (for wimpy kids who cry when they can’t have absolutely everything). The business now makes 30,000 plastic bones a day and reports sales of over $2.5 million each year. The Etruscans, who supposedly started the wishbone-breaking tradition 2,400 years ago, think this product is total bullshit.
7. Big Mouth Billy Bass
While this novelty item isn’t all that popular anymore, the animatronic singing fish was a huge hit in the late '90s and early 2000s. More than one million fish (at about $20 a pop) were sold in the year 2000 alone, spawning copycat products like Boogie Bass and Rocky Rainbow Trout. Since Big Mouth only plays two songs, this novelty is only “novel” for a very short period of time.
8. Silly Bandz
Unless you’ve been hanging with tween girls (we seriously hope not) you may not have seen these rubber bands shaped like animals, objects, numbers and letters that kids wear on their wrists. While each band is just $.25, the demand is so huge that the company has become a $100 million toy empire in just a few years. Celebrities, non-profits and television shows have paired with Silly Bandz to create themed packs of bracelets and a number of other associated products.
9. Wacky Wall Walker
After receiving the nation’s first Wacky Wall Walker as a gift from China, Ken Hakuta bought the rights for $100,000 and began marketing the product in Washington, D.C. While sales for the jelly-like toy that appears to walk down the wall it’s thrown against were initially slow, a mention in The Washington Post caused a craze and within a few months, 240 million Wacky Wall Walkers were sold, netting Ken about $80 million.
Next: Totally Insane Japanese Inventions
10. Beanie Babies
While people initially scoffed at these bean-filled animals, the haters shut their mouths when creator Ty Warner sold 300,000 babies at his first toy show. Warner never advertised, didn’t sell to major chains and retired models after the stock ran out, making the product harder to obtain and therefore more in demand. He’s now sitting on—or, rather, rolling in—about $4.5 billion.