Back in 1977, the McDonald's St. Louis regional advertising manager was just another marketer with a brilliantly simple idea: Why not create a meal just for kids? In 1979 McDonald's rolled out the U.S.'s first Happy Meal. It was circus-wagon-themed and came with the standard hamburger or cheeseburger option, as well as French fries, cookies, a soft drink and, of course, a toy. Upon opening their meal, kids got either a "McWrist" wallet, a "McDoodler" stencil, a puzzle lock, an ID bracelet, a spinning top or a McDonaldland-character eraser.
Though the culinary options have basically remained the same (Chicken McNuggets were added in 1983), the toys have changed nearly every week. A big moment for the meal came in 1987 when the first Disney Happy Meal debuted. Since then, Mickey Mouse, Cinderella, Aladdin, Simba, Nemo and all 101 dalmatians have made appearances. In addition to the Disney favorites, a great number of other toys and characters have found their way into the Happy Meal box: Transformers (which are now highly prized among collectors), Hello Kitty, Legos, Teletubbies and G.I. Joe. But none have experienced the insane popularity of Ty's Teenie Beanie Babies. McDonald's introduced a miniature version of the wildly popular stuffed animals in 1997, selling more than 100 million that year and further propelling a nationwide Beanie Baby craze. The intense popularity resulted in McDonald's continuing to offer Teenie Beanies annually through the year 2000, in 2004 (when they featured Beanies for original McDonald's stars Ronald, Birdie, Hamburglar and Grimace in honor of the Happy Meal's 25th anniversary) and as recently as 2009.