Aug 10, 2023 - News

Chicago history lesson: Ty Warner and Beanie Babies

Photo of a man signing autographs next to stuffed animals

Ty Warner, creator of Beanie Babies toys, signs autographs at the American International Toy Fair in 2003 in New York. Photo: Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Ty Warner, the infamous suburban Chicago creator of '90s-defining toys Beanie Babies, takes center stage in a new movie.

Driving the news: Zach Galifianakis re-creates Warner's rise and fall in "The Beanie Bubble," currently streaming on Apple TV.

Of note: Filmmakers took creative liberties with the drama, stating right up front: "There are parts of the truth you just can't make up. The rest, we did."

Backstory: Warner, who grew up in La Grange, was a sales rep at Dakin Toy Co. After getting fired, he came up with the idea of "understuffed" toy cats that were floppier and more malleable.

Details: Beanie Babies sold for around $5 each back then, but they could earn up to $10,000 when resold on eBay, according to Zac Bissonnette, who wrote the book on Beanie Babies.

  • Warner would phase out certain animals and release exclusives to make the toys more valuable.
  • The company also sold Beanie Babies on its website — a revolutionary move at the time.

Flash forward: In 1999, Warner announced he was forever retiring Beanie Babies to make the toys even more desirable. The market is fickle, though, and consumers saw it as a marketing ploy and moved on to the next thing.

  • In 2014, Warner was sentenced to two years' probation for failing to report more than $24 million in income and evading nearly $5.6 million in federal taxes.n in income, and evading nearly $5.6 million in federal taxes.
  • The sentencing judge lauded Warner's charitable gifts to hospitals and youth organizations as the reason the defendant skipped jail time.

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Chicago.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Chicago stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Chicago.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more