If you had older siblings growing up — or at least mean-spirited friends — you probably have some sort of neurosis as a result of a prank. For me, it was the old snap gum gag — when my brother offered me a piece of gum, I’d pull at the tin foil-wrapped piece dangling from the package in his hand, only to have a spring-loaded trap snap down on my index finger (to this day, I can’t look at Doublemint gum without my finger tingling). The innate desire to play practical jokes on our fellow man should never be underestimated, as evidenced by H. Fishlove & Co., the novelty company where fake vomit still reigns supreme.
When Irving Fishlove, the Chicago-based head honcho of novelty gifts, was first presented with a fake vomit prototype in 1950s, he instantly loved it. He purchased the idea, then spent weeks perfecting the recipe through experimentation with dyes and latex. His son even recounts coming home from school to a puke-covered kitchen counter. By the time Fishlove’s fake vomit debuted in 1959 as “Whoops,” it was an immediate success. “It’s very cheap to make, so you could make a decent profit on it,” says Stan Timm, husband to Mardi Timm and fellow novelty enthusiast. “[T]he numbers we hear tend to vary, but the story is it initially sold about 100,000 units a year, which, at the time, was a lot.” Stan and Mardi Timm are among the lucky few who’ve toured the Fun Inc. factory, the company that purchased H. Fishlove & Co in the 1980s. They found one room filled with trays full of fake vomit, stretching as far as the eye could see. As it turns out, the 500 pieces of barf were curing under the skylights. Like disgustingly repulsive snowflakes, each one is a little different.
With novelty companies still churning out classic gags, it seems we’ll never lose our desire to trick an unsuspecting friend. But we’re all adults here, so why do we continue to revel in childish pranks? In fact, the psychologist Freud once asserted that people resort to jokes as a means of expressing behavior that’s usually frowned upon by society. (In other words, as long as people revel in fart jokes, Whoopie Cushions will provide a socially accepted vehicle.) Though phony puke may not be what he imagined, Freud might be right — since “Whoops” hit the market, dozens of vomit imitators have followed, still meeting with success in today’s novelty market.
Chappell Ellison is a designer, writer and design writer. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York where she serves as a contributor for The Etsy Blog and design columnist for GOOD.