What’s a pog? If you didn’t come of age during the 1990s, the name may not ring a bell. But for the children of the ’90s who grew up with a Cabbage Patch Kid in one hand and a Beanie Baby in the other, pogs were an important fact of life.
Pogs transcended their lowly cardboard form to become an important cultural artifact of the ’90s, from memorializing popular icons of the time to becoming an obsession for its young players. And pogs are still used today, in a much different capacity than the schoolyard game – as official army currency overseas.
After reaching peak popularity in the mid-90s, pogs faded into obscurity from popular culture. Need a pog refresher course? Check our interactive trivia pogs, and revisit the decade’s most popular cardboard circles with us here:
1. Pogs take their name from a popular Hawaiian juice.
POG, the game’s namesake drink, is an acronym for the juice’s ingredients: pomegranate, orange and guava. Drank by 1.3 million Hawaiians each month, POG is sold in select parts of the West Coast, so if you live in California, Oregon or Washington, you may be able to get your hands on a bottle.
2. The game’s origins date back to 17th-century Japan.
Born during the Edo Period (early 1600s-late 1800s), the classic Japanese game of Menko is credited as the inspiration for pogs. Menko’s playing pieces were the size of milk caps, displayed pictures of Japanese cultural icons and were later made from cardboard – just like pogs. The gameplay was also similar, involving players trying to flip the pieces of their competitors.
3. Pogs in their present form came to America via Hawaii.
Menko migrated to Hawaii with the Japanese immigrants that settled there in the 20th century. In Hawaii, the game was played with the brightly-colored milk bottle caps from Maui’s Haleakala Dairy, which originally bottled the popular POG juice. As the story goes, the dairy workers would play games during their breaks with milk caps, becoming pogs’ early predecessor.
4. The game of pogs was popularized by a Hawaiian elementary school teacher.
A sixth-grade teacher at Waialua Elementary, Blossom Galbiso introduced her students to the old bottle cap game to help improve their math skills. The simple classroom game helped ignite a phenomenon, as the game spread in popularity across the island and soon to mainland America, where the icons players used evolved from the Haleakala Dairy bottlecaps to small cardboard circles.
5. Pogs evolved into promotional items.
In the minds of big brands, letting kids play pogs with milk caps was a wasted opportunity. As the craze spread to America, companies like Coca-Cola, McDonalds, American Airlines and Nintendo released their own sets of branded pogs.
Hollywood also got in on the pogs action, releasing pieces for major releases. And you weren’t a ’90s icon unless your face was on some pogs – even Bill Clinton had some!
6. The U.S. military uses pogs as overseas currency.
To American troops around the world, pogs are more than just a ’90s fad. The Army and Air Force Exchange Service, the U.S. military’s merchandise supplier, began supplying troops in Afghanistan with pogs in 2001 for use as army currency, aiming to cut down the weight of shipping heavy nickles and dimes overseas. With the official name “POG gift certificates,” AAFES pogs maintained the name and size of the schoolyard game with a simpler design. The army pogs were released in 5, 10, and 25 cent denominations and are still used to this day to buy items from AAFES stores around the world.