Pokemon. It's one of the biggest kid fads of the last decade, but the Pokemon craze didn't come out of thin air. A series of events set the stage for the card-trading, game-playing, collectible craze. And once Pokemon caught on, it just kept getting stronger. Here is a timeline of important dates from the craze that launched a thousand Pikachus.

1951 Topps introduces its first baseball card set. Although baseball cards had been around for decades, selling cards in packs encourages trading. By the 1980s, sports and nonsports cards became big-money collectibles.

1954 The movie "Gojira" is released in Japan. Two years later, a version called "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" opens in the United States. So begins the Japanese craze of strange creatures fighting one another.

Aug. 28, 1965 Pokemon creator Satoshi Tajiri is born. As a child he searched for bugs under rocks. This insect collection gives him the idea for Pokemon.

1972 The first home video game, Magnavox Odyssey, goes on sale.

1985 The Nintendo Entertainment System goes on sale in the United States. With hundreds of games and good graphics, it becomes the leading home video game company.

1989 Game Boy comes out. More than 88 million of the hand-held devices have been sold.

February 1996 Pokemon is born. Two games for the Game Boy, Red and Blue, go on sale in Japan. The object is to capture and train tiny creatures known as Pokemon or "pocket monsters." To get all 150, you need both versions of the game. By using cables you can trade and fight Pokemon with your friends.

November 1996 The Pokemon Strategy Card game is introduced in Japan. Now, even kids who don't play video games can try to catch 'em all.

April 1997 The Pokemon television show begins in Japan. The main character is named Satoshi, after Pokemon's creator.

Dec. 16, 1997 More than 600 Japanese TV viewers are taken to hospitals after

getting sick while watching a "Pokemon" episode that showed a bright white explosion followed by flashes of red, white and blue.

July 1998 "Mewto Strikes Back," the first Pokemon movie, opens in Japan.

July 2, 1998 Passengers on Air Nippon Airlines can fly on a Pokemon-decorated 767 airplane.

August 1998 The official Web site is launched: www.pokemon.com.

August 27, 1998 Pokemon comes to America! Topeka, Kansas, is renamed "To Pikachu" for a day. And 10 Pikachu yellow Volkswagen Beetles hit the streets.

September 1998 Pokemon Red and Blue are introduced in North America.

Sept. 7, 1998 The animated "Pokemon" hits U.S. television. Satoshi's name is changed to Ash Ketchum.

December 1998 Wizards of the Coast introduces the Pokemon card game in America.

Jan. 1, 1999 In The Washington Post's annual list of things that are "In" and "Out," Pokemon is "In." Tamagochis, tiny virtual pets, are "Out."

Feb. 13, 1999 "Pokemon" joins the WB Saturday morning lineup. By the end of the year, "Pokemon" is the top-rated kids show on television. More than 5 million people watch each show.

April 9, 1999 Nintendo's George Harrison tells The Washington Post: "We consciously launched the TV show for the intention of selling our products." Some people don't like this. Says Katharina Kopp of the Center for Media, Education: "The whole [`Pokemon'] program is a commercial. . . . The plot line is the plot of the [Game Boy] game. It is very difficult for kids to distinguish between the show and the game and other products they want to buy."

April 19, 1999 Trouble is brewing as schools begin to ban Pokemon. The problem? Students aren't paying attention to class and are getting into fights when they trade the cards. Tim Stonich, an elementary school principal in Kirkland, Washington, said he didn't have time to settle all the trade disputes: "I've got enough on my mind. I've got to worry about kids learning to read . . . though they read the Pokemon cards pretty well." Things are different at Thornbury Primary in England. Members of the Pokemon club can trade cards, but only for 20 minutes at Friday lunch.

June 1999 Pokemon Pinball hits North America.

July 1999 "The Official Pokemon Handbook" is in the Top 20 on the USA Today bestseller list. But fake products are cropping up, too. Also: Nintendo introduces Pokemon Snap, the first Pokemon game for Nintendo 64.

Aug. 11, 1999 At Grace Fellowship Church in Colorado Springs, Pastor Mark Juvera warns kids that Pokemon products are evil, then burns Pokemon cards with a blowtorch. His 9-year-old son tears the limbs and head off a Pokemon doll.

September 1999 The TV show "Digimon: Digital Monsters" starts running on Fox. Some people think Digimon is just a rip-off of Pokemon. Fox also has "Monster Ranchers," another show about tiny, fighting monsters.

Sept. 23, 1999 Two 9-year-olds from New York join two California children in suing Nintendo. They say Nintendo is operating an "illegal gambling enterprise" because some Pokemon cards are scarcer than others, causing kids to buy lots of packs in search of rare, valuable cards.

October 1999 The Early Learning Centre toy chain in England bans Pokemon, saying it's too violent. Meanwhile, the Pokemon Yellow Version is released. The fastest-selling Nintendo title has sold more than 2.8 million copies.

November 1999 Burger King starts offering Pokemon toys with its Kids Meals.

Nov. 2, 1999 A Florida seventh-grader is charged with felony battery after being accused of choking a teacher who took away his Pokemon cards.

Nov. 10, 1999 "Pokemon: The First Movie" opens in America. The moral of the movie: "This just proves that fighting is wrong." A reviewer in The Washington Post calls it "a dull, crudely animated Pokemon by-product." Most kids don't agree. The movie earns $87 million. The second Pokemon movie, "Pokemon the Movie 2000," will be released in the United States this July.

Nov. 22, 1999 Pokemon appears on the cover of Time magazine with the words: "Beware of the Poke Mania." The problem of the craze, Time says, is the "Gotta Catch 'Em All" mentality.

December 1999 Pokemon is the best-selling gift of the holidays. In the United States alone, 150 companies make more than 1,500 Pokemon products, including macaroni and cheese, ice cream, musical jewelry boxes, chewable vitamins, inflatable

furniture and sewing patterns. Pokemon's total sales worldwide: $7 billion.

Dec. 26, 1999 In a USA Today Weekend poll, 56 percent of the people say the Pokemon craze will not "last past the holidays."

Dec. 27, 1999 Burger King recalls more than 25 million plastic "Pokeball" after a 13-month-old girl dies when one half of a 3-inch balls covers her mouth and nose. The following month a 4-month-old boy suffocates.

Dec. 31, 1999 "Pokemon" ends the year as the most-searched term on the Lycos Web search engine.

Jan. 2, 2000 According to USA Weekend, antiques experts say Pokemon and Beanie Babies won't be worth very much money in the future. Why? Too many people are collecting them.

Jan. 11, 2000 Two mothers at a Pennsylvania bus stop pull each other's hair during an argument over a trade made by their sons.

March 6, 2000 Pokemon 2000 Stadium goes on sale.

March 21, 2000 "Pokemon: The First Movie" is released on video.

April 2000 Trading Card Game introduced on Game Boy, with 18 new cards.

April 25, 2000 KidsPost does a story on the Pokemon craze.