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Remembering Fun, Dangerous, and Sometimes Deadly Toys
Proof That Our Parents Wanted To Kill Us!
Anyone born up to the mid-1980’s can remember a favorite toy that, looking back, makes you want to say: "What the hell were my parents thinking?!" Now, I am not talking about obviously dangerous “toys” like M-80s, BB Guns, Swiss Army Pocket Knives and Cherry Bombs. What I am thinking about are toy products that were advertised and sold with the best of intentions. I know there are a lot more toys I could have listed but, short of writing a book, I thought it best to list a few of my personal favorites.
Many of these death traps... er... eh... mmm... I mean, children's toys can explain a good chunk of the reason behind the baby-boom era. Face it: after reading about some of these toys, it’s no wonder many families were large - many parents probably believed that the toy manufacturers were doing a little bit of "thinning out the heard"... so to speak.
Between toxic fumes, fire hazards, the potential for losing a limb (or an eye) and even a shot at radiation sickness or poisoning… who would have thought that just by the sheer fact that you are reading this you are a survivor? You are among the fittest of the species. Your parents must be so proud of you. Well, maybe not.
So let's take a look at some toys that were around before the start of a new era: the era of the law-suit. If anything, these toys have proven that the one thing that makes these toys so damn attractive... is the one thing Madison Avenue couldn't advertise: the potential for real danger.
The kids today don't know what they are missing out on.
Click Clack Clackers
Such a simple toy, and to some people it looked so harmless. But to some Clackers looked a lot like the Argentine weapon known as bolas. The 1970s briefly popular toy called Click Clacks (or, depending on where you grew up, Knockers, Knocker Bockers, Clackers, Ka-Bangers, Knicker Knackers, etc.) was meant to be a noisy twist on the classic paddleball game. If you don't know the story, then you're thinking the ocassional smooshed fingers, and maybe you are partly right. Those spheres could deliver a mighty whack to the untrained hand, and sometimes even even worse consequences.
Clackers were actually two hard plastic marbles, each about two inches in diameter, attached to a ring with sturdy string. Yes, some still believe the myth that the click clacks' spheres were made of glass, truthfully no manufacturer has ever produced glass clackers. Click Clacks were made of transparent, often colored, or sparkled acrylic which had a close resemblance to glass. The real danger was if you had managed to smack your Click Clacks together long enough and hard enough to reach the breaking point. The thick acrylic balls would shatter, sending flying shards of Click Clack. Usually, the noisy spheres were chipped away a little bit at a time, but there some that were on the receieving end of a surprise shattering, and holy shit...were you in for a treat or maybe some stitches.
The Clacker concept was as basic as the toy itself, you simply put your finger in the plastic ring, and by using a light hand motion; the two balls would swing apart and together, making the clacking noise that give the toy its name, and parents headaches. With a little practice, it was possible to get the marbles swinging so that they would clack together above the hand as well as below.
Click Clack Clackers production was ended after reports of children being injured by clacker shrapnel. Come on, the idea of playing with fast-moving, heavy spheres, made out of hard acrylic plastic, that could shatter upon impact of each other, and who could that possibily pose a safety hazard?
Click Clacks had a brief rebirth onto the store shelves in the 1990s. The producer tried a redesign of the clackers consisting of a handle and plastic triangles attached to the plastic marbles. Allowing weight to freely move the hard arcrylic spheres. But the same problem as the original toy concept was the worry. Shattering pieces of clacks were the problem, not the string, or the pastic wand.
This was a great toy...not only for the shatter pieces of plastics globes of death, but face it in the hands of the right child in could be a equilizer against bullies. Let not forget the potential for missing teeth, or the strangulation factor.
Jarts or Lawn Darts
Now here's a game that could have sold millions more, if the manufacturers would have been permitted to place a warning label stating that this product may cause serious injury or possible death if misused.
On December 19, 1988, the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned lawn darts from sale in the United States. By 1989, Jarts were also banned in Canada. Lawn darts have been responsible three deaths. It should be noted that the specific incident that caused Lawn Jarts to be made illegal also involved beer, and that, when engaged in responsibly, the recreational use of Lawn Jarts is less dangerous than baseball. Lawn Jarts remain legal for use in the United Kingdom as well as other countries.
Lawn darts (also called Jarts, yard darts or lawn darts) iwas a lawn game for two or more players. A lawn dart set usually includes four large darts and two targets. The dart themselves were basically plastic with a weight metal tip which you would toss the dart underhand into the air and hopefully have it stick into the ground inside a ring target. The game was played with the same idea and objectives as horseshoe and regular darts. Even though the Yard Dart's tip was not sharp enough to be dangerous when played properly, the problem was when the jart was misused, add drunken friends or bad judgement, and suddenly a Lawn Jart can cause skull punctures and other serious injuries.
Another version of the jart game was "nuclear lawn darts": Where old maps were place on theground and used as targets.
I remember once around the age of 10, while a friend and were tossing Lawn Darts in the air as high as we could... one came down and the heavy Jart tip busted through my mom's new bird bath fountain. The rest of the details after that moment still remain...hmm...fuzzy.
Jarts seem to have always kind of been somekind of inside joke amongst the people of the midwest since they were deemed illegal. I've heard stories of people losing grip of the Jart and taking out a window. Play games where the object was to toss the dart into the air and get it to stick into an upside paper cup. I remember playing a version of Lawn Dart "stick" that's when one person stands with feet spread apart, and the other person throws the dart as close as they can to the "victims" feet without "sticking" them. Funny the one who throws the dart and injures the other person is the ...LOSER.
Educational Cartoon on The Atom
Atomic Energy Lab
This as got to be the scariest toy ever created. Talk about the age of atomic fear brought straight into your living room. This must have been the perfect gift for the young terrorist in your family. Because nothing says "I Love You" more than giving your loved one their own Atomic Energy Lab kit, complete with radioactive material.
In 1951, A.C. Gilbert, creator of the Erector Set, introduced his U-238 Atomic Energy Lab. That's right kiddies! Your own radioactive learning set, that would make you the envy of the science club. Gilbert, was allegedly, "often compared to Walt Disney for his creative genius," must have believed that nuclear power could capture the imaginations of the children of the world, and what better way could there be than to package it, and sell it as a learning tool. Kind of like... in the same way a rock polishing kit, or microscope set is sold. For a mere $49.50 (which would equal around $350.00 today), the kit came complete with three "very low-level" radioactive sources, a Geiger-Mueller radiation counter, a Wilson Cloud Chamber (to see paths of alpha particles), a Spinthariscope (to see "live" radioactive disintegration), four samples of Uranium-bearing ores, and an Electroscope to measure radioactivity. The neighbor kids must have been glowing with envy.
Your child's personal nuclear lab came with an Atomic Energy Manual, that was partionally written with help from the director of the Manhattan Project, General Leslie Groves, and also included a comic book entitled "Learn How Dagwood Splits the Atom" because anybody who can construct a sandwich like Dagwood should have no problem splitting an atom. Plus an added feature... a government manual "Prospecting for Uranium." Hand to God, I can't make this kind of stuff up!
Apparently, nuclear physics didn't rank as high as cap guns on the kid's interest scale . The atomic lab toy was only sold for one year. No one really knows what effects the Uranium-bearing ores might have had on those few lucky, yet unassuming children who's parent actually bought them the set, but we do now know that exposure to the U-238 isotope has been linked to Gulf War syndrome, cancer, leukemia, and lymphoma, among other serious ailments. Even more uncertain would be what the longterm impact on a generation of children who were being raised by the kind of parents who would give them an Atomic Energy Lab. Can I get a "Holy Shit?"
By far, this was the most elaboratetake home Atomic Energy educational set ever created. OK it may have been the only one ever on the market. But I think it may have been a blessing, that it was only available from 1951 to 1952. After all its was very expensive for the time ($50.00 which is equal to $350.00 today) probably because even back then Geiger counters and radioactive isotopes weren't cheap. I'm pretty sure, it may have been a tad sophisticated for the average child.Today, it is so highly prized by collectors (and maybe small countries) that a complete set can go for more than 100 times the original price. Yeah, I'd like see someone try to ship out this kit, in our current Home Land Security climate.
Gilbert offered another set, as well, the No. 11 Atomic Energy set. Which included the spinthariscope, the radioactive ore and the manual. The Geiger counter could be purchased separately.
Gilbert had high expectations for America's youth, and he tried his best to help mold a future of engineers, doctors and leaders by providing the proper toys to feed the imaginations. He was inventor of the Erector Set. He saw its commercial appeal, and then he set higher goal for his company. His company became the leading manufacturer of scientific toys (chemistry sets) and construction sets (Erector), all were highly prized and widely acclaimed at the retail level.
The set originally contents of the lab kit was:
U-239 Geiger counter
Wilson cloud chamber
Low-level radiation sources:
Four Uranium-bearing ore samples
Nuclear spheres for making a molecular model
Prospecting for Uranium — a book
Gilbert Atomic Energy Manual
"Learn How Dagwood Split the Atom" comic book
Three C batteries
1951 Gilbert Toys catalog
I'm sure this was just family fun by the boat load. Radiation sickness family fun.
Creepy Crawlers Fright Factory
Creepy Crawler's Fright Factory
Creepy Crawlers and its fright factory is the most common name associated with a toy made by Mattel beginning in 1964. A more generic term for the toy is "Thingmaker". I like calling it exposed hot plate with metal cast trays, that you could pour liquid plastic into, and watch it cook (proper term would be cure) until it becomes somekind of rubberized thing. No fire hazard, chance to sevre burns or inhalation a toxic fumes here boys and girls.
A Thingmaker toy consisted of a series of die-cast metal molds, that kids poured a liquid chemical substance called Plasti-Goop. The Goop wasavailable in many colors and varieties. The mold is then heated atop an open-face electric hot plate oven. Fun, Fun, Ouch! Fun... The Goop is cured by the heat, and when its cooled (that is important...cooled) whatever it is you molded can be removed from the mold. Look you now have a solid, rubbery replica of a bug, or an other critter.
Imagine the hours of fun that could have been had if you had this toy and the atom lab...Good Times.
Of course, Mattel packaged other molds and the sets were sold separately. Not to mention larger mold set with themes, and exclusive mold sets like Superman,Tarzan,original Mattel concepts like Squirtles, and Gangly Danglies.
I know what you youngsters in the audience are saying..."Hey, that's not dangerous...it uses a damn light bulb!". Wrong kiddies, that's the lasest version of the Thingmaker...the original 1960s version used a plug in cooker that reached about 3000 degrees fahrenheit so that it could cook the Goop in its lead molds. After testing the Creepy Crawler for doneness (done properly by poking the Creepy Crawler with a pin, usually done by touching mold with bare finger), the mold was then removed from the inferno using a bent piece of wire and was dunked into a tray of cold water. Parents had to put up with many trips to the emergency room, thanks to this little gem of a toy.
Extremely hot surface, Fingerprint removal. A chance at serious injury or disfigurement, just for critters that were toxic. Since it was the ’60s, and even though there was an out cry from the singed and sickened masses, was able to turn a deaf ear, and go right on marketing their electric 3000°F hot plate carrier of toxic fumes to children. Making this child's toy still to this day, one of the top most dangerous toys of all time.
Shrinky Dinks Commercial
Shrinky Dinks kits were basically large flexible sheets that, when heated in an oven, would shrink to small hard plates without altering their color or shape. Some sets are pre-printed with outline images of popular children's characters or other subjects, which kids then coloured in ..then bake.
Shrinky dinks were invented in 1973 by Betty Morris of Brookfield, Wisconsin. The first kits were manufactured by a major toy company. The shrink plastic is supposedly still available, so check with your local retailer or hobby center. All I remember as a kid, is my sisters and I choking on the fumes on melting plastic and thinking this is fun. My parent never thought much about it.
The sets I remember, you would take a sheet of the thin, flexible polystyrene plastic, and trace an image from something, say like a coloring book. Then you color the image in, with either colored felt-tip pens, acrylic paint, colored or pencils.. Then you would cut out the shapes. Now there is a draw back in the coloring deptment...oily or waxy substances, like cheap colored pencils, crayons, or oil paint were not suitable because they would melt or burn inthe high heat of your mom's oven. Anyway, when heated in the oven or blasted with a heat gun, the plastic shrinks down and becomes thicker, more rigid poor man's version of the tiny piece of colored design stained (plexi) glass.
Shrinky Dinks are considered to be an arts and crafts product for children, but many adult crafters find the product to be suitable for making jewelry and other projects; that they take to flea markets and new age fairs to sell for high mark up profit. In a serious note, University of California, Merced Professor Michelle Khine has applied Shrinky Dinks to create tiny structures for the application of Microfluidics to topics such as stem cell research. I wonder if this means Shrinky Dinks will be denied government funding in the future, since being associated with stem cell research?
Over the years Shrinky Dinks have had its share of recalled products, but always seems to pop back up. I'm sure the days of the noxious fumes fromdays gone by... have gone bye-bye. But like many others I survived inhaling fumes from melting polystyrene plastic. Remember kids anything with the word "poly" before it means that it a by-product from oil.
The Dangers Of Childhood
I could go on for quite sometime about surviving toys. Everything from Wood Burning Sets to turning your Pet Rock into a vicious flying killer. Another favorite toy I had was my Dad's old steam engine.
You would fill this metal tank with water, then pack the burner with sterno and light it. Once the sterno was burning, you would slide the burner into its spot under the metal water tank. The steam would build up enough to make a wheel turn. For more added fun a steam whistle was located on the top of the metal water tank.
Many of us have survive sharp edged metal toys, flying projectials, and toxic fumes. One of my favorite dangerous children's toys during research was Aqua Dots.
Aqua dots were beads that were part of a craft kit that allowed children to create "multidimensional designs." The outside coating actually became toxic when water was added to the little plastic balls. Of course kids being typical children put things in their mouths. The Aqua Dots toxicity was the effects of date-rape drug GHB. Victims of Aqua Dots could become "comatose, develop respiratory depression, or have seizures."
Who said being a kid was easy?
© 2009 St.James