In the classic movie, A Christmas Story, the character Ralphie wants a BB gun for Christmas. His mother and father tell him he’ll shoot his eye out — and even on a visit to Santa, the jolly man himself chimed in with, “You’ll shoot your eye out!” Ralphie persisted and his father bought him the BB gun through his wife’s objections. Playing outside on Christmas Day, Ralphie does in fact almost shoot his eye out when a BB ricochets off his target to hit him in the cheek. But BB guns were hardly the least dangerous toys for boomers. In fact, in Mister Boomer’s view, hazards were more the rule than the exception.
Throughout the 1950s, ’60s and into the ’70s, boomer toys contained all manner of safety hazards, from projectiles that could shoot your eye out to small pieces that could be swallowed, and cuts and bruises potential that at the time seemed like part of everyday play. Mister B recalls receiving a cheaply-made bow and arrow, the arrows being tipped with suction cups. Of course, Brother Boomer immediately grabbed an arrow and pulled the suction cups off to reveal just the wooden tip. Though blunt, it certainly had the potential for damage if the shot was errant. The bow had a string that was more appropriate for a kite, but still, Brother Boomer launched arrows at Mister B that resulted in stinging body blows.
Mister Boomer remembers making slingshots with neighborhood kids, out of tree branches and old rubber bike inner tubes. Acorns and small rocks were the choice projectiles chosen to sling. Regardless of whether a toy was inherently hazardous, boomers could play with them in a such a way as to create a hazard. Mister Boomer recalls Brother Boomer and a cousin playing with Tonka trucks. Sitting on his aunt’s basement floor, each would roll a metal truck at the other as fast as they could possibly push it, the objective being a massive crash of toys and a metallic twang that seemed to be very satisfying to them. This was the late 1950s, and Tonka trucks were made of solid metal, so there was hardly any damage to the toys in the process. Fortunately, no metal pieces flew out from the intentional accidents. Can you imagine the same scenario a decade later, when the trucks were made of plastic, of the sharp pieces that could have broken off and gone flying?
One year, Mister Boomer’s sister got an Easy Bake Oven for Christmas. Though she did not experience any injury operating the appliance, other children did. The tiny light bulb inside got hot enough to bake a tiny cake, and hundreds of kids did burn their little fingers. It was pulled off the market in the ’70s, then retooled to add safety precautions, and came back in the ’80s.
Lawn darts have been around for centuries, but whoever thought giving kids a sharp metal spike with dart fins on it was a good idea never saw a boomer play. Lawn darts became popular under various names throughout the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. Mister Boomer’s cousins had the brand name game, Jarts, but rather than toss them like horseshoes into a plastic ring on the lawn, they took to throwing them like mini-javelins at each other. Fortunately, they did not get hurt in the process, but between 1978-86, more than 6,000 children ended up in emergency rooms, and two children were killed, by playing with this toy.
The classic hazardous toy in Mister Boomer’s mind has to be Mattel’s Creepy Crawlers (also sold as Thingmaker), introduced in 1964. It was a kit that came with metal molds and a liquid that, when heated, would produce a rubbery plastic model of a spider, snake or other insect (the creepy crawlers part). A child would attach the metal mold to the provided hot plate, plug it in, drop the goop into the mold and as the plate was heated to 390 degrees, watch the liquid coalesce into a bug. Boys and girls loved this toy! Mister Boomer’s sister loved this toy, and he recently learned his spouse did as well. After numerous injuries were reported, the Consumer Products Safety Commission, created in 1973, put the kibosh on it and Mattell discontinued manufacturing the product. They brought it back in 1978 after engineering some safety checks into it. Basically, the toy no longer provided the hot plate, so kids had to have mom and dad help them heat up the goop. Yeah, that idea went well. It quickly disappeared, but was revived by another company, Toymax, in 1992.
How about you, boomers? What was your favorite hazardous toy you received for Christmas?