On a recent picnic outing with friends in a local park, Missus Boomer saw a small toy nestled in the grass. She picked it up and gave it to Mister B. It was a plastic long snouted dinosaur. Some poor child undoubtedly lost track of it, and now here it was, immediately transporting Mister B back to his own childhood years.
Plastic injection-molded toys became possible after polystyrene was invented in 1927. One of the first mass-market toys to take advantage of this new, durable material was Lego, introduced in 1932. After the War, the stage was set for toy manufacturers to supply a baby boomer generation with all types of toys. While Tonka relied on child-resistant metal, and Lincoln Logs continued to be made from good old-fashioned wood, plastic toys were the future, as stated in The Graduate (1968) when a friend of the father of Dustin Hoffman’s character pulls him aside to give him that famous one word of advice.
When it comes to the ubiquitous toys manufactured after World War II, there probably aren’t too many as popular — especially among young boys — as plastic dinosaurs. Like today, boomer boys would study and memorize the names of the dinosaurs, only to take their plastic toys and stage mock battles.
Mister Boomer had a small set of dinosaurs, consisting of a flying Pterodactyl, dorsal-plated Stegosaurus, super-sized Brontosaurus, vicious Tyrannosaurus Rex, three-horned Triceratops, armored Ankylosaurus, plant-eating Trachedon and the sail-finned Dimetrodon. In Mister B’s dino vs. dino battles, the T-Rex never won. They were dull brown, gray and green colors, not the brighter reds, yellows and greens of later-year 1960s plastic dinos, and of course, there was no such thing as a dinosaur whose tail didn’t drag on the ground. Besides, toy makers could use the tail as a way of stabilizing the plastic figure to stand.
Mister B was fascinated by all types of dinosaurs. It was one of his favorite drawing subjects. Sometimes he’d mix World War II elements in, like U.S. dive bombers attacking dinosaurs, or dinosaurs eating Nazi soldiers. Other times, the drawings pictured dinosaur battles that echoed scenes from movies. His drawings and play were fueled by a steady stream of movies containing dinosaurs throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. Alongside allegorical dinosaur films like Godzilla (1954), there were movies filled with special effects for B-movie viewers. Besides space travel, what down-to-earth subject matter could possibly be more enticing for 1950s filmmakers interested in special effects than dinosaurs? There were many films made, most centered on a lost area of the globe being rediscovered, or formerly extinct animals coming to life. Of note, other than the Dinosaurus! (1960) trailer pictured above, there was King Dinosaur (1955); Lost Continent (1951, with Cesar Romero and Hugh Beaumont, no less); and Two Lost Worlds (1950). Mister B saw them at both drive-in theaters and at home in glorious black and white on the family television.
What role did dinosaurs — and plastic dinosaur toys — play in your boomer Wonder years?