Skip to comments.Today's dangerous toys pale to those of past
Posted on 11/30/2003 2:08:21 PM PST by KneelBeforeZod
'Tis the season for dangerous toy warnings. The Public Interest Research Group issued its 18th annual "Trouble in Toyland" report Tuesday, while the Consumer Product Safety Commission was releasing its list of toys cited for safety recalls. Last week was the 31st annual presentation of the "10 Worst Toys List" from WATCH -- or World Against Toys Causing Harm.
You know the drill by now: toys that might choke a kid, toys that could put You know the drill by now: toys that might choke a kid, toys that could put somebody's eye out, toys that could poison you if you chewed them up, many of the toys so obscure that you'll never see them on the shelves.
Through ever-increasing levels of vigilance, diligence and litigiousness, we Americans theoretically keep making our toys safer and safer year by year.
I was just wondering then: How do you explain the fact that the world into which we're sending our children to play is becoming more and more dangerous every day?
Is it possible we're spending so much time sweating the little things that we've lost track of the bigger picture?
Unfortunately, I have no answer to these deep philosophical questions.
What I have is a list of my own: Favorite Dangerous Toys from Childhood.
It's a compilation actually from interviews with other guys. It's amazing that we're all still alive to talk about this stuff. Just don't let your kids read this. They'd be jealous.
First off, there used to be toy guns, lots of them.
Let's set aside for a moment the issue of BB guns or pellet guns, which were always a matter of parental dispute.
There was a time when nearly every boy had a six-shooter with a holster. Most of them fired plastic bullets.
The projectiles didn't move fast enough to break a pane of glass, but they could have certainly "put somebody's eye out" under just the right circumstances.
There were toy rifles, too. Spring-loaded ones with big cartridges.
"I had the Johnny Seven," one protective father told me wistfully. "It was seven weapons of destruction in one. You could pull out the Lugar or convert it into a grenade launcher."
Neither he nor I would allow our kids anywhere near such a thing now.
"Don't forget the dart guns," said another product of a pre-PIRG childhood.
Oh, yes, the dart guns with the hard plastic darts and the rubber suction tips. When you removed the tips, you could do some real damage to your little brother, but you had to keep in mind that his chance would come, too.
I was surprised to find one of those dart guns on this year's most dangerous toy list. I suppose the Chinese are still churning them out somewhere.
There were also bows and arrows with the same suction cup tips. Every boy knew that these could be removed and the arrow point whittled down into something more useful.
My friend Pittsburgh John did this one better. He and his brothers were allowed to have toy arrows with actual steel tips that they would let fly at squirrels and rabbits.
"I don't think we ever hit anything. I'm surprised we never killed one another," said Pittsburgh John. That possibility never curtailed their use, but when the boys started using the bow and arrow inside the garage and put holes in the wall, their father had to put his foot down.
The hazard posed by other toys was only slightly more subtle.
Take the Vac-U-Form from Mattel, which used a sizzling 110-volt hotplate to mold small toys from melted sheets of styrene plastic. The Vac-U-Form heating plate was also later used for Creepy Crawlers and Thingmaker molds.
There's no telling how many ways these would flunk the safety tests today. They could burn you. They could burn the house down. There were toxic materials that let off what were probably toxic fumes.
Boy, oh, boy. What a great toy.
"A sense of danger is what makes a toy interesting," observed another very proper father.
This particular father reminded me of the most important rule about toys: You can never keep a kid from using a toy for a purpose for which it was not intended, not that this would deter either of us from trying to anticipate each and every one.
"You can make anything dangerous depending on what you do with it," he observed. "Superman capes were dangerous because then you'd jump off the garage roof, which I did."
OK, he might be a special case.
I received varied opinions on the potential danger from chemistry sets in that time period. Everyone has a story about combining the various chemicals in random ways that they thought might blow up the house. But nobody could cite any example of actually blowing something up that way.
I've got to be careful. Kids really did get hurt with some of these toys. And I don't want to diminish the work of the safety watchdogs. You can't argue with somebody trying to protect kids.
Another buddy, Scott the Jeweler, had a favorite toy cannon that he fired off in a closed garage. It didn't really shoot anything, but it made one heck of a noise, the louder the better as far as Scott was concerned. These days there's a special category on the watch lists for dangerously loud toys.
Come to think of it, Scott is a little hard of hearing.
Yep. In the 60's, ChemLab & Gilbert(?) were the major vendors.
The experiments as described were harmless, but you had the potential for some serious combinations.
And nowa-days, anybody that's caught blowing and bending glass would be tossed under the jail for making crack pipes.
Yeah. You put on a football helmet, then pedal your butt off down Choctaw hill and see if you could jump the ditch at the bottom. If you made it you were likely to crash into a bunch of pine trees on the other side.
Back when tennis balls came in metal cans, we would remove the bottom of a can then duct tape it on top of another can that had a small touch-hole punched in the side bottom rim. Squirt some lighter fluid in, drop a tennis ball down the muzzle and put a match to the touch-hole.
A tennis ball would go bouncing across the roofs several blocks away.
Check 16 CFR 1500.18, "Banned toys and other banned articles intended for use by children." The list includes:
CPSC, taking the thrill out of growing up.
I dunno. One of the best toys from my childhood was a large inner tube (from an aircraft) that was useful as a trampoline, and was big enough that a person could curl up inside it and be rollled either down the street or down a hill (or both!). Instant dizzy, but cushioned against head impacts by the tube.
Another good one was "chemistry," loosely defined as making items that burned, exploded, or otherwise transformed material. Used to buy saltpeter from the local druggist. As a 10 - 12 year old kid, bicycle to the drug store, ask the pharmacist for saltpeter, tell him it was for making gunpowder, when he asked "what for?" Pay for 1 - 2 pounds and back home to grind up charcoal and sulphur. Imagine that today.
One of the best displays was made by breaking the stuff off sparklers and filling a coffee can. The contents of thousands of sparklers will burn in a matter of 10 seconds when so arranged. Oh poop, there I go, sparklers will be next on the list of banned items.
We had a May-pole sort of thing, actually, two different kinds. One kid would get to rid while the others crowded toward the center and powered the wheel. It could go mighty fast. Fast enough, in fact, that it was not possible to hang on! I loved to ride, and as a "small kid" the bigger ones found it easier to power the wheel with me as the rider. Man, those were the days.
Loved the way that sounded.
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