With Christmas just around the corner and millions of kids eagerly waiting to open presents, I thought it was a good time to look back at a few toys of the past. Considering the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) didn’t exist before 1972, late Baby Boomers got away with playing with a lot of toys in the 1960s-early 1970s that would never pass muster today. Some of these were toys I blogged about when I was waxing nostalgic for the Sears Wish Book of my youth. Kids who have been playing computer games since they were in diapers and have all sorts of other high-tech toys at their disposal would likely turn up their noses at a few beloved toys of yesteryear.
Without a doubt, the most dangerous toy of the 1960s-1970s was not a toy at all, but a bicycle. And biking continues to be a dangerous activity, but at least far more kids are wearing helmets now. Still, according to the CPSC, there were 276,425 children 18 and younger treated for bicycle-related injuries at U.S. hospital emergency rooms in 2012. I cannot remember anyone wearing a bike helmet when I was a kid and somehow my friends and I all escaped with minor injuries. It’s not that we were more resilient or had harder skulls – it is that there weren’t any injury surveillance systems in place monitoring these injuries. Deadly biking accidents weren’t publicized and if there were any prevention organizations, they certainly weren’t as active as they are today.
My friend Myra once fell off her bike and suffered some very bad scrapes on both knees and an elbow. And I had an incident with younger boys in the neighborhood chasing me on their bikes and trying to knock me off mine. I was wearing flip-flops (I know, really brilliant), and when one of them grazed my bike, I naturally put my feet down and scraped the skin off all of my toes.
I always loved biking and still do, but I will not ride without a helmet. Damn, I still bemoan the fact that my parents wouldn’t buy me that cool Schwinn Sting-Ray with a glittery metallic banana seat and handlebar streamers.
Clackers (also called Ker-Bangers, Klackers, Click Clacks, Klik Klaks, Klappers, Zonkers) were a simplistic toy that enjoyed some popularity in the late 1960s-early 1970s. Two colorful acrylic spheres measuring about 2 inches in diameter were suspended from two strings. Kids, including your truly, would get their jollies (mainly during school recess) by swinging them up and down so they banged against each other, making a clacking sound. Clackers were discontinued when reports came out about kids incurring injuries while playing with them. The balls were fairly heavy and could move rather fast, sometimes leading to the acrylic shattering or hitting kids in the face. While there were far more dangerous toys, the concept of these is pretty lame and I don’t think today’s techno savvy, iPhone-toting kids would give them much thought.
The Footsie toy, while relatively benign, certainly must have led to some falls on the playground, which back in my day was blacktop or cement. One version of this toy had a red bell-shaped object (that jingled inside) tied to a 2-foot plastic cord with a large yellow plastic ring on one end. With the Footsie ring on your ankle, you jumped over the cord and ball as it swung around. This activity could potentially cause you or nearby kids to trip and fall down. Popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I remember having several of these toys in the third or fourth grade. On a positive note, at least this toy encouraged physical activity, but I think today’s kids would say, meh!
This toy really doesn’t fit into the unsafe or lame category, but I had to include it because it was briefly one of my favorites. The Op-Yop consisted of two plastic, multicolored discs with a string running through and between them. When the string was pulled together, the discs moved apart and then clapped together with a loud noise. If you got this thing moving really fast, it made a whirring noise. Manufactured by Kramer Designs, more than 2 million units of Op-Yop sold in 1968 before it was relegated to toy heaven … or was it? I just discovered that a company in Michigan revived this toy in 2010 and they are available online. I wonder if today’s kids really enjoy this as much as we did – perhaps late Baby Boomers are the primary customers.
The concept of the Thingmaker was first introduced in 1963, as an extension of Mattel’s “Vac-U-Maker” line. Thingmaker Creepy Crawlers by Mattel was by far my absolute favorite toy as a kid and I got my first one in 1968. I spent hours in my room playing with this and spilling plastic goop on my carpet. I loved overfilling the metal molds just slightly so I could peel off the excess. I burned myself more than a few times and have the scars to show. I also had Creeple People and Incredible Edibles, but neither of these was as cool as the original Thingmaker. I cannot believe that I played with this toy totally unsupervised starting at the age of 10!
There have been several revivals of the Thingmaker – the first in 1978 was called the Thingmaker II and employed safer technology. This toy used a totally different type of goop and plastic molds, into which the heated Plastigoop was poured. The reformulated Plastigoop did not work well, the bugs and insects were shoddy, and the process was painfully slow, so it went kaput fairly quickly. In 1992, ToyMax reintroduced the Thingmaker with much stricter safety regulations. This new version of the Creepy Crawlers set once again used metal molds and a goop that was similar to the original. ToyMax went out of business around 2002, and yet another company, Jakks Pacific started producing a similar toy starting in 2006.
The Vac-u-Form, also called Vac-u-Former, was a toy manufactured by Mattel in the 1960s. Using an industrial process called vacuum forming, a rectangular piece of plastic was clamped in a holder and heated over a metal plate. After the plastic softened, the holder was moved to the other side, over a mold of the object to be formed. Pressing a handle on the side of the unit created a vacuum, which caused the plastic to be sucked down over the mold and form a shape. When the plastic cooled it solidified, creating a little model of the item, such as a car, boat, or tiny log cabin. There is no way this toy would pass muster today because the surfaces were very hot and children could easily burn themselves.
In 1961, Wham-O introduced the original Slip ’N Slide®, which quickly became a popular summer favorite among kids around the world. The toy was a long sheet of thin plastic with a lengthwise heat-sealed tubular fold running down one side. The tube could be attached to any ordinary garden hose so that water would project down the surface and create a slippery surface. The biggest problem with this toy is that it didn’t have any real padding, so kids and adults were basically hurling themselves onto a thin piece of plastic over pretty hard grass. I remember that we had one of these, albeit briefly, and my kid sister skinned her chin when she overshot the end of the plastic. Between 1973 and 1991, seven adults and one teenager reported injuries suffered while using Slip ‘N Slides including neck injuries, bone fractures, quadriplegia, and paraplegia.
The Slip ‘N Slide and related products sold more than 9 million units from 1961 through 1992. The product is intended for children, not adults. According to the 1993 CPSC recall, “Because of their weight and height, adults and teenagers who dive onto the water slide may hit and abruptly stop in such a way that could cause permanent spinal cord injury, resulting in quadriplegia or paraplegia. The slider’s forward momentum drives the body into the neck and compresses the spinal cord.”
My friend Joan absolutely loved this wondrous backyard toy and we would play on it endlessly during the summer. The Whirly-Bird was manufactured by Hedstrom and we had the four-seat version. Our Whirly Bird was predominately white and red. You sat in the seat and put your feet on a bar below. There was a handle in front that you would pull towards you and then push towards the person sitting across from you to make the Whirly-Bird spin. It was made out of painted metal and was raised from the ground like a merry-go-round. The faster you pushed and pulled the bar, the faster it would spin. I remember that we spun so fast that the entire thing lifted up off the ground. A kid could have easily fallen off and gotten whacked in the head as the thing was still spinning around. Our Whirly-Bird eventually rusted out and my parents tossed it, much to our dismay, as well as Joan’s.
From the early 70s, super Mod Dip-a-Flower kits were a colorful and crafty kit. I had one of these and lost interest after using it a couple of times. According to the manufacturer, you could make magnificent glasslike, transparent floral bouquets with soft wire and pre-colored formula. The mixture would dry in minutes without heat. I remember that it was very messy and that sharp wire poked out of the ends of the stems. I cannot imagine that the liquid was safe – it likely contained some noxious ingredients.
I cannot believe that I had a resin pouring kit when I was 10 or 11. Making resin casts is a fun and popular craft project that can be done at home. A resin cast is formed when resin and a chemical catalyst are combined to form a hard, plastic-like material. These casts can be customized by pouring resin into molds, adding colors and embedding items to make paperweights and keychains, among other things. I know that my kit was from the Sears Wish Book and I made a paperweight with a silver Mexican coin. I didn’t like the results because little air bubbles formed and even back then, I was a perfectionist when it came to arts and crafts projects. I didn’t wear a mask or gloves and the 2-part resin mixture was very toxic. These kits are still available today, but are recommended for adults or older kids with adult supervision – and a respirator, gloves, and eye protection.
When I turned 6, I scored the mother of all S&H green stamps toys when my mom redeemed an enormous number of books at Wieboldt’s for an awesome Chein tin toy roller coaster. This toy never worked correctly and it wound up in the back of my closet. In retrospect, I cannot believe that I was allowed to play with a tin toy with sharp edges, not to mention that the paint likely contained lead. Nevertheless, I wish I had it now, but all I have is a film my dad shot of that birthday and the little roller coaster cars not staying on the track!
From the 1940s-1960s, lithographed metal dollhouses were the dream of many a child. Steel dollhouses were first introduced around 1948 and dominated the 1950s decade, continuing into the 1960s, before being replaced with plastic or wood. Louis Marx was among the manufacturers of these super cool steel houses. Nearly all of the examples I have seen have very sharp edges and would never pass CPSC standards today. Not to mention the fact that some of the accessories were also made of metal and there were many tiny parts that presented a choking hazard for younger children.
Hope your holiday is filled with many a delight. Cheers for a happy, healthy, and toy-filled 2014!