Ran across this little account of the Very Worst Toys Ever, and began to chortle. (It’s an oft-repeated article, apparently – this version is from earlier this year.) Not so much at the toys themselves, although my brother JP, sister Pippy and I were actually given at least one of the deadly worst and a couple of the others mentioned in subsequent comments.
We, of course, emerged un-maimed, although Dad probably regretted to the end of his days that he didn’t give either one of us the atomic energy lab. Probably couldn’t afford it, as he was only a poor graduate student on the GI bill, round and about the time it was on the market. We did have loving and generous grandparents, though; how we didn’t ever get BB rifles like all the other neighborhood kids is a mystery. Mom probably put her foot down about that, believing that yes, you could put out an eye with them. Well, so could you with a ‘wrist rocket’. We had a pair of them, a sort of bent-metal sling-shot with a bottom end that braced against your wrist so that you could sling a bit of gravel at practically ballistic speeds. But they weren’t toys- we had them to chase the blue jays away from the house where they tormented the cats and dogs unmercifully. As far as I know, Dad was the only one of us who ever actually hit a blue-jay with a wrist-rocket impelled missile. Square in the butt, actually. It let out an enormous squawk and vacated the premises henceforth and forthwith and at a good speed.
We did have a variant of the creepy-crawler toy, with the heater that heated up a pair of metal molds that (IIRC) made little GI Joe figures and their various little accoutrements. Just open the little bottles of black and brown and OD green rubber compound goop, pour into the molds, and bake until done. It did heat up quite hot, and the baking rubber smelt pretty vile. Still, no dangerous adventures to report, no animals ever ingested the little marble-super-balls – but the ‘clackers’ rather lost their charm after some painful bruises. Picture a pair of billiard-sized balls, on either end of a length of cord, with a finger-hold in the middle. The object was to get them going, ‘clacking’ them against each other while hanging from your hand, and then get them going so fast that they would rebound and ‘clack’ against each other above your hand. Eh – it was the novelty toy in about 1966 … for as long as it took for kids to figure out that the damned things hurt.
Other bad, bad toys? Definitely the water-rocket. I clearly remember watching Dad and JP launch them from the back yard of the White Cottage, which would put it squarely in the early 60ies, the Golden Age of Really, Really Dangerous Toys. It was bulbous blue plastic rocket; there may have been a pair of them. They flew on an interesting combination of (I think!) baking soda, vinegar, water from a garden hose screwed into the launcher mechanism, and some kind of pressure pump-thingus. It was a wet and messy business, preparing for flight, but they zoomed up to a thrilling height from the ground when released from the launcher with considerable force.
Who needed lawn darts to maim each other with, when you had rocket power? Although to be fair, I don’t think we had nearly as much thrilling fun with them, as we did when Dad was overseeing the launching. And Dad brought us enough in the way of dangerous toys; it was his notion to snake-proof us at an early age, by having us handle the not-so-dangerous sorts. And Dad was the one who gave us an enormous magnifying glass and showed us how to focus the suns’ rays with it, so that we could set stuff on fire. And he brought home dry ice from the lab; heaps of fun, throwing a great lump of it into the baby’s wading pool, and enjoying the bubbling, and the billows of white vapor. That was nearly as much good clean fun as the insulated flask of (IIRC) liquid hydrogen, dipping leaves and rose petals into it for a moment- and then dropping them on the tile kitchen counter where they would shatter like glass.
Grannie Jessie was notoriously blase about toy hazards, but even Grannie Dodie, who wasn’t, still let us play with Dad’s classic old Erector set, which included enough small nuts and screws to provide a choking hazard to an entire elementary school – and the crown jewel, a small electric motor. Said motor was a good three or four decades old when we played with it, and even to my eyes looked a little – I don’t know – frayed? Insulation cracked – connections not quite up to par? We never managed to spindle, shock, or mutilate with it, so perhaps it wasn’t quite so child-unsafe as I remember it. Oh, yeah dangerous toys; bicycles without helmets, large horses, and go-carts on steep hillside trails, rope swings in tall trees.
Oddly enough, we survived. Even without the toy nuclear lab. Add your own accounts of Bad, Bad Toys. Especially if they were received as Christmas presents.
(Don’t drool, people – Dad’s old Erector set survived our childhood, still in the original case, but it was in their garage when the house burned to the ground in 2003. For another take on things we did growing up that are practically unthinkable now Link through Instapundit.)