Deadly, Dangerous Toys of the 1960s

As far as I can determine, my brain is composed of a lump of Swiss cheese filled with marbles, and all day long the marbles roll up and down, all around and against one another, like monkeys in a cage or  hamsters fueled by Diet Coke, causing misfired synapses and weird thought trains. Or maybe it was something somebody said that triggered this blog, because last week I half-closed my eyes and started remembering all the dangerous toys my sisters and brother and I grew up with. We’re all still alive (loudly and colorfully so, especially in groups, and often when alone) considering that toys in those days didn’t come with warnings about small parts or sharp edges or even polyvinylchloride fumes; even plastic bags today are covered with dire warnings– you’re not supposed to leave the baby alone with them. These days, even pool toys are oddly labeled:

NOT TO BE USED AS A LIFESAVING DEVICE.

In my conscious childhood, which lasted from 1959 through 1969, many toys were potential weapons of mass destruction, and you didn’t have to travel all the way to Iraq to look for them– they were right there under the tree, shiny and beckoning…

The Easy Bake Oven. These small ovens painted in lead-based (no doubt) enamel enabled the young future Mommy to bake tiny cakes and little cookies for the family. My little sister Lois had one– in Aqua, I think– and she fed us for days on her little creations. First introduced to an innocent world in 1963 by Kenner, it’s gone through various permutations.  Originally, the heat was supplied by a ten thousand megawatt light bulb which rendered a metal cooking top hotter than the surface of the sun. Christmas morning, 1963… prescient Mothers and Fathers also gifted their daughters with fire extinguishers and boxes of bandages, but I always imagine the still, chill air sundered by the sounds of thousands of screaming ambulances rushing their little charges to emergency rooms as the scent of burned miniature chocolate cakes wafted across America.

But did things change? From Wikipedia: “In February 2007, Hasbro and the Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled 985,000 Easy-Bake toy ovens after finding that children’s hands and fingers can get caught in the oven’s opening, thereby posing serious risk of burns. Since the recall, there were at least 249 reports of children getting their hands or fingers caught in the ovens, including 16 reports of second- and third-degree burns, and partial finger amputation.” How lovely! And this after a re-design. I rest my case.

Lego. I loved Lego building blocks and, in fact, any type of construction set. Lincoln Logs? Check. Skyline by Elgo? Check. Kenner’s Girder & Panel and Bridge & Turnpike sets? I had them all, and loved nothing better than creating dream cities with no slums, no packs of wild dogs, and no visible garbage cans.

One day I took all the girders and panels from the Kenner set and constructed two very tall towers rising from a complex of very short buildings. Mom asked what it was, and I said “it’s a world trade center, where all the countries of the world can meet and do business.” This was in about 1964, when I was eight; she expressed doubt that anything like that would ever be built.

Lego sets were especially composed of tens of millions of tiny pieces, though I remember no warnings about not swallowing any of them. You could build working clocks and little gas stations, but the projects never looked quite sleek enough, what with all those lumpy raised dots.

Last year when I went to Disney with cousin Matt, I bought myself a new set, which allows you to build three different house models. They now have pieces that resemble trees and bushes and flowers, and there are clear swinging doors and ways to make ornate front porches. All very fascinating, though I still have to remind myself not to swallow the pieces.

building

Some parts from one of my building kits. Condo, anyone?

Flubber. Apparently still made, this is a rubbery compound that, especially after a day of play, resembles nothing more than a huge wad of something that comes out of your nose. A movie was even made in 1961 about its gravity-defying properties, starring Fred MacMurray and Nancy Olson. Unfortunately, the Flubber of my youth was recalled; it was giving off something noxious, and all of us– we ALL owned a glob– had to get rid of it. (That’s what the Staten Island landfill is made of.) These days I presume that the formula is non-toxic, but for a while there it was thrilling to be the owner of something that could have brought civilization to a screeching halt.

Chemistry Sets. Don’t even get me started– I don’t want to know how much sodium bisulfite I may have absorbed through my fingertips when I was a boy. When I got my first chemistry set, Mom diligently helped me through the first few experiments in the instruction guide, which were achingly boring, and then trusted me to continue on my own while she went into the living room and read Valley of the Dolls. Who knows whether I stunted my growth, jump-started my growth, or even brought on early puberty thanks to my ministrations? Like a bespectacled Dr. Jekyll, I mixed and measured and decanted and brewed, all toward an end I have mercifully forgotten. (If I glow green at night, it’s because the street light is shining through my bedroom window.)

The Great Garloo. This 2-foot tall, green plastic monster arrived in 1961, and of course I had to have one. A battery-driven device made him go every which way but the way you wanted him to, and his head sported an attractive raised ridge. He was supposed to be a monster but, unformed blob that I was, I always felt a sadness emanating from poor Garloo. Why? Probably because, as fierce as he looked, he was at the mercy of some stupid kid’s whims– give a boy a remote control, and suddenly he’s Napoleon. Poor green Garloo could only wreak mayhem when you ordered him to, and that frozen rictus of bared fangs and red maw snapped at nothing.

Yet– he harbored danger because, in all of America, there was not one little boy who didn’t go to sleep thinking that Garloo was going to come to life, grind toward the bed, and snatch little Jimmy from sleep, eventually managing to drag him outside and into the darkness. Even when you remembered to remove the batteries from the control unit, you suspected that, somehow, Garloo was going to pull off his big shining moment– finally he would become the monster he always wanted to be!

It wasn’t to be; our family came driving down the block from an outing one day and saw Garloo hanging upside down from a tree in the Jones’ front yard; I think one arm was missing. Slow curtain… the end.

I did see a Garloo sold on eBay recently, for more than five hundred dollars. Now, perhaps, the Great Garloo is planning a terrible revenge on some nostalgic Yuppie who remembers the innocent days of his youth. If I were him, I would be very careful when going to sleep.

The Great Garloo. Copyright scifi.com

The Great Garloo. Copyright scifi.com

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36 responses

  1. LOL! Loved Lois’ comment and am sure she’s correct! I never had an easy bake oven, but I did have silly putty, chatty kathie and lots of books.

    Cities with no packs of wild dogs? We didn’t have packs of wild dogs in Brooklyn. Where did YOU grow up? Packs of wild teenagers, maybe…..

  2. I never wanted an E-Z Bake…I wanted someone to make desserts and bring them to me. Nothing has changed.

    This wasn’t toxic (or so the box says) but I’m putting it up here just wondering if anyone else remembers it: Lightening Bug Glo Juice. It was glow-in-the-dark paint and we slopped it onto everything (presumably including each other).

    Lightning Bug Glo Juice 1

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  7. I wouldn’t be surprised if you or someone in your neighborhood used or encountered Jarts, these giant lawn darts you were supposed to throw across the yard in these plastic rings about 1.5 feet in diameter, in some sort of twisted take on horseshoes. Yes, the height of fun — throw giant spiked things at each other. What fun!

  8. I was born in ’52. I had a chemistry set. I remember about 30 little bottles of chemicals. Some were: Cobalt, Sulfur, and Charcoal. I spent a lot of time with Ammonium Chloride; I’d mix it with stuff from under the sink — Ammonia and bleach (mom was always sleeping on the couch anyway). The fumes that would arise, especially from the Ammonium Chloride plus bleach were like a WMD. This kind of “toy” would never get to market today. And these kids today don’t know what they’re missing!

  9. I had many toys that shot hard plastic shells or rockets. I put one thru a screen window adn one into sheetrock. Mom took it from me, shame.

  10. pop guns the the kind you cocked the handle then shoved the barrel into the ground and when you pulled the triger there was a pop of air and the dirt plug shot out, of corse it was much louder if you put the side of the gun to your ear. we did that 2 times in each ear, and we couldn’t here our selves scream. and I developed tinitice and have had to live with constant ringing in my ears, forever. what fun!!!

    • I think my tinnitus came from banging rolls of caps on the curb with my dad’s hammer…even cooler at night with the flash that’d make you see spots!

  11. The favorite building kit you show there couz is from an “Ideal- SUPER CITY” building set. Last I knew, mine was in Jennifer’s garage in Ft Collins, CO. Yeah that was a great one.

    What I also really loved about some of those deadly toys in the 50’s and 60’s were the “some assembly required” things. Jennifer and Leslie woke to Christmas morning in 1961 to find a neat pink FRIGIDAIRE kitchen set: a range-over (not heated, THANK GOD,) a Refridgerator with a cool set of plastic foods, and a sink-cabinet, complete with a reservoir and push-pump to have “running water” in the thing.

    I laughed because the first time I touched the thing (before we even got to the rip-shred part of the morning, these were just sitting there unwrapped,) I sliced a chunk of skin off the edge of my hand on the oven door… and that’s right when my dad came into the living room with a cuppa coffee and 8,227 strips of BAND-AIDS on his fingers. Instantly I knew who “Santa Claus” was, and thought it was absolutely hysterical.

    15 or 20 years later he described the Frigidaire Kitchen to me… “YOU try putting together 3 of those units from ‘Made in HongKong’ cheap SHEET STEEL… ‘Take Sheet 1 and bend the edge along the score line at a 90 degree angle, insert tabs A and B into slots A and B on Sheet 2 and fasten with screws from the Accessory Bag…’… at 2 AM after having been at a Bank Christmas Party since 4 in the afternoon!” Santa-Claus indeed!

    He got [us] back though. Starting in 1981 I got to assemble all the trikes, bikes, kitchen sets, playsets and six, yeah count ’em SIX! of those fuckin’ BIG WHEELs and other crap they bought for their grandkids.

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  15. I’m looking for a toy that I had when I was 4. It was a hotplate in a square maroon base. You would put in these things that lookrd like Starburst , heat ’em up and they turned into dinosaurs. Then you could re-heat them and put them into a mini comactor (built in) and make them into “Starburst” again. It was the best dangerous toy ever. Wish I still had it.

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  20. In the 60’s – 70 we had cap guns that would make your ears ring ..our cap guns were made of metal and looked real – no wimpy orange tip needed to show its a toy gun. They would also pinch the hexx out of your skin if you got your palm in the way of the hammer dropping .Your Dad might even pick your cap gun up and bluff a stranger at the front door if someone knocked on the door a little too late at night . We would take the orange cap rolls and fold them into a little square ,then get dads hammer and no pun intended “nail it” . Two things would happen a Hiroshima sized concussion sound would eminate with a bluish whitish flash and make your ears ring for 20 minutes and a small chunk of the sidewalk would blow away ..lol. The black char marks would be on the sidewalk for two weeks as evidence of your “dangerous” experimenting.

  21. Fantastic; build your own office block! I had the exact same girder and panel building set in your picture – by Ideal, as Dr Scott Pinks helpfully reminds me. I must see if I can track down a set, and for some reason I really really enjoyed building those offices.

    Also I remember these things called clackers, which were two plastic resin balls on the end of a cord. You held the cord in the middle, and then vigorously move your hand up and down, and they would collide at the top, and bounce off collide underneath and so on… really painful, always whacking your hands. And I seem to remember they were taken off the market because the plastic balls had a tendency to shatter, and damaging children’s eyes.

  22. Hey, you left out one! Erector Sets! Man I wonder how many small screws and nuts I swallowed? Don’t remember them rusting so maybe there were made from stainless steel. What about electrical transformers to power your Lionel train? Shorts? Sparks? Heat anyone? Ha,ha,ha.

  23. I was born in 1961, and my favorite dangerous toys were Mattel’s Thing maker, which was essentially a hot plate with metal molds that you filled with toxic goo that made fangs, eyeballs, and fingernails that you shoved into your various orifice/appendage as soon as it was cool enough. A close second were those big frickin’ lawn jarts that you sailed at whatever relative you were playing. It’s a miracle we all somehow lived through it.

    • Reminds me of Vac-U-Form… ! Though I did also have this machine that you described, which made rubbery bugs. I don’t remember its name as the Thing Maker… I think mine was called Creepy Crawlers… !

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