Comic books in the 1950s advertised for all sorts of incredibly cool things you could send away for–X-ray glasses, Sea Monkeys, this little doohickey you could put in your mouth that would let you throw your voice like a professional ventriloquist… genuine authentic foot-locker full of these pitiful flat plastic soldiers…
And the Joy Buzzer.
This little treasure, you wound it up and hid it in the palm of your hands, and when your victim shook hands with you, he’d get a loud buzzing shock that’d make him jump a foot in the air. We thought it might’ve been electric, but when my brother and I got our Joy Buzzers, we quickly discovered there was no electricity involved. In fact there wasn’t much of anything involved. If you and the victim really tried on purpose, you could get it to buzz. But usually nothing happened.
At least these things weren’t expensive.
To this day I remain skeptical of the worth of goods and services advertised in comic books.
I loved those play sets by the Marx Toy Co.! I didn’t have any of these carry-all cases, but I did have the Cape Kennedy play set when it was still called Cape Canaveral: and boy, those spring-powered rockets! You could actually put a dent in your ceiling. Like, “You’ll shoot your eye out!” But the threat was obvious even to us kids, and nobody shot his eye out with a Nike missile.
The commercial also shows Fort Apache, Noble Knights, and Boot Camp play sets. My favorite, not shown, was Dinosaurs and Cave Men.
These toys set my imagination on fire. For a while there I wanted to be a toy maker when I grew up, so I could design some really far-out play sets. But in the meantime I rejoiced in setting up the little plastic figurines and turning the set-up into a story.
Have they quite succeeded, yet, in putting the imagination into deep freeze? Would kids even know what to do with a play set anymore?
I remain hopeful: just give them time, and they’ll figure it out. Human nature as God created it, good and bad, will not be denied forever.
P.S.–Where did my video go? Can any of you see it?
Boy, oh, boy, did I love these when I was a little boy! Marx jungle animals–I still have dozens of them in my toy box. I think I was five years old when Aunt Millie gave me my first little set of them.
I used these as characters in “stories” that went on all summer, or all winter, or whenever. I gave them names and put them in adventures. Some of those pictured above are newer than any of mine, but ten of them are originals from the 1950s.
Sometimes my brother or my friends would join me in playing out these little dramas, and sometimes I played alone. Once I started getting dinosaurs and cavemen, too, the stories got more exciting. Lost treasures, nasty big game hunters that had to be dealt with, lost worlds full of monsters–whatever popped into our heads, often inspired by a movie or TV show, we used. Unusually, I rarely played with little army men. I was committed to the animals.
Do kids still do this kind of play? Or has it all be buried under a mass of video games? I don’t know. Maybe some of you have children or grandchildren who use their toys to act out stories. Careful–they might grow up to be fantasy writers.
This was an educational toy from the 1950s: Monkie-Sticks. Except for this one picture, above, of an unopened pack, Monkie-Sticks has slid into oblivion. But some of you must have had them!
What did you do with them? Why, you built things with ’em! The sticks linked together, end to end, and the little monkeys (“monkies”) provided four-way links. My friend David and I played with Monkie-Sticks by the hour.
On a dreary rainy day like this, with everything an hour late because of stupid Daylight Saving Time, and no way to remedy it, I kind of wish I had a pack of Monkie-Sticks. Hey, come on over! We’ll build really drafty little houses for my toy dinosaurs and cavemen.
So there you were, expecting a real wowser of a snowstorm that would have kept the schools closed on Monday and led to a glorious day of sledding and snowball fights–but all it did was rain. What to do with your Sunday afternoon?
I loved these Venus Paradise pencil sets. Each set came with a raft of colored pencils and a bunch of pictures to color by number–always with a wonderful result, if you didn’t make careless mistakes. The pictures we got back then were complicated and it took a couple of hours to color one in. But it was worth it!
I don’t think these are available anymore, and I wonder if kids today would have the patience to enjoy them. After all, it’s not electronic. And no mayhem. Just really nice pictures of ducks flying over the cattails in a marsh, or a scenic covered bridge on a sunny day in the fall–stuff like that. All you needed was a pencil sharpener, and a bit of peace and quiet. There are still some similar toys around, but once you fell in love with Venus Paradise, nothing else would do.
I’ve still got some of the pencils, but the pictures are, alas, long gone.
There used to be a lot of toys like this–toys that got you to use your imagination: and your hands, too. Among the greatest of these was the erector set.
With these toys, you start with just a bunch of parts that don’t look like anything, and with your hands and your brain, you turn them into something. What could be cooler than that?
All of the kids in my family got their start on my aunts’ erector set that they had when they were kids. I’m happy to say my brother still has ours.
My brother and I got this toy for Christmas once, sometime in the Fabulous Fifties: Tudor Electric Baseball.
The ball was a tiny white magnet which you “pitched” with a kind of catapult, aiming for a tin sheet representing the batter. Behind the sheet sat your opponent, who, when he heard the ball stick to the other side of the screen, smacked his side with a spring-operated plastic bat. If the ball landed on a circle marked “hit,” he flicked a switch and these little plastic guys with strips of celluloid on their bases ran around the basepaths, accompanied by a loud buzzing sound as the whole gameboard vibrated energetically. The basepaths were thick cardboard guides. Without them, the runners would have dashed all over the place in a kind of brownian movement.
If this sounds complicated, that’s only because it really was complicated.
Our friend “thewhiterabbit” had an Electric Football game. He soon gave up trying to make any sense of it.
Colorforms Baseball, which we also tried, had no electricity–only a dial on a spinner which, when spun, would stop either on an out or some kind of hit.
I have a feeling this toy cost my parents a fair amount of money. We dutifully played it until the day we somehow lost the ball. It was a very noisy game, and lots of times you’d smack the tin sheet and the ball would just fall off and you’d have to have a do-over. Or sometimes you’d smack it and the ball would just stick there.
But it’s the thought that counts!
This toy was a hot item in 1960, and my brother, then eight years old, got one for Christmas: Remco’s Bulldog Tank. Battery-powered, its mighty caterpillar treads would take the tank up and down steep hills of my mother’s books, all the while making a not entirely hopeful wheezing noise. Our family’s home movies show it doing that while my brother watches in angelic rapture.
Best of all, it shot! Boom! Well, not “boom,” really. It went “click.” It fired these plastic projectiles and ejected brass shell casings. Y’know something? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tank in a war movie eject a shell casing. But they must have, right? I mean, you can’t have the turret filling up with shell casings.
I wonder if they still make toys like this for kids–or do they try to make out like there’s no more war, we don’t need tanks to protect us from the bad guys anymore? Meanwhile, the same children deemed too emotionally fragile for a Bulldog Tank spend hours every day playing Zombie Massacre video games. Go figure.
Wow! Remember these? Wooden paddle (usually with a picture of a cowboy on a bucking bronco), rubber ball, and rubber band–the classic Fli-Back toy. How many times could you hit the ball up and down before you lost control?
My Grandma bought me many a Fli-Back when I was a boy, but I never got the hang of it until much later in life. Maybe the lady in this video can say the same. I still have a Fli-Back in one of the kitchen drawers somewhere, although I think the cats batted the ball out to that place from which no little rubber ball returns.
In 1953 somebody invented a toy submarine that would dive and surface if you filled it with baking powder. In 1954 it became available as a “free inside” prize in Kellogg’s cereals.
Oh, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one of these! Only now I find out that you had to put baking powder in it–not baking soda! Baking soda won’t work. The sub will just sit there in the water, usually floating on its side. You know a submarine’s in trouble when it’s floating on its side.
Confound it! I know now what I did wrong. My father did it wrong, too. He filled the kitchen sink, put the dratted baking soda in the sub, and presto–nothing. We tried again and again, and the blamed thing never worked. Well, waddaya want for “free inside”? At least the cereal worked.
The confusion between baking powder and baking soda was so widespread, the WikiPedia article on this toy takes some pains to explain it. But there was no WikiPedia in 1955.
I’ve mistrusted submarine travel ever since. Thank goodness the Navy knows the difference between baking powder and baking soda!