Back in the day, men were men, boys were boys, and certain companies played fast and loose with child safety regulations. Toy stores were stocked with a range of questionable items. Some were inappropriate by both modern and contemporary standards—a piece in Wired, for example, mentioned makeup kits from the 1950s that allowed kids to put on their own minstrel show. We’re wisely not including a picture of that. Other items were on the just plain dangerous end of the spectrum.
To some degree, childhood should be a rough and tumble period. Our first scrapes, bruises and burns become valuable learning experiences. If you bubble-wrap a kid too much, they might get through their childhood pain free but be unable to deal with both physical and emotional hardship later on in life. On the other hand, the toys listed below include hot irons and projectile weaponry. It would seem putting one’s hand on the stove would be an easier lesson.
6 Creepy Crawlers
The Creepy Crawlers brand was introduced by Mattel in 1964, seemingly as a “for-boys” parallel to Kenner’s Easy-Bake Oven. Rather than make tiny, tasty treats, the Creepy Crawlers “Thingmaker” oven allowed kids to make gross, “Plastigoop” creatures like worms and insects by pouring a liquid into die-cast moulds, heating it, and letting it gel. Unlike the Easy-Bake, which until a few years ago used a simple light bulb to bake its wares, the Thingmaker incorporated an actual hot plate.
The original Creepy Crawlers series continued until the beginning of the 1970s. While it’s not definitely stated that the series was taken off shelves for safety concerns, a new Thingmaker was introduced in 1978 that was noticeably safer for children. It was revived again in the early ’90s with yet another Thingmaker that used a hot light bulb, much like the old Easy Bake design. The brand has appeared and reappeared intermittently ever since.
5 Belt Buckle Gun
Though they seem like a novelty contraption worthy of James Bond or, at the very least, an episode of Get Smart, belt buckle guns were quite real. Unfortunately, any coolness factor they might have is diminished by the fact that they were created by the Nazis for self-defence and close-range assassinations. However, a far less lethal and far less Third Reich-ish take on the belt buckle gun was turned into a toy by Mattel. The harmless accessory firearm would spring open when the wearer flexed his stomach muscles according to Nichols, a site that catalogues old cap guns.
While Mattel’s unintentionally phallic belt buckle gun toy doesn’t have any murders to its name, it did have its share of consumer troubles. The Banned Toy Museum writes that friction was enough to trigger the caps while the gun was still locked in place, risking burning its wearer.
4 Lawn Darts
Slightly less sharp than actual darts and with none of its intended precision, lawn darts was a popular outdoor game for many years. Great for birthday parties, barbeques and general drunken debauchery, it had opposing players or teams flip the heavy-tipped darts into targets situated on a lawn. Wikipedia compares the leisure game to horseshoes.
Though a family favourite, lawn darts has been banned in various parts of North America at numerous points in its existence. An article in Mental Floss says the game ran into big trouble in the late 1980s, when a girl was fatally struck by one of the darts thrown by a family acquaintance. Her father lobbied for the game to be banned, succeeding in his goal the following year when the Consumer Safety Product Commission reinstated the ban that had previously been in place until the 1970s. Canada banned the game two years later. A 1997 press release by the CSPC, plainly subtitled “Lawn Darts Are Banned and Should Be Destroyed,” clarified their position. As of today, it is illegal to import fully-assembled lawn darts into the United States, though parts, primarily for replacement, can be ordered from other countries.
3 Any Wood Burning Kit Ever
A combination of etching and branding, wood burning—also known by its more hardcore name of “pyrography”—is the technique of using a hot, handheld iron to burn designs into a plank of wood. You might have seen its handiwork in the form of cottage signs or country artwork (as seen above). While capable of a wide variety of tones and designs, wood burning’s required implement, usually an electric iron plugged into the wall, makes more of a hobby for trained adults than younger crowd.
However, this has not stopped wood burning kits from being marketed to kids not only in the past but in the present as well. For $141.30 Canadian, one can get their daughter or son such a starter ensemble for a birthday or Christmas. The product description notes that leather gloves, which the manufacturer recommends should be worn while using the kit, are sold separately. It also emphasizes that “The tool’s tip gets extremely hot,” information that would have been valued by a younger version of the person who may or may not be writing this article and who got his first-ever burn in that fashion.
2 Air Rifles
Air rifles, commonly called BB guns, were a staple of growing up in the mid-2oth century, or so contemporary popular culture told us. Holiday classic A Christmas Story, which is set in the 1940s, centres around a young boy’s crushing desire to get a Red Ryder BB Gun on the morning of December 25th. Lighter than a .22 and stronger than a homemade slingshot, air rifles were emblematic of American success and power in the wake of World War II, where every child could be master of his backyard domain with the help of a less-than-lethal weapon.
Unfortunately for air rifle manufacturers—as well more than several kids—“less-than-lethal” is still pretty dangerous. The BBC reported that Daisy Outdoor Products, the company behind the alternately famous and infamous Red Ryder, was sued in 1999 after a Pennsylvanian teenager was rendered severely brain-damaged by a pellet fired at close range. The company and his family settled for $18 million. The Bucks County Courier Times later reported that he succumbed to his wound.
Air rifles and pistols are still on the market, of course—Airsoft has become something of a niche sports—but they’re no longer marketed to aspiring cowboys, instead aiming toward the adult or older teen market. Because they’ll do more than put your eye out.
1 Bindeez/Aqua Dots
A combination toy and arts & crafts kit, Bindeez, also known as Aqua Dots, let kids make interesting designs and figures by arranging small, multicoloured spheres in a grid-like fashion. When wet, the dots would semi-permanently fuse together to form solid shapes. The Aqua Dots “Design Studio” was lauded upon its initial release, earning the title of Toy of the Year in Australia in 2007, according to CNN Money.
Unfortunately, Aqua Dots’ success was short-lived, with massive recalls instituted that same year, first in Australia and later the U.S.—4.2 million in the latter alone, CNN reported. Unlike many toys that contained numerous small parts, the concerns weren’t with choking. Rather, children were getting sick by consuming the coloured pebbles, with the Consumer Product Safety Commission claiming that two children had fallen into “non-responsive comas.” It turns out that the Aqua Dots themselves contained plasticiser 1, 5-pentanediol, which can easily turn into GHB, a drug commonly used in date rapes. The Associated Press wrote that the plasticiser was used as a cheaper alternative to the non-druggy chemical normally used.
The product was eventually rebranded as Beados in Australia and Pixos in America, with the government of New Jersey reporting that the beads were now covered in a bitter chemical intended to discourage swallowing.