4 Toys That Have Gone to War for America


Editor's Note: To promote the mental_floss Holiday Subscription Special, I've asked co-founders Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur to select some of their favorite mag articles from 2008. Today's story comes from Beth Bartlett. And if it puts you in a subscription-giving mood, here are the details.

By Beth Bartlett
November-December issue

1. Slinky

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2. Metal Crickets

During the D-Day invasion at Normandy, more than 15,000 men dropped from the night sky carrying little metal insects. At the time, flashlight signaling was a common way for soldiers to communicate, but officials worried that flashing lights could tip off observant Germans. So, they substituted the torches for cheap, wind-up crickets that made clicking sounds. Each paratrooper received one, along with instructions to identify himself through the chirps. The brilliant scheme helped soldiers meet up safely on the ground. Unfortunately, the success was short-lived. A few Germans caught on, and after capturing some of the crickets, they used them to trap unsuspecting Americans. Still, the toys contributed to the invasion's success, and souvenir replicas are still sold to tourists in Normandy today.

3. Silly String

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4. The View-Master

The View-Master was originally for grownups. Developed in the late 1930s, the device was used as a training tool to help WWII soldiers recognize specific ships, planes, and artillery from afar. But after the war, the device got a kid-friendly makeover. The toy was outfitted with reels featuring television characters and tourist destinations, and it quickly became a staple in toy chests everywhere.