Looking back, it's pretty miraculous that I've lived to be as old as I am. When I was born, my mom brought me home from the hospital in her arms, not a car seat. The playground equipment at my elementary school was surrounded by asphalt, not mulch or woodchips. Bicycle helmets were strictly for Evel Knievel, and seat belts were an expensive option on most cars. The toy industry only fueled our penchant for danger; take a look at some of these commercials:
My younger brother had one of these, and I'm here to tell you that that tiny gun had some serious firepower "“ those little plastic bullets hurt like heck! (You think your average seven-year-old boy is going to pay attention to the package disclaimer that warned against aiming the Sixfinger at human targets?) One of the bullets could be equipped with a cap, which exploded on impact if fired at your big sister's shoe just so.
2. Swing Wing
The Transogram Company had been producing mainstream toys such as tiddly-winks and doctor kits since 1959. Then one day in 1965 the vice-president of product development, whose brother-in-law was an out-of-work chiropractor, came up with the idea for the Swing Wing. (OK, I made that last part up.) Nothing says "fun" like a cerebral hemorrhage, so Swing Wing was eventually pulled from the market, leaving kids searching for a new fun way to get their spinal injuries on.
3. Slip "˜n Slide
Wham-O introduced the Slip "˜n Slide in 1961, a time when neighborhood swimming pools were few and far between and water slide theme parks were non-existent. The idea was to cool off and have fun at the same time by running up to and then belly-flopping down on a water-slicked length of vinyl. Wham-O sold millions of Slip "˜n Slides over the years, and if a kid broke a toe on one of the stakes that secured the mat to the ground or left most of their epidermis on the driveway because they slid too far, well, as Mom always said "It's your own fault, don't come crying to me." It wasn't until the more litigious 1990s that words like "spinal cord injury" and "death" started appearing in the lengthy list of warnings included on the Slip "˜n Slide instruction sheet.
4. Johnny Seven One Man Army
No wonder kids today get in so much trouble "“ it's those no-good video games they're always playing. Nothing but shooting and street fighting and an overall culture of violence. Not like the toys of the 1960s. Back then we had wholesome products like the Johnny Seven One Man Army, which was the biggest-selling boy's toy of 1964. Johnny Seven came equipped with a cap pistol, rocket launcher, and "armor piercing" bullets, along other with a few other features necessary for stopping Communism dead in its tracks. Johnny Seven weighed about four pounds fully assembled, so a kid got a good aerobic workout when he ran around toting one outside in the fresh air and sunshine. Topper Toys used a unique tactic to give Johnny Seven maximum exposure; instead of only stocking it in toy and department stores, they also made it available in grocery stores, a place mom usually dragged her kids to at least once per week.
5. Water Wiggle
It looked innocent enough, but if your neighborhood had good water pressure and some joker turned the hose on full blast, Wham-O's Water Wiggle turned into a semi-lethal weapon. It danced and bobbed erratically and wrapped around you like a boa constrictor. And that plastic head was heavy -- but bloody noses and chipped teeth were a small price to pay for some cool fun in the summer time.
6. Creepy Crawlers
An exposed hot plate combined with potentially toxic fumes equaled fun in 1964. The Thing Maker was a gadget you plugged in and then waited until it heated up to 300Â°F. Then you poured "Plasti-Goop" into the creepy insect-shaped metal molds and waited for them to heat-set. Ideally, you were supposed to wait until after you'd unplugged the Thing Maker and it had cooled off before removing your Creepy Crawlers, but who has time for that when you want to put a fake spider in your sister's bed before she gets home? Burns and blisters were a fact of life in the plastic bug business, and you simply sprayed the injury with some Bactine and hid it from Mom so she wouldn't take your Thing Maker away. Plasti-Goop was marketed as "non-toxic," but that was in 1964, before the dangers of little things like melted PVC and lead paint were well known.
7. Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab
I'm sort of sneaking this one in, as I don't know if it was ever advertised on television, but it's too good to pass up. In 1951 A.C. Gilbert, the man who invented the Erector Set, introduced a brand new educational toy: the Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab.
Gilbert worked closely with physicists at M.I.T. while developing the kit, and also had the unofficial approval of the U.S. government, which thought that such a toy would help the average American understand the benefits of nuclear energy. The Lab came equipped with a Geiger-Mueller radiation counter, a Wilson Cloud Chamber (to see paths of alpha particles), a Spinthariscope (to see "live" radioactive disintegration), four samples of Uranium-bearing ores, and an Electroscope to measure radioactivity. It also included a comic book featuring Dagwood Bumstead (the man who couldn't leave his own house without knocking the mailman down) describing how to split an atom.
The Atomic Energy Lab's main drawback, other than possible radiation poisoning, was its price tag: a whopping $49.50, which would be over $300 in today's dollars.
How did you flirt with disaster as a child? Did you own a set of Klackers? A BB gun? (Did you put someone's eye out?) Tell us how you lived on the edge!