Say what you will about Baby Boomers, that we don’t know our Snapgram from our Instachat or that we go to bed at a time commensurate to the average 12-year-old.
At least when we were kids, we were never coddled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
We grew up in a time when great fun came with great risk of serious injury. Some of my favorite toys left marks, largely of the burned-flesh variety.
The few times I reported the accidents to my family’s safety inspector, the conversation went like this:
Me: “My finger got burned!”
Mom: “What did you do?”
Me: “I touched that hot metal plate.”
Mom: “Then don’t do that.”
And like that, it was over. No Facebook photos of the injury with accusations of corporate malfeasance. No tweets demanding recalls and threatening lawsuits.
Here are five of my favorite toys from the 1960s and ’70s, the likes of which you will never see again:
About the size of a shoe box, you’d heat a thin plastic sheet until it became soft and malleable. Just before it looked like it would melt, you flipped the sheet to the other half of box and over a mold, quickly pumping out the air so the plastic took the shape of the mold. It made cars, tanks, action figures and more. If you touched the plastic to make sure it was hot enough, well, that was on you.
Mattel took the heating plate of the Vac-U-Form and fashioned this toy that brought tiny fingers much closer to a surface capable of reaching nearly 400 degrees. You’d cook liquid plastic (Plastigoop) in a metal mold to make insects, spiders, centipedes and other creepy crawlies. Hand-eye coordination played an important role when inserting the tongs and transferring the hot metal plate to a tray of water for cooling. Whoops. Mom!!
Strange Change Machine:
Place a brightly colored wafer into the plastic-domed oven, flip the switch and watch it unfold into a dinosaur, space alien or other creature. You’d then snatch it out, forgetting all about using the tongs in your excitement. Even better, you could re-heat the creature, place it in the enclosed vise and press it back into a wafer, risking pinched fingers on top of burns.
Using a pen topped with a tip hot enough to char wood, you could write your name or, as my older brother did, inscribe dirty words and profane drawings. It was occasionally used as a device of sibling torture. Such sets are still sold today, and on Amazon, it comes with this warning — “PLEASE keep it away from children. Do NOT allow to be used it as a toy.” Killjoys.
It’s still hard to grasp how these sharp steel-tipped lawn darts were marketed and sold as a backyard game. The only way they could have made them more dangerous was by making the tips explosive. Yet every weekend my family and I were in the backyard casually tossing these toward a hoop inches from our teammates.
My dad warned my brother and I not to play Jarts without adult supervision, adding, “These aren’t toys.” But that’s just it. They were toys.