What is a “Baby Boomer”? Anyone born in the United States between the years 1946 and 1964 is classified as a Baby Boomer. The term stems from the fact that the US experienced a significant increase in annual birth rates during the years following the end of World War II. What are Baby Boomer toys? Those are toys, games, and gadgets that were created for us Baby Boomer children. Some of those enjoyed long lives while others died on the vine pretty quickly.
I was born on the last day of 1956 and am, therefore, slap dab in the middle of that generation. Our toys and games were fairly unique to us. There was nothing even remotely digital about anything that I played with as a kid and I imagine that my grand kids would be aghast that I could have been so easily amused.
Well, to heck with today’s kids! They don’t know what they missed.
I have picked out just a few Baby Boomer toys that I recall most vividly. Some classics. Some duds (in my opinion).
The Fort Apache Set (my ultimate in Baby Boomer Toys)
Of ALL the Christmas gifts that I received from my parents this remains my all-time favorite. It came on a Christmas morning in 1963. I was just shy of my 7th birthday. When my younger sister and I rushed into our living room to behold what dear Santa had left us my eyes fell immediately upon the miracle that was the “Fort Apache Action Play Set”. I could not imagine what great deed I had done during the year to inspire such a magnanimous gesture from ole Saint Nick. I immediately started putting it together only to be rudely interrupted by my parents telling my sister and I that we had to get dressed so that we could go visit both sets of grandparents. We were only gone about 8 hours but it seemed like 48.
I played the paint off that thing! I finally gave it up when I was 32 after my counselor told me I was to old for it.
What could possibly be better for a 10 year old boy than the ability to make his own bugs? The inventor of this device was a genius. Never mind the inherent heath hazards—potential burns from a poorly regulated hot plate or ingesting noxious fumes of unknown content—the risk was worth it (probably). Pouring the bug goo into one of the molds and watching it take the shape of a lizard, spider, or cockroach was almost like watching science in action—without actually learning anything. The fun usually lasted a couple of months until the hotplate short-circuited and left a scorch mark on your mom’s favorite rug. A classic among Baby Boomer toys.
Etch a Sketch
The pic below shows that someone supposedly used the Etch a Sketch to draw the Taj Mahal. Is that some kind of joke? Must have been a real dork! All I could ever do with mine was draw a bunch of squares inside one another. The joy of creating squares wore off after about 12 minutes. Eventually you gave in to the urge to break the glass surface to see if you could figure out how all the “magic” was happening, or, one of the knobs would break off and then you were stuck with drawing single straight lines—fascinating. Not very high on my list of Baby Boomer toys.
Red Ryder BB Gun
“Watch out kid, you’ll shoot your eye out”! The magical first BB gun. Shooting an eye out was a real possibility; especially when me and a few fellow 11 and 12 year old knuckleheads would, unbeknownst to our parents, have a rousing game of “army” using our loaded BB guns. Of course, always thinking safety first, we would agree to not shoot at one another’s heads. Those BB guns were cheap and did not pack much punch, but, they were tough and reliable. For the dollar you could not beat a Daisy. The Red Ryder has achieved “classic” status among Baby Boomer toys.
I purchased my first—and only—GI Joe when I was ~ 10. I remember saving up the $3 that it took to buy one. Back then that was quite a few “pop” bottles that I had to scrounge and sell. Got it home, took it out of the box, fiddled around with his gun and uniform for a bit, changed his pose a few times, and then………nothing. It struck me as being a bit too similar to having a military version of a “Ken” doll. Boring. I did not get what all the hub-bub was about. I eventually used it as a target for my Red Ryder BB gun! The GI Joe has reached iconic status and I read recently that an original Joe sold for $200,000. I wonder how much my BB riddled Joe would bring today?
The Slinky (the “ball-in-a-cup” of Baby Boomer toys)
What toy genius thought that a bunch of coiled wire would be able to grab hold of a kids imagination for more than 30 minutes? The original commercial depicted a brother and sister putting a slinky at the top of their stairs and then watching with delight as it “slunk” down those stairs. Well, what if your house had no stairs!? What if, as a kid, you had never even set foot in a house with stairs? What if, to see stairs in an actual home, you had to watch an episode of “Leave it to Beaver”. Millions of slinky’s were sold, and I of course had one; but, not having any stairs in my house this Baby Boomer toy quickly lost its charm.
The Wrist Rocket Sling Shot
What is it about young boys and weaponry? The first version of the Wrist Rocket appeared sometime during the late 60’s. Talk about putting an eye out, this sucker could do it. It was the nuclear version of what my dad had always called a bean flip (yes, the bean flip was every bit as lame as the name implies). Even hyped-up young boys dared not play “army” with a wrist rocket. I loved mine. Loved shooting at cans and the occasional bird or rabbit with it. This was back during a time when a youngster could walk out into an open field and find plenty of adventure. Especially with a Wrist Rocket in his back pocket.
Clackers (the “uh-oh” of Baby Boomer toys)
Oh my! Clackers—aka “concussions on a string”. There is no way that these would pass any kind of legal liability risk assessment today. Today that would be a show-stopper. Back in 1969……..not so much. The name “Clackers” came from the clacking cacophony that was generated once you got the things going. Get a few sets going in unison and it was ear-splitting. They were addicting and great fun. Alas, the grown-ups finally came to their senses and banned Clackers in 1985; much to the consternation of all dentists across this great land.