Three things have pretty much killed toy guns:

  1. The anti-gun attitude of American elites from the 1960s through to the present rendered them toxic to the parents who did most toy buying. We recall circa 1971 being Christmas shopping in Sears and hearing an earnest, prerecorded voice promise that Sears had sworn off “war toys” for the season. (It makes it hard to feel bad about the company’s woes, eh?) But that was the popular attitude in the press and of celebrities and soi-disant thought leaders.
  2. The occasional use of toy guns by criminals, and the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth that results when Officer Friendly trumped their toy gun with a couple of .38s in the boiler room. (Personally? Who cares if his gun wouldn’t have worked. Try making that call in a fraction of a second from 20 feet away. And he was a robber or whatever anyway — the world is better shot of him. “Literally,” in the real, not Biden, sense).
  3. Laws that have banned them in some places and required them to be outlandish colors elsewhere.

But when we grew up, in the sixties,  toy guns were everywhere. There were little ones in Cracker Jack and Frosted Flakes boxes. There were big ones in a whole aisle in department stores. When Saturday cartoons came on, especially as the Christmas gift-giving season approached, we impressionable tykes were hard-sold all kinds of plastic imitation hardware.

It’s like we used to tell each other in Group. “We played with war toys, but it never influenced us.”

In the 60s, the top movies and shows were usually Westerns like Bonanza, Rawhide and Gunsmoke. So were the top toy guns. Here’s Mattel’s Fanner .50 and Cross-Draw Holster. It’s probably from around 1964, which explains why it’s black and white: in the early 1960s, RCA was just losing its monopoly on color TV, and so was RCA’s network, NBC. But for a lot of America for several years, there were only three channels, and two of them were always black and white, even if you sprang for the costly and temperamental color set.

Mattel was a huge California toymaker, and their wide range of plastic guns gave rise to the Urban Legend that Mattel was the producer, or a producer, of the M16 Rifle, an affront to all lovers of parkerized steel and walnut. Mattel did not produce any part of the M16, but we’ve seen homemade retro ARs with the Mattel name and logo where Colt’s or Armalite’s would have gone!

Mattel’s competitor Topper Toys — actually, a division of Reading of Elizabeth, NJ — had you covered if you were still holding out for the M14. Of course, its wood stock was plastic, but by now that was true for the real M14, too.

This is the Topper “Johnny Eagle” brand “Lieutenant” set. There were three sets in the brand: the Lieutenant (Army), the Red River (Western, naturally) and the Magumba (big game hunter). This example set was auctioned for a little over $100 in 2013. The “M14” and “1911” were available separately, also.

Topper Toys Jonny Eagle Lieutenant

This is the ad, courtesy of Video Archaeology. No extra charge for the When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again pastiche:

We wanted the Johnny Eagle Lieutenant, but it was too much money. None of the kids in the neighborhood had it. We did have a variety of tommy guns, lousy ones from Marx and okay ones from Mattel and Topper (again).

Here’s the cousins’ version, an Airfix plastic L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle, presented by CJ Campbell. “A faithful replica… in brittle plastic.” Since British TV was then a government monopoly, there are no period TV ads from that side of the pond.

Finally, along with Western guns, Army guns, and spy guns (which we’ve covered previously), the remaining popular gun-toy genre was the cop or detective gun. Mattel again:

We played with one of these Tommy guns and it never influenced us. Relax, Mr and Mrs America.

The original comment are recreated below for posterity

21 thoughts on “Some Toy Guns from Fifty Years Ago”

  1. Frank

    Interesting about the toy firearms. I grew up in the 50’s and my favorite rifle was a wood copy of an ’03-A3. When I started college the year Kennedy was assassinated my ROTC detachment had M-1’s. I subsequently became an expert marksman with that rifle and to this day still hit MOA at 200yds kd. Also have an ’03-A3. That weapon is so good it’s classified.
    Good site. thank you for being here.
    1. Hognose Post author

      I have a Garand and an 03-A3 and love them both. As much for the history as the guns themselves. I have two Johnsons, too. It has some advantages over the M1 and the M1 has some advantages over the Johnson. They were both miles ahead of anything any other power had at the time.
  2. John Distai

    I’ve changed my thoughts on the toy gun issue over the years. I used to think that it was all harmless fun. It’s probably still harmless, however, I’ve become very uncomfortable with the gesture and act of play shooting another person. I would like kids to understand that this act is not to be taken lightly, and is to be reserved for life and death situations only, using real guns only. (Granted, if you can resolve a dangerous situation with a toy gun, more power to you).

    Ironically, my non-gun owning in laws buy the kids toy guns and they run around and point them at one another. I get to be the bad guy and either take them away, or have my wife explain my logic and reasoning behind my discomfort to her parents that those are verboten toys in this household, thus depriving Grandpa of his vicarious joy and fun. I guess it’s payback to me for all the times when I’ve stayed in their “gun free” home while armed.
  3. Keith

    There is a sort of replacement for toy guns in the form of first person shooter video games. In fact games can be a replacement for those green army guys too. Unlike the toys guns though allot of parents seem to be totally clueless about them, buying 8 year old Johnny the game equivalent of Saving Private Ryan. Also I suppose there is a certain lack of creativity and “playing outsideness” that these games do not have compared old fashioned cowboys and Nazis.
    1. Toastrider

      The problem there is that even FPSes have rules. No ‘bang bang yer dead’ — either put your rounds on target or prepare to spectate or enjoy the respawn timer.

      The lefties have been trying to push back against violence in games, with pretty poor success rates. Seems groups of people socially selected to grind, practice, and focus on threats are tough nuts to crack for the mushy thinking brigade.

      (Seriously, you really need to chase down some of the snotty remarks made about the E3 trailers. You had people acting shocked, shocked that there was over-the-top violence in Doom.)
      1. Hognose Post author

        Heh. I’ve seen the whining going on, by that airhead chick that designed a depressing game named, I am not making this up, Depression Quest, and her allies. Funny if stupid!

        I mean, what’s the point of Depression Quest? “Take 200 Xanax and don’t call anyone in the morning?”
      2. Keith

        Yea the SJW have gone all in with gaming as of late, though they have come up with a few unconventional games I liked such as Gone Home. And then there is the sad puppies…
  4. Captain Mike

    Those are great commercials.

    I played with toy guns and toy soldiers and it didn’t twist me too bad.

    Not for eight year olds, (11 or 12 maybe) but check out some of the airsoft guns available nowadays.

    Very realistic, and good for teaching kids safe weapons handling.
  5. jjak

    See any Nerf guns recently? Sure, they have bright colors and some sci-fi designs, but they also have some with real-gun looks, complete with ejecting and reloadable magazines, bullet-shaped darts, weapon lights and lasers, shoulder thing that goes up, even a way to open the action and clear jams.
    1. Toastrider

      One of these days, I plan to buy that Nerf LMG (the Vulcan, I think it’s called) for my nephew. Just to watch my sister’s reaction 😀
      1. Tim, ’80s Mech Guy

        Wanted that crew served Nerf for my daughter but the wife intervened, we compromised and she got the Barbie Dream House. Nerf was cheaper by far and easier to assemble I’m betting.
    2. Unistat76

      Exactly. Toy guns didn’t die because of PCness, they were killed by the awesomeness of Nerf. Mag changes, full auto, sniper platforms, and “girl” versions to boot!

      Too bad the Nerf Nuke was an April Fools Day joke…
  6. Light Dragoon

    Funny you should mention the Johnny Eagle M14 set. My Dad bought one each for my brother and me one Christmas, and we proceeded to use them in a ditch in front of my Grandfather’s house to play “WWI Trench Warfare” for several days after. A bit anachronistic, but what the heck. We were enthralled with Papa’s tales of France in 1918, whereas Dad’s tales of being a Medic in the Pacific were a bit less exciting, I guess, and way to “new” to be of interest. Anyway, Lo! and Behold! I recently ran across one of the magazines for the Johnny Eagle M14 in my accumulated junk! They’re probably worth as much as a real M14 magazine these days…
  7. Tim, ’80s Mech Guy

    A friend had tha 14, man was I lusting for one of those! I went through a bunch of the blue and black Thompson looking ones with the drum, they were fairly durable. Durability seemed to be the biggest issue, I went through a bunch of the various M-16 type guns but they all seemed to fail at the delta ring eventually. Ran around for several years with a stock off a Carcano, it was not super authentic for Viet Nam
    scenarios but it was sturdy. Got access to rubber ducks around 14 or 15 and started using those in the woods, my Korean War vet shooting mentor wouldnt let me run around with one of his rifles, he’d seen that beat to shit Carcano stock. Once I got a Stevens and then Ruger .22 taking better care of my gear became more important and though I don’t baby my rifles today I do take pretty good care of my tools.
  8. Medic09

    And then, of course, was the graduation to BB and later pellet guns. Air powered and gas powered. I take it you left them out, because they were ‘real’ and fired a projectile. In our area, they were considered an intermediate step between toys and a firearm like a .22.
    1. Boat Guy

      My Dad wouldn’t let us have BB or pellet guns; but we got the use of family .22’s about the age of 8 or 9 – as long as we treated them with the respect they deserve.
  9. Tim, ’80s Mech Guy

    The basic Red Ryder style could be worked pretty fast even the later ones with the saftey once you got used to it. Crossman 760, the ones with wood furnature and leather gaskets, was the precision or sniping choice. You had to have an agreement in place as to the number of pumps that were allowed or you would do more than leave a welt-yes we shot at each other in those days.The new stuff is all crap, materials aside it’s saftey over function. My six year old can’t reach the trigger on her pink Daisy, so we’ll probably go to airsoft in the house instead of BBs in the yard. For transition to live fire I’m gonna get her a Cricket untill she can handle a 10-22.
    1. John Distai

      I grew up with the Daisy equivalent to the Crosman 760. Did a lot of shooting. I had a friend who could shoot birds in flight with it. Pretty amazing for one projectile.

      Sometime in grade school, my young analytic self thought it would be “neat” to see what the air blast would feel like without the BB’s. So a friend and I tried this on our arms. When I did it to him, of course I made sure the chamber was clear. That fucking bastard wasn’t so considerate when he did it to me. Thankfully we were only at 2 pumps.

      The surgeon told me that I was lucky. 2mm over and a major nerve would have been severed that would have paralyzed my arm for life. I later asked my friend why he didn’t clear the BB. He said because he wanted to see what it was like with the BB. I hope that fucker got his karmic reward.

      As I was driving home recently, there was a high school kid in my neighborhood out in his yard shooting one of the Crosman’s. It’s illegal to shoot BB guns in your yard in this city, but I wasn’t going to say anything. I was a kid once, and we sure shot the hell out our BB guns. That was until he pointed it at his girlfriend. I stopped, got out, and told the kid that guys like him ruin it for responsible gun owners like me. I told him I could call the cops and have him charged with menacing and brandishing, and whatever they came up with based on my story, but I was feeling charitable that day, and wasn’t going to ruin his life. I told the girlfriend she should seriously re-evaluate her dating priorities and immediately break up with and refuse to ever see any man who threatens her, especially by pointing a gun at her. The really sad part is she defended him and said he was only “joking”. I don’t think the cops would have found that “joke” funny, and perhaps she needed law enforcement to “recalibrate” her regarding the intent of my message.
  10. Boat Guy

    I was just telling the young lad I work with about that -14 and 1911 set. I remember my -14 magazine being solid, not transparent though.
    Yup, we “played Army” and pointed those “guns” at each other – but we KNEW the DIFFERENCE and never did such a thing with our .22’s; ’cause we KNEW we’d never see them again if we acted stupid.
    Obviously such an “upbringing” warped me enough to have spent 32 years in uniform and another 10 (!) wearing civvies working for the same outfit.
    1. John Distai

      Playing with toy guns may still be looked at without much trouble in the rural or working class areas. However, it just doesn’t play well in white collar suburbia these days with yuppie helicopter moms demanding action before their play dates and such. Unfortunately, the whole “gun ownership” thing in suburbia becomes a very tender subject that seems very guarded. In rural areas, you saw kids playing with them, and you did too as a kid. People hunted. You assumed everyone was armed.
      In the white collar areas, however, some view this as “uncivilized” behavior.

      In the yuppie areas, some parents won’t let their kids play at your house if they know you are one of “those gun nuts”. Some Scout troops don’t participate in shooting events because the yuppie parents in the troops don’t have any background or exposure to firearms, and won’t get the training necessary for whatever reason. (Plus some of the safety and insurance things at the Scout events may make it prohibitive). In yuppie-ville, you have to very tenderly feel out your friends before you “out” yourself as a gun owner. So kid playing with toy guns may be out of the question if you don’t want to bring unwanted scrutiny to your activities. I hate suburbia, but the pay and the commute are nice.

      I did get some relief and a sanity check when shooting sporting clays one day in a nearby rural area, though. The high school kid (from the rural area) who was my “trapper” (caddy) told me all about his hunting exploits and his gun collection and future purchase aspirations. Plus there was a very cute college chick working the register. I assumed she was comfortable with guns, working at a gun club and all. It was a glimmer of hope.
      1. Hognose Post author

        I am reminded of my experiences with Combloc defectors. They all thought they were alone, and that everybody else just loved Scientific Socialism. We were constantly arguing with Agency guys about resistance potential. They had bought the whole line and thought that, for example, 99% of East Germans and 95% of Poles (Poles!) would collaborate with the Quisling secret police. They thought Ceaucescu was popular in Romania.

        We were the biased ones because we met with defectors… they had the straight skinny because they met combloc dips on the party circuit.

        In any group of people, most want to be told what to do by somebody, but most also chafe at having their freedom constrained. Freedom is a powerful elixir. Some guys at the Agency did understand that (Casey, as much as the career guys hated him, was one).

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