Small Talk Tag: War

Reporting for Duty

g.i. joe action figures

In 1964, Hasbro, Inc. introduced G.I. Joe: America’s Movable Fighting Man. Reportedly, Hasbro designers borrowed guns and rifles from the National Guard and even asked generals for top-secret materials in order to get all the details right! The company originally created three prototypes of their fighting man: Rocky the marine, Skip the sailor (not to be confused with Barbie’s sister Skipper), and Ace the pilot. Later, they settled on the universal name of G.I. Joe. The G.I. stands for “Government Issue,” a generic term for U.S. soldiers.

Joe premiered with a version for each branch of the U.S. Armed Forces: Action Soldier, Action Sailor, Action Pilot, and Action Marine. A very lucky little boy once owned T/m’s 1964 Action Sailor #7600 and many of the uniforms, weapons, and equipment (check them all out on T/m’s website). All of the accessories were interchangeable, which may explain why our Joe is photographed in the last outfit his owner dressed him in: Action Marine uniform #7710.

Jumping for Joy

raggy doodle paratrooper doll

Parachute troopers played a decisive role in World War II. The D-Day invasion, which led to the end of the war, began with an attack by American parachute troopers. With their parachute, the troopers carried between 90-120 pounds on their back. They were jumping into unknown territory so they had to be ready for anything!

Thus, it comes as no surprise that the Prager and Rueben Company began making parachute trooper toys. The brown cloth Raggy-Doodle U.S. Paratrooper had a sewn-on aviator’s helmet and goggles. His painted aviation harness kept his heavy backpack and parachute in place. As you can imagine, T/m’s parachute trooper probably had many an adventure jumping out of bedroom windows, and off of tall trees, or maybe the occasional roof. Geronimo!

Getting the Lead Out

Lead Soldiers with Mold

December brings holiday cheer, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and toy safety! The nation’s leading volunteer eye health and safety organization, Prevent Blindness America has declared December to be Safe Toys and Gifts Month “in order to keep the holiday season joyful for everyone.” Toy safety is a top priority, and organizations like the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission have also released safety tips and guidelines for buying and playing with toys.

Safe toys haven’t always been the standard. In the past, kids played with tiny steam engines, used candles to light up the interiors of their toy train stations and dollhouses, and even handled dangerous lead to cast their own toy soldiers. Anyone could buy blocks of lead and use a casting set to create toy armies and figures. This was marketed as an “easy and safe” activity…at least until the harmful side effects of lead were discovered and safety regulations were enforced in the 1960s and ‘70s. According to this article in Popular Science, just one of these lead soldiers contains enough lead to render several million toys unfit for sale in the U.S. by today’s standards. We don’t think Santa will be bringing any kids a lead casting set for Christmas this year!

Toys for the War Effort

world war ii toy soldiers

During World War II, many Americans got their first taste of recycling by saving and donating household items to support the war effort. Stockings became parachutes; leftover cooking fats were turned into glycerin for gunpowder. From 1942-1945, metal was so scarce and necessary for the war that even the Oscar statues given out at the Academy Awards were made of painted plaster. Kids got involved by marching their toy soldiers to scrap metal collection facilities to be melted down for the war effort. In order to stay in business, toy manufacturers were forced to find different materials for their toys.

One company, Playwood Plastics, survived the metal shortages by making soldiers out of sawdust mixed with a glue-like substance of water and flour. The mixture was stamped into shape and left to dry. The soldiers were then hand-painted. Not as hearty as their metal cousins, many broke apart over time. T/m’s pair retain traces of their original blue paint. The distinctive “P” in a triangle marks them as Playwood Plastics soldiers.

The War to End All Wars

painted metal toy soldiers WWI

One hundred years ago, the “war to end all wars” began. Now known as World War I (and not even close to the last world conflict), it would grow to involve 30 nations, 65 million soldiers, and 4 years of warfare. The war touched every aspect of life in the United States, including play.

Toy armies evolved from figures of men on horseback with bayonets to soldiers equipped with rifles and machine guns. In the 1930s, the United States-based Manoil Manufacturing Company began to produce metal toy soldiers. This painted soldier, known as a “tommy gunner,” holds modern weaponry and poses in a combat position. He is one of T/m’s many examples of toy soldiers that reflect the conflict in which they fought, even if it was just a battle of the imagination.

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