The holidays always bring out the nostalgia in me for my childhood years in the 70s, and in particular the toys of that era. Many of those toys (Legos, Hot Wheels, and Barbies) are still with us in some form or another, but one of the earliest toy crazes I remember, as it turns out, has a much more controversial history.
I’m talking about knockers, or as the world mostly knows them, klackers. I remember the year they were everywhere–as it turns out, that year was 1971, which would put them among some of my earliest memories, contemporary with my Dad’s trip to Japan and the 3D postcard of a parrot he sent me that I kept for years (I’d learn much later that this style was called “lenticular.”) I would have been four years old. I got mine at the Lazarus store at Westland Mall in Columbus, and I can still remember walking through the store and hearing them everywhere. Knockers/clackers were two hard plastic or glass spheres on a string, suspended from a large washer or ring. They’re similar to the Argentine weapon called a bolo. The only point of these toys was to get them knocking together by twitching the washer (although older kids did sometimes use them to thwack each other). The particularly skilled could apparently get them to clack both below their hands and above, and to do various tricks. That was about it. Mine were an olive green colour, and always thought they were made of glass, although apparently plastic ones were more common. I had them for years.
Some vintage ads:
Here’s a demonstration of klackers/knockers
So what happened to them? I always assumed, that like other fads of mostly useless items (Deely Boppers, I’m looking at you), they simply had their moment and disappeared. That’s true, but when I researched them for this post, it turns out, they were actually pulled off the market by the FDA in the US because the hard plastic ones could shatter into shrapnel if clacked too hard. This led to the creation a couple of years later of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which was responsible for testing toys for safety and issuing the famous warnings now printed on pretty much any toys about age level suitability. Apparently my parents never heard about or cared about this, since mine were never taken away (although I’d likely tired of them by that point.)
There have been a couple of attempts to revive klackers over the years (made of shatterproof materials, of course, often losing the satisfying “clack” in the process), but they mostly went nowhere, probably because klackers are pretty stupid. On the other hand, fidget spinners (for anyone not on the spectrum) were insanely popular just a couple of years ago, so you never know…
While researching this post, I ran across this article from the CBC that mentioned several dangerous toys from my childhood. Besides the well-known lawn darts and metal monkey bars and merry-go-rounds, there was also Super Elastic Bubble Plastic, which I had completely forgotten about. It was this incredibly noxious-smelling multicolour goo that you stuck on the end of a straw and blew into to make a swirly, marbleized plastic “bubble.” The noxious fumes (created by the acetone that the polyvinyl acetate/ethyl acetate bubble material was dissolved in) was the main reason this toy was eventually discontinued. Apparently, apart from being generally toxic, it could be a gateway drug to glue sniffing and other inhaled drugs.
Even my beloved Legos, as it turns out, were not entirely without their issues–the CBC article mentioned that before the 1980s they contained lead.
Of course, the carefree ads of the 1970s were a casualty of this increasing worry about safety. In 1991, SNL aired a series of mock commercials that parodied this trend.
So remember, kids, Happy Fun Ball may suddenly accelerate to dangerous speeds.
Ingredients of Happy Fun Ball include an unknown glowing green substancewhich fell to Earth, presumably from outer space.
Happy Fun Ball has been shipped to our troops in Saudi Arabia and is being dropped by our warplanes on Iraq.
Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball.