Giant Atomic Bomb ToyGiant Atomic Bomb toy (from the permanent collection of The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis; photo ©2011 The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis; photograph by Red Rocket Photography)

One of the more curious trends in children's toys is how they respond to war. As the Cold War hovered over the United States, a "Giant Atomic Bomb" toy was marketed to children with little futuristic, robotic-looking figures emblazoned on the sides of plastic missiles in ominous colors of yellow, black, and a hazy green that seemed to match the bomb shelter signs prevalent across the country. But no worries, this was a "safe, harmless GIANT ATOMIC BOMB" as the box proclaimed in its sudden all-caps that showed military planes soaring over an explosive cloud.

Giant Atomic Bomb ToyGiant Atomic Bomb toys (from the permanent collection of The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis; photo ©2011 The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis; photograph by Red Rocket Photography)

As the largest children's museum in the world, the Children's Museum in Indianapolis has a particularly prolific collection of around 120,000 objects from all over the world, many of which include pop culture artifacts that illustrate these eras of childhood where a very real danger was interpreted through play. Included among their collection is an example of the "Giant Atomic Bomb" toy.

Chris Carron,  Director of Collections at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, told Atlas Obscura more about the "Giant Atomic Bomb":

Military toys have long been popular as childhood expressions of events in the adult world. Tin soldiers, model airplanes, and G.I. Joe action figures all allowed children (especially boys) to act out what they saw in movies and on TV. But the atomic age brought new technologies to warfare, and new fears to children’s lives.

“Duck and cover” drills that made sense for the conventional warfare of World War II became a Cold War elementary school routine. Never mind that you couldn’t hide from atomic destruction — it gave them an action step which instilled a false sense of control over their fate. And so it is with these toys. Manufactured by the Royal Tot Mfg. Co. of New York City, which also made “Bugs Bunny Tricky Trapezes” and “Ring a Bell Strength Testers,” these plastic rockets are both frightening and nostalgic reminders of Post-War America. Their benign appearance and use had not yet caught up with the horror of atomic destruction.

Each rocket held a cap on its tip that “exploded” when it struck a hard surface.  Children could throw them at each other, with a loud crack as they hit the sidewalk, and role play the effects of atomic warfare. The packaging, which reads “A safe, harmless cap shooting giant atomic bomb,” both exudes the thrill of ultimate destruction, and reassures parents that the toys don’t really contain radioactive materials. The box was designed to open as a counter-top store display, allowing children to purchase just a single bomb, or arm themselves with an entire arsenal.  

Giant Atomic Bomb Toy
Dealer instructions (from the permanent collection of The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis; photo ©2011 The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis; photograph by Red Rocket Photography)

Here are the instructions to "Mr. Dealer" on how to display the toys to "increase sales," and increase the numbers of kids gleefully tossing plastic atomic bombs at each other while the very real threat of doom was lodged in missile silos in the country that sprawled out around them. 

Giant Atomic Bomb ToyGiant Atomic Bomb toy (from the permanent collection of The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis; photo ©2011 The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis; photograph by Red Rocket Photography)


OBJECTS OF INTRIGUE is a feature highlighting extraordinary objects from the world's great museums, private collections, historic libraries, and overlooked archives. See more incredible objects here>

Share:
Refresh

Join our mailing list!