Saturday was the best day when I was a kid in Elizabeth, New jersey. No school, and the weekly bus trip up town. The routine was to have a turkey lunch at the Woolworth 5 & 10. I can still see myself sitting at the counter rushing through the meal, so that I could run to the toy area. I can still picture the wooden counter with bins full of soldiers, cars, boats, kites, yo-yo's and water guns. In the mid-'50s this was the place to be. Each week a new supply of plastic water guns arrived.
1960’s Green Hornet knuckle water gun
Of course by the next week one had usually lost his purchased water gun and a new one was required. The guns were lost in two ways: the teacher confiscated it during the week or it fell on the hard concrete and broke. Several of us plotted on how to get all the confiscated guns from the teacher's desk without her being aware of the action. It never went any further than plotting.
Early Water Guns
One of the first memorable water guns-the most expensive one for the collector-is the Buck Rogers liquid Helium XZ-44 Water Pistol by Daisy. The XZ-44 is 71/2" with a red body and yellow lightning bolts and it came onto the market in 1936. Daisy manufactured a second Buck Rogers liquid Helium XZ-44 Water Pistol in a copper finish. The pistol sold for the large amount of 25 cents. Since the pistol was made of metal, the water was stored in a leather bladder and then was squeezed out.
The Buck Rogers liquid Helium XZ-44 would be the first of a continuing trend in water guns. Space adventure would bring many different types of space water guns into the 5 & 10 and toy stores over the next 60 years. "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" had originated in the August 1928 issue of Amazing Stories. Created by Philip N owlan, Buck, Wilma and Dr. Huer continued to fight evil and travel through space into the future.
Along the way hundreds of products were manufactured and given away to promote the comic strip, radio show and later television show. The manufacturer of the XZ-44
Daisy of Plymouth, Michigan, was famous for its production of Daisy Air Rifles. Anyone that has watched the classic A Christmas Story remembers Ralphie and his request for Santa to bring him a Daisy rifle.
Ad for the Buck Rogers water gun by Daisy
War and Peace
World War II interrupted the making of toys. But, once the war was over, the toy market expanded due to the pent-up demand that the war had created, not to mention the "Baby Boom." There was one unique metal water gun that appeared briefly on the market. It was a small, black, pocket gun that was manufactured for a few, brief years and is stamped "Made in Occupied Japan." The rough construction and very dark, black paint set it off. Since the gun was made of metal, it was capable of only holding a limited amount of water. Its value is that it was stamped "Made in Occupied japan" which only occurred for a few years.
One of the major advances in materials during the Second World War was the use of plastic. This carried over into the manufacture of toys. Metal water guns began to disappear from the market. Plastic was lighter, easier to make and allowed more vibrant colors of toys to be made.
The Reliable Toy Company, located in Toronto, Ontario, manfactured the "Atomic" Water Pistol. During the war Reliable had saved and stored scrap plastic; once the war was over it employed the new material in toy production. The "Atomic" was bright red, with a bright yellow trigger. It had a "futuristic" look with a large "R" pressed into the handle grip. The "Atomic"-everything in the '50s seems to have been "Atomic"-came in a wonderful box with a spaceship landing field on the cover.
The water gun came onto the market in 1950 and each year a new variation was added. In this way, Reliable was able to continue to sell the same basic water gun each year to the same kids. One variation had a whistle on the trigger, another an extra ring of plastic on the bottom. The ring of plastic allowed the gun to be fitted to the handle bars of a bike. Bikes were becoming popular items after the war, and the attachable water guns allowed kids to turn their bikes into spaceships. Whole squadrons could now do battle with the evil aliens!
1950's and beyond
Founded in 1920, Reliable the history of the company is interesting in that the founders were related to the owners of Ideal Toys in the United States. Each year both companies would swap various doll and toy molds. One year it would be an Ideal toy and the next year a Reliable Toy.
Packaging for the early 1950’s Atomic Water Pistol by Reliable Toys
Marx manufactured at this time a Flash Gordon 71/2" plastic water gun. Flash Gordon was a product of the same time period as Buck Rogers and he has continued a into the 21st century, as well. Plastic molds allowed for more detail to be included on a toy. The other advantage was that once the mold was completed, millions of plastic toys could be manufactured from the same mold. The new plastic process meant that the color did not have to be painted onto the toy, but the color went through the entire toy. The plastic toys of the 1950s had loud, vibrant colors.
Pocket water guns became popular in the 50s. Reliable sold one: the “Tiny.” It was bright red or green and small enough to put in a pants pocket This type of gun was great to take to school and squirt classmates when the teacher wasn't looking. Others were the tiny cameras that could be ordered from the inside or back pages of comic books. Comic books in the ’50s were only 10 cents, and they provided the perfect area for small toy companies to advertise their products. The ads in the comics were where one found the squirting flower, snapping gum pack and other great items.
The water guns in the 1950s-late 1960s were manufactured in the United States. From 1970-late 1980s production moved to Hong Kong. Now, production resides in China.
Many variations of water guns through the years have been marketed to a specific radio, television or advertising character. In the 1950s besides the space water guns, there was a Dragnet police pistol, modeled on the pistol carried by Sgt. Joe Friday of the LA Police Department It was made of bright red, transparent plastic and carried the Dragnet name on the gun. There were two types: one 41/2" in size, and another larger one at 6" made of black plastic. Pocket derringer water guns were made to represent the various Western shows that were popular in the late 1950s. One water gun had two small tanks and a pistol attached to the tanks with a small hose. The tanks fitted onto one's belt and provided longer operating times before a replenishment of water supply was required. This model was popular around 1954 and ’55. Today it is rarely seen even at toy shows.
The Atomic Water Pistol
Space travel was where it was at in the 1950s. One of the leading manufactures was the Park Plastic Company of Linden, New jersey. The company made a bright red, transparent space gun. The top of the gun had flashes of plastic and it had a “futuristic” look about it The gun sold in the millions. As kids living near the plant, we would visit the bins after closing time to search for scrap plastic and toys. Park Plastic became famous for its production of the water-filled rocket. Kids filled the bright red rocket with water, fitted it onto the pumping attachment and starting pumping air into the rocket When it was full they released the locking lever and off the rocket blasted about lOO feet into the air. Great on a hot, summer day since the water contained in the rocket landed on the person launching it!
Space travel and water guns continued into the 1960s, but the next big surge happened in the mid-1970s. NASTA Industries of Hong Kong manufactured a new, Flash Gordon water pistol. It was in a simple, blister pack with Flash firing away at an unseen target. A second more deluxe version included a plastic holster. The holster slid onto the pants belt. One's hands were now free to move about and explore the alien territory.
Azark-Hamway International had the contract for several space television shows. They included Star Trek and Space 1999. The company sold several different types of space water gun weapons. For Star Trek, one was in the shape of the regular Phaser, but a second more interesting model was in the shape of the USS Enterprise. The Phaser had a black body and a silver front. The USS Enterprise was white with a red trigger. Both were sold on blister packs which featured Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock.
Azark-Hamway had the marketing agreement to sell two types of water guns from the British space show starring Martin Landau and his wife Barbara Bain. Both water guns are based on the same theme as the company's Star Trek. One is a Stun Gun which was the main personal weapon on the show and the other was the Eagle Space Ship. Other popular items of the period include the Green Hornet Knuckle Water Gun and a Spider Man by Durham Plastics.
In the 1980s and ’90s more nonviolent types of water guns have been sold in stores. The range has included an entire animal group: bears, fish, frogs, rabbits (even a rabbit at Easter filled with jelly beans), dogs and cats. In connection with the Flipper movie in 1996, Pizza Hut had available a Flipper or Hammerhead Shark water gun. The guns were similar to the 1936 Buck Rogers in that a bladder held the water. One held the face of Flipper or the Hammerhead underwater and pushed, so that water flowed into the bladder. Once full, one held each toy like a puppet and squeezed the little plastic bladder bulb and the water squirted out the mouth.
An unusual set sold in 1986 by SOMA was called Monster Heads. There were several different Monster Heads available. The gruesome shaped heads were filled with water, which squirted out of a small hole in the mouth. The 1990s brought the monster water guns that shoot hundreds of feet and can carry a large volume of water. The new guns in many cases bring large price tags, as well. Historically, water guns were sold as 5 & 10 inexpensive items to spend one's weekly allowance on. The joy of water gun collecting is that there are thousands of types, and supply is easy to find to fit every collector's price range.
Jim Trautman is a freelance writer for magazines and television. He is presently working on several projects. Jim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org