Before the days of widespread internet usage and online parenting social media groups, it was a lot harder for people to get information on the dangers of certain toys. Aside from news stories or outright recalls, the mishaps involving toys were mostly chalked up to an individual child’s experience.
While anyone could have seen the trouble that Lawn Darts would bring, not every toy was so obviously dangerous. Some toys required the right imagination or a penchant for the sort of danger that only a child would appreciate. We’re going to fondly examine some of the most dangerous 1990s toys so that we can collectively wonder: what were we thinking?
Just for the sake of clarity here, not all these were invented in the 90s, but they sure as heck made the 90s a lot more interesting and dangerous.
Socker Boppers (Sock’em Boppers)
I’m gonna start off with a personal story for the Sock’em Boppers. I grew up with two older brothers, and that means I got beat on a lot. At first glance, it seems possible that my parents were trying to do me a favor by giving my brothers cushions for their hands.
Here’s the thing, though. If you look at the commercial, these kids are playfully swinging at each other and being happy.
My brothers and I must have watched too many Mike Tyson fights because we went absolutely crazy with these things. That wouldn’t be much of a problem in and of itself if the toys actually stayed inflated.
Spoiler alert: they didn’t.
Instead, these toys would deflate more and more as the seams wore down from use. I can’t explain the exact mechanism of their structural failure, though. That probably has something to do with all the blows to the head.
Anyways, this was a pretty dangerous toy because kids used them to hit each other all over without feeling the need to hold back. I don’t have any stats to back up the danger these posed, but I have a hunch that I was not the only younger brother to see stars on account of the Socker Boppers.
I can still hear that commercial in my head, though. More fun than a pillow fight. Yeah, sure.
Yo-yo Water Balls
Imagine trying to make a really safe toy and failing in every way imaginable. That’s the yo-yo water ball.
How could something like this be dangerous? It’s soft, after all. On one side is a knot of hard plastic that connects to a soft-ish, fluid-filled ball with an elastic cord that could stretch several feet. That doesn’t sound too bad, right? Except it was. In fact, every part of this toy was a little hazardous.
Some kids stretched the plastic knot on the yo-yo water ball while someone else was holding the other end and then let go. That little plastic knot would then smack kids in the face and eyes. Other kids got the opposite treatment and were smacked with the spiky end of the ball. That also smarts a little bit.
The really unfortunate kids swung the ball around like a flail and had the elastic band wrap around their necks several times, causing a few kids to pass out and get severe injuries.
That’s not even counting the kids that got low-quality brands of the toy that had mystery fluid in the ball. Sometimes it was highly flammable fluid that smelled like diesel and other times it the ball would rupture and the kid would get a bad rash.
How could you try to make a fun toy and mess up that badly?
Splash Off Water Rockets
On one hand, the Splash Off Water Rocket was not a bad toy if you were trying to realistically depict the dangers of science. On the other hand, it was a bad toy if you didn’t want to learn a harsh lesson about overpressurizing plastic containers and products being made by the lowest bidder.
Apparently, you would place the rocket on the base. Then, you’d hook up the garden hose to the base, let it fill up with water until it got enough pressure, and then hit that launch button. The problem was the toy was not always made with high-quality products, and the plastic would burst from time to time. Shrapnel would hit the kids playing with the toy and fun time was over.
According to the recall notice, the injuries received could be described as “severe.” These toys were taken off the market in 1997, but new, safer versions have been released since.
I would have thought that more kids would watch the rocket fall and get hit with it.
The Skip-It was a pretty simple concept. You slip the cuff over your ankle and spin the ball around while jumping over it. The 1990s models had a counter in the ball. You could say that was the very best part of all.
You can hear the commercial, can’t you?
To be fair, this toy was probably not dangerous to 95% of the world. However, for people that were uncoordinated, unlucky, or both, this toy sucked. If you mistimed the jump or had the course of the ball altered during its spin, then you could get hurt..
The best-case scenario would involve you smacking yourself in the ankle with the ball. The worst case, as I learned, was when you land on the ball with one foot and try to skip with the other simultaneously. Ankles were rolled and faces were planted.
Again, most kids were safe from this, but my dumb self (and a few others, I’m sure) either hurt ourselves or had them used as a flail against us by angry siblings.
The Gym Scooter
The Gym Scooters were the best thing to happen to gym class and the worst thing to happen to school kids’ fingers. I honestly feel sad for anyone that did not get the chance to play with these.
These are not to be confused with the Rover Rollers. Those had handles. They were safe-ish.
The design was simple. You would sit on this platform a few inches from the ground and grab onto the handles. Beneath that platform were four wheels that swivelled for easy turning as you propelled yourself across the floor using your legs.
You could play all kinds of great games by scrambling across the gym floor at school or in the street at home. The latter was not a good idea, though.
Although it was fun to play handball or race on one of these, a lot of fingers got bruised and broken on these bad boys. They don’t have brakes and something about them seemed to make your hands slip off of the handle and onto the floor just as someone was rolling by.
I’m not entirely sure that these are still being used in schools today, but I hope they are. They’re worth the danger.
Dive sticks were a good idea that ended up being one of the most dangerous 1990s toys. The concept behind these toys was to toss them in the pool, let them sink, and then have the kids go in the pool and get them off the bottom.
Not only were these fun for the kids, but they would also give parents a few blessed minutes of silence as their kids spent more and more time under the water to collect them. It was supposed to work out for everyone.
How could something so innocuous as a weighted stick be so harmful?
The trouble started with the materials from which the dive sticks were made. Some of the products were made from hard plastic. That made them durable, but if they stood up when they sank to the bottom of the pool, they would quickly become quite dangerous.
Unfortunately, several kids in the 90s cannon-balled into pools without knowing the dive sticks were on the bottom, and they sustained severe injuries that required surgery. You don’t have to use your imagination to understand how horrible that could be.
New models of these toys are on the market today, but they’re made from soft materials that don’t stand up in the water!
Wham-O’s Slip N’ Slides
Wham-O’s Slip N’ Slides were introduced in the 1980s and hit their stride in the 1990s. At first glance, you’d have trouble figuring out how in the world this could be dangerous to someone. Add a little imagination, a bunch of misuses, and a lot of people that didn’t pay attention to the recommended age.
The basic concept of this toy was that you would lay out this 40-foot-long piece of lubricated plastic, keep water flowing on it, get a running start, and jump and slide along until you hit the pool of water at the end. I know that some kids used shampoo, dish soap, or anything else they could get their hands on it to get a little extra speed.
Playing on the Slip N’ Slides sounds like a blast, at least in theory. Originally, it was designed as a summer toy for people aged 11 and under. What happened was that older, larger, or unlucky people started using the toy.
Whether it was the slippery surface or bad jump angles, people went tumbling into the ground and got seriously hurt. Some people suffered very severe injuries to their neck. This toy didn’t get taken off the market, though.
Bonus Round: Pogs
This one is just a silly entry, so don’t take it too seriously.
Pogs really came back hard in the 1990s, and there was a craze for them that lasted a year or two. If you weren’t there, here’s how it worked. You would take a stack of pogs and put them on a table or the ground. Your opponent would do the same.
Then, you would take a slammer, a metal piece, and slam that on the top of the stack and flip them. Any that you flipped would be taken out of the pile until someone takes over half of the opponent’s pile. Sounds simple, right?
How the heck could pogs be dangerous?
For one thing, people would play pogs for keeps, and that would start fights. Many schools had to put a ban on pogs to stop fighting from happening over pogs. Nobody wants to lose their precious National Geographic pogs.
Other times, people would get hurt by someone throwing their slammer in anger. Also, I bet someone has eaten and choked on a pog, too.
We’re Stronger for Surviving the Most Dangerous 90s Toys
The 1990s were a bit of a wild time for toys. That generation of kids was a test group for any kind of crazy idea that came into the heads of toy company executives.
You wanna bake some questionable snacks? Have at it. You want to pressurize this cheap plastic tube until it goes up or goes everywhere? Here ya go, kid.
Kids these days are definitely safer than we were in the 90s, but we still had a lot of fun.
Thanks for reading my inaugural post on Pop Decades. Stick around and get your fill of nostalgia!