Clackers: The Toy That Was Banned Just Because It Injured Kids
April 4, 2021
The banned children's toys known as clackers were loud, but were they dangerous? If you played with them as a kid in the '60s or '70s, you remember the clack-clack-clacking din of plastic or glass sphere smacking against sphere. Did you ever witness the infamous shattering of a clacker, with glass or plastic shrapnel flying dangerously in all directions? Evidently, it happened, as there were numerous documented cases of injury due to fractured clackers, and they were taken off the market. This is the story of a toy that sparked parental concern and government intervention -- the notorious clackers.
Clackers Were A Very Simple Toy With Many Names
Clackers, also known as, click-clacks, knockers, Ker-Bangers and Clankers, tested the patience of parents everywhere, starting in the late ‘60s to early ‘70s. The two plastic or glass balls suspended by a simple string became a massive fad in the Groovy era, much to the chagrin of adults not wanting migraines. Similar in appearance to bolas, the hunting weapon used by South American gauchos, Clackers created quite the clattering and even became a hazard when overly boisterous children “clacked” them so hard they exploded. Clackers also may have introduced us to the earliest form of helicopter parents, wringing their hands over the potential dangers of two little plastic balls and a piece of string.
A Parent's Nightmare
Naturally, like moths to flame, children will always be drawn to toys or really anything that can annoy their parents. In 1968, clackers fulfilled that deep-seated desire many children to make as much noise as possible. Ostensibly, the clackers also helped children with their hand-eye coordination to create the “clacking” that would annoy anyone within earshot.
From Glass To Plastic
Originally, Clackers were made with tempered glass but after a few shattered and sent shards of glass flying like tiny Ginsu knives, manufacturers switched to plastic. Unfortunately, while the switch to plastic did stop tiny shards of glass from flying at high speeds like a dirty bomb that just went off, they did not solve the problem. In fact, the plastic clackers tended to explode even more often than the glass ones. The improvement was that at least plastic was now rocketing around the room as opposed to glass.
As the New York Times reported on Feb. 12, 1971, “Citing at least four injuries, the Food and Drug Administration issued a public warning yesterday against the “clacker,” a toy enjoying a popularity surge similar to that of the hula‐hoop in years past.” You know America was in a good place when “at least four injuries” stirred the FDA to issue a national warning on the dangers of a toy.
The agency also announced they would be testing clackers from more than a dozen companies to determine “velocity and shatter potential before deciding whether to ban the toy.” This ban caught the attention of the Society for the Prevention of Blindness who became champions against the dangers of clackers. A number of committees and organizations sprang up around the perils of clackers; according to an essay by Sarah Slobin at Quartz,
paranoia about unsafe toys became a pervasive feature in the childhoods of American Baby Boomers, ultimately sowing the seeds for the helicopter parenting style of today.
Saturday Night Live found the clacker hand wringing so funny, they wrote a skit with Dan Ackroyd selling a bag of glass. His tagline was “because the average kid picks up glass everywhere anyway, so why not package it and give them what they want?”
Just as the clacker fad was losing steam the Consumer Product Safety Commission deemed them a “mechanical hazard.” Parents everywhere rejoiced as they disappeared from the market. Therefore, the clackers went the way of “jarts” also known as lawn darts, which were a fun outdoor game when safety precautions were observed. The jarts were a bit like throwing knives, though, and kids were bound to use them as such sooner or later.
By simply using more durable plastic, clackers could be used without the fear of losing one’s eyesight. Unfortunately, for clacker makers, no one was really interested except for children in Egypt in 2017. Apparently, in Egypt, they were called "Sisi's balls", referring to the testicles of the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Of course, once “Sisi’s balls” became popular, police began arresting sellers and confiscated 1,403 pairs of the toy. For some strange reason, they were considered offensive to the government.