Synopsis of Toy
In a pinch, kids can turn just about anything into a gun—a stick, a banana, a finger—but it always helped if the thing actually made an exploding noise. That was magic of the cap gun, that ubiquitous play weapon with the satisfying “BANG!”
The first cap guns were born out of economic necessity. After the U.S. Civil War ended in 1865, several gun manufacturers found themselves with too many factories and too little demand for weaponry. To keep the factory doors open, some gun makers turned their instruments of destruction into toys, loading them with loud but harmless gunpowder caps. Kids were enthralled with the realistic armaments, and a new toy legend was born.
Over the next several decades, cap guns remained the toy of choice for many an overaggressive young lad (and a few overaggressive little Annie Oakley wannabes as well). The little dashes of gunpowder that gave cap guns their noisy kick were relatively inexpensive, making cap battles an affordable upgrade to simply chasing each other around and shouting “POW! POW!” And if the guns themselves were too pricey, plenty of senseless fun could still be had just by pounding a rock down on the caps.
Times changed over the cap gun’s life span, but somehow, guns were always a part of the make-believe lifestyle. Whether playing Prohibition-era cops and robbers, protecting the home front during World War II (despite the low odds of a Nazi invasion in Oklahoma), conquering the wild frontier during Gene Autry and Roy Rogers’ heyday, playing cloak and dagger spy games in the 60’s and 70’s, or going full-out Rambo in the commando 80’s, there was always a good reason to pick up a cap gun and start blasting.
The decades brought changes in the guns and caps themselves—from wood and metal to plastic, from single-shot to rapid-fire, from hand-loaded caps to roll caps to machine-fed cap clusters and so on—but the basics remained the same. Even after rashes of youth violence and anti-gun sentiment, cap guns are still being produced today, and the explosive sounds of gunpowder-fueled make believe play on.