BB guns

BB guns

Synopsis of Toy

As kids become older, they tend to outgrow the toys they once loved as kids. But there is a special, more ‘mature’ group of toys aimed at older children that tend to enjoy a longer period of popularity. A prime example is the BB gun, an air-powered gun powerful enough for target shooting but safe enough for older kids to use. This combination of elements has helped the BB gun become one of the most reliably popular toys of the 20th century.

Air-powered guns have a lengthy history that starts around 125 A.D. with the introduction of the blowgun, a tube into which a hunter blew to shoot a projectile out the other side. This idea was transferred into gun form somewhere in the 1500’s, with the bellows gun from 1580 being the earliest known air-powered gun. These guns used a spring-loaded bellows in the gun butt to create a burst of air that would propel a dart out its barrel.

A few decades later, the first pneumatic (pump-up) air gun was created in France for King Henry IV. Pneumatic guns fired their projectiles after air was pumped into reservoir built into the gun. When the marksman pulled the trigger, the compressed air shot the projectile out of the air with speed. These early guns were not easy to obtain, since their costly mechanisms made them too pricey for anyone except the very rich. Just the same, they were the first to incorporate the same technology that would later be used to make BB guns.

As guns were developed that used cartridges and smokeless powder, the air rifle went out of vogue as a serious weapon. However, air rifles continued to be made and became popular with children. In 1885, the Markham Air Rifle Company became one of the first companies to sell BB guns in the U.S. These pneumatic rifles eliminated bullets in favor of a small pellet the size of a ball bearing. Because of this, these air rifles soon became known as ‘BB guns.’ A few years later, a company that sold steel windmills decided to start selling the air rifles they gave away as premiums with their windmills. They put aside windmills in 1895 to concentrate on air rifles full-time, changing their name to Daisy.

Unlike Markham air rifles, Daisy’s guns were mostly made of steel, improving both their strength and the attractiveness of their design. The result was a superior air rifle that became a big hit very quickly—within 5 years, Daisy had sold 250,000 BB guns. This success inspired other manufacturers like the Dubuar Manufacturing Company and the Atlas Gun Company to start selling their own BB guns. Daisy counteracted this competition by buying out both of these competitors as well as their predecessor, the Markham Air Rifle Company.

Daisy also began playing up to its youthful market by making special BB guns as tie-ins for popular historical and fictional characters like Davy Crockett, Annie Oakley, and Zorro. The most popular of these was the legendary Red Ryder BB Gun. This model, inspired by a popular comic strip cowboy hero, soon became the BB gun for any discerning kid (including young Ralphie in the holiday classic A Christmas Story). With the exception of a period during World War II, this BB gun has been sold continuously since 1938, making it the longest continuously-running tie-in merchandise item of all time.

Thanks to rifles like the Red Ryder model, BB guns became an institution in the toy world. Many kids loved these guns because to get one meant reaching a new level of maturity and responsibility that put the owner on the path to ‘growing up.’ As a result, BB guns have remained popular through the years and have continued to thrive in new forms, including BB pistols. The early 1970’s brought the introduction of AirSoft pistols, which used light rubber BB’s in place of the metal kind and fired with less force. They were still perfect for target shooting (even indoors), but lessened the risk of injury.

Today, BB guns are still being produced in both rifle and pistol forms. AirSoft pistols in particular are very popular, made in variety of styles modeled after different types of real pistols. These rubber BB blasters even have their fans among the adult population, who use them as a harmless stress-relieving device. The ongoing popularity of BB guns among all age groups shows that this a toy mature enough to have long-term appeal.

Release History of Toy

1885 - Markham Air Rifle Company
1895 - Daisy Air Rifle Company

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