Contributor: Kate Roberts
Senior Exhibit Developer
It’s a simple enough game, with rules similar to horseshoes. Players, individually or in teams, toss plastic darts with weighted ends toward a target on the ground (usually a plastic ring sold as part of the game). You get a point every time you land a dart in a ring. The significance of the game of Jarts lies not in its innovative style of play, but in its notorious reputation. If you come across a list of most dangerous toys, odds are good that Jarts—also known as lawn darts, and originally sold with sharp metal tips—are on it.
As long as there have been toys, there have been concerns about their safety. But for centuries kids didn’t have many toys, and those they played with were often simple and homemade. In the early 1930s, though, members of the Toy Manufacturers Association, a trade organization, established a Toy Safety Committee. Working with the National Safety Council, the committee began accumulating data on toy injuries and hazards and establishing safety standards. This was a great start—but adherence to the standards was purely voluntary, and definitions of safety varied. That’s how the Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, complete with four types of uranium ore and including a comic book titled Dagwood Splits the Atom, ended up on toy store shelves in time for the 1950 holiday season.
Throughout the 1950s and ‘60s, alarms were raised about all sorts of toys, from metal figures covered in lead paint to toy arrows and darts to cap guns. Finally, in 1969 President Richard Nixon signed the Child Protection and Toy Safety Act, which authorized the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to test and ban hazardous toys. By the end of 1970 more than three dozen toys had been banned. Two years later the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, an independent agency, took over as the nation’s monitor of toy safety.
Which brings us back to Jarts. Some people considered them unsafe from the very start. Others noted that they were a toy made for adults, and that children should only handle them with adult supervision. Over time, the original metal tips on Jarts were replaced with plastic ones, and the safety warnings on their packaging became more strident. Banned by the Consumer Product Safety Commission in 1988, they are still a subject of debate. Whether you love or loath them, one thing’s for certain—Jarts have made an indelible mark on the history of toy safety.
(From Toys of the '50s, '60s, and '70s by Kate Roberts and Adam Scher, published by the Minnesota Historical Society to accompany an exhibit by the same name. For more on the book and the exhibit, visit http://tinyurl.com/MinnToys)
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