Ads #23

Oh, my God.

This is an ad from a 1913 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Maybe you've seen it- this is something I've scanned myself, but it may be floating around on the internet somewhere else.  I nearly choked on my bagel when I first laid eyes on this.  It is just so wrong on so many different levels.

"Papa says it won't hurt us" is actually written on the kid's shirt. Are you kidding me? She's playing with her little doll and a loaded revolver in bed. A revolver that it specifically says will "shoot straight and kill". What's the matter, they didn't have any razors or broken glass for her to play with?

I understand they were more comfortable with firearms back then, but did they let toddlers play with handguns?  Good Lord.


  1. Actually, there was a (admittedly small) concern for gun safety by manufacturers then that isn't found now. Let me explain. First, firearm ownership (including pistols) was more common, perhaps, across a social spectrum than they are now. Much like the environment of fear today, many Americans carried or had small pistols for "defense." I won't go into whether or not such fears were justified. I personally doubt that they were; however, a common perception of inadequate or lax law enforcement (this was not too long after the end of the "Wild West," remember), helped the manufacture and sales of cheap handguns - the "suicide specials" of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. If an American did have a pistol in 1913, it more than likely was a small pistol, of usually .32 caliber, that could easily be carried in a pocket or handbag.
    Obviously, there are disadvantages to this. The exposed hammers could be caught on fabric or other items in your pocket, and in the process of pulling out some loose change - BANG! Also, these pistols were small - as small and lightweight as toys. A small child finds a shiny, toy-like silver pistol in Daddy's sock drawer or Mommy's purse, and tragedy results.
    So some of the gun manufacturers, like Iver Johnson and Harrington and Richardson, infamous makers of cheap Suicide Specials, as well as more "responsible" gun makers like Smith and Wesson started putting out "Safety Pistols." They were hammerless, so a man could no longer castrate himself when the hammer of a revolver caught on fabric inside his pocket, and pistols were made with a very heavy trigger pull n the belief that a child lacked the strength to pull the trigger.
    "Accidental Discharge Impossible." Obviously, this was before the concept of truth in advertising. The ad is way over the top, but it is useful to place it into historical context. What I find interesting is that, compared to today's rabid NRA environment, US gun manufacturers then acknowledged the inherent unsafe aspect of their products and actively tried to change some of their products. A few years ago, an American gun manufacturer was loudly criticized by the NRA and its supporters because they introduced a pistol with safety features that made it "harder to fire." The NRA called it unsafe! It couldn't go off with a hair trigger!

  2. Oh my goodness. What an incredible ad!

    It almost looks as though she already shot her doll dead!

  3. Wow, anonymous, what a interesting comment. It sounds ridiculous at first that this ad was more safety conscious than the present day NRA! But you're right - at least they're admitting that this product has presented safety concerns.... something the gun-humping NRA of today would never concede. Excellent point!

    And Richard, she couldn't have shot that doll. The ad plainly reads "accidental discharge impossible".

  4. Who said it was an accident?

  5. Talk about confusing and conflicting messaging! The ad says it's not a toy, accidental discharge possible, etc. but yet it's also "absolutely safe"...so safe, they show a little girl holding it in bed next to her dolly.

    And there's more where this came from...they had a whole fire arms encyclopedia. Must've made for some interesting bedtime reading!

  6. OK, I just have to respond to the original comment by "Anonymous", because it is a farrago of half-truths, falsehoods, and misunderstandings, and as a shooting fan and a history buff, I can't let it go un-addressed; I hate it when people spread misinformation and other people pick it up thinking it's true.

    Firstly, the safety aspect of the Iver Johnson has little to do with the hammer or lack thereof. Yes, exposed hammers can snag on things, but that's not really a safety issue. For a pistol to fire because the hammer snagged, the hammer would have to be pulled BACK, then let fall. Not only is this rather unlikely (imagine drawing a pistol from your coat-pocket and how the hammer could get pulled back?) virtually every firearm since, oh, 1650 or so has had safety mechanisms, such as a "half-cock" position for the hammer, for the purpose of preventing this.

    Secondly, as about 30 seconds of Googling will show you, I-J's "safety automatic" terminology had to do with a particular kind of internal mechanical safety designed to prevent the gun from firing unless the trigger was pulled.

    Finally, the claim "there was a (admittedly small) concern for gun safety by manufacturers then that isn't found now...compared to today's rabid NRA environment, US gun manufacturers then acknowledged the inherent unsafe aspect of their products and actively tried to change some of their products" is bizarre, inflammatory, and clearly false. If you go to Sturm Ruger's website, "Safety" is right up there in the top navbar; if you go to http://www.coltsmfg.com/ right now the very first thing that pops up is a safety recall notice. Glocks are built with multiple mechanical safeties. Here's a firearm safety recall notice; here's another one.

    And the NRA, which according to "Anonymous" bullies manufacturers into not including safety features (without citing any names or even a year that would enable someone to look it up), runs the Eddie Eagle safety program for children and a wide network of safety and training programs for shooters.

    In conclusion: "Anonymous" is ignorant and should not be regarded as a useful source of information.

    That said, the ad is still weird and creepy. WTF? It's not a toy. Don't hand it to your kid to play with in bed.

  7. Whew. (wiping sweat from brow) Now I'm more confused than ever. I could clear it up by fact checking, but I like to keep Retrospace lightweight. The toughest issues we tackle around here are things like "why disco died" and "why isn't the 6 Million Dollar Man on DVD yet?".

  8. Gilligan, I'm glad that glasshand knows so much more than me about firearm history, as I'm only a historian and a firearms collector, and hence ignorant. I guess he missed the point that I was making.
    I love your site. Keep up the great posts.