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Space Toys By Don Thompson
Vintage space toys can be divided into two chronological sections; before, and after GI Joe.
Of course, I am not inlcuding the Star Wars period. Before 1964, when GI Joe was born,
space toys consisted of robots, ray guns and playsets. After GI Joe, action figures were
all the rage and we were introduced to figures like Major Matt Mason, Billy Blastoff
and Moon McDare.
I've compiled a handful of my favorites from primarily the pre-GI Joe period, focusing on playsets and vehicles. I've only scratched the surface as there are mountains of material available on ray guns and robots, the two most popular pre-action figure space toys. Actual descriptions from catalogs or box art were used whenever possible. While the reading may come off as a little terse, I think it gives the article a bit of a retro feel.
So, go get two "D" cell batteries, strap yourself in, and get ready for chrome, blinking lights, dials and spring-launched rockets and missles. 5-4-3-2-1, blast off!
Sears Exclusive - Moon Mobiles
These space cars were beautiful Sears exclusives in 1961. There were 3 cars that ran on 2 "D" batteries. The following descriptions are from the 1960 Sears Catalog.
Remco's Yankee Doodle Secret Rocket Test Center
"There goes the warning siren preceding a launching! Now the doors open automatically and the launcher rises to shooting position with rocket primed to go! Now the automatic countdown clock ticks off the count! It reaches zero! Zoom! Rocket and satellite take off on a trip to outer space!" - from 1959 Sears Catalog
Remco's Voice Control Astronaut Base
"Listen…Command…Direct Actual Missile Launches, Voice Control Astronaut Base, Actually Listen To Astronauts And Space Control Center Conversations By Electro-Phone Communications, Works Like A Real Rocket Launch Pad, Amazing Realism! Simulate The Following: Missile Launches, Astronaut Reports, Recovery Operations, Gantry Operations, Rocket Transport, Countdowns & Blast-Offs! Really Launches Missile, Space Control Center, Launch Pad & Operating Gantry, Figures, Rescue Copter, Rocket & Astronaut Vans, Detailed Operations Area, Tube Connected Earphone, And Real Recordings!" - from Box
The Astro-Sound sets featured a Satellite and a Robot that would talk when slid along the sound track. Short on accessories but a clever variation on the pull-string record theme.
Ideal's Astro Base
"Sight moving enemy space craft through the outer space scope in the dome... press the rocket-fire button... lights flash, machine guns chatter as you blast them from the skies. Then push the space lock control... see the big Astro Base door open... watch the astronaut come out and lower into the scout car. Remote control the car as it goes out on its scouting mission. Watch the car fire with space probes automatically. Probes can be pre-set to fire at any time during the mission." - from Sears 1960 Catalog
Ideal Space Belt and Helmet
Ideal made several neat helmet and belt combos in the '60s, including the Batman and Steve Canyon sets. The Space set let little Billy USA stagger around in the backyard wearing his authentic child-sized space helmet with microphone, and utility belt, complete with 4 essential moon exploration tools.
Marx Space Ranger
"Send this plastic rocket ship into 6-foot orbit. You're at the remote controls as metal bar swings it forward, into reverse. It blows up a flying saucer, rescues a man, sends a secret message. Accessories - exploding flying saucer, nose cone, space car, 3 rockets, 6 astronauts, 6 moonmen etc." - from 1962 Sears Catalog
Marx Atomic Cape Canaveral Missile Base
This is one of the most popular of the Marx Playsets. This baby came with a tin litho building, space record, fencing, four-stage rocket, bomarc rocket, somarc missle and launcher, scientists gantry and launch pad, flying saucer, searchlight, radar antenna, space capsule, flying saucer and launcher, helicopter, fuel truck, missle trailer, dome, fuel tanks, scientists, NASA ticket, missle men and more!
Cragstan Air Defense Center
"Radar scans sky.. warning lights blink.. missles fire! Air Defense Center is busy with action.. has rotating antenna and radar scope; winking lights; moving air speed register and altimeter. 3 rubber-tipped darts. Steel, 12 in. long." - from 1962 Sears Catalog
Topper Johnny Astro Launching Station and Exlorer
"Launch and operate your own space-craft wtihout wires or connections.. you are in complete control! Prepare for take off. Aim the directional control with your right hand, move the speed control forward with your left hand. Fly it high, low, sidewares.. you are in command. Set includes 3 space vehilces, landing and launching station, control center. Metal and plastic." - from 1967 Sears Catalog
The Explorer was essentially the same toy as the Launching Station except that it was hand-held, almost flashlight sized.
Topper Toys Johnny Astro Spacemobile
Remco and Topper made many similar toys in the '60s. Remco produced the Monkey Division line and Topper; the Johnny Seven series. Remco made The Mighty Matilda and Topper; the Battlewagon. Remco; Johnny Reb. Topper; Mighty Mo. During this raging rivalry, Remco and Topper made some swell cockpit and dashboard toys. These mockpits simulated the driving experience, allowing children to pretend like they were were in control of a car or ship.
The Spacemobile, by Topper, included a working flight panel, pedal, microphone, steering and ray gun. Set this thing up on the kitchen table, douse the lights and you were in orbit!
Topper Operation X-500
This toy was probably the sole competition for the Marx Cap Canaveral playset. Typical Topper in terms of gizmos, gimmicks and gadgets. This set came with plastic figures, launching rockets, firing missles, working lights, train and more!