Although toy cap guns have come under a lot of scrutiny and been highly controversial over the years, you can’t deny the pleasure little kids derive from popping these fun toys. Toy guns have always had a strong appeal, and even today you can find a great variation at your local toy store. Playing cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, and other games has been popular with every generation since toy cap guns came into production in the late 19th century.
The very first toy cap guns were heavy, iron-cast models that got their name from small discs of explosive compounds (roughly 1.4 to 1.6 mm in diameter) that provide the loud bang and smoke. These toys soon became part of the growing family of all-American playthings, taking its place among play kitchens, horse-drawn wagons and scale-model sewing machines. While some of these early cap guns resembled real pocket pistols of the times, most included features that were not intended to resemble real firearms.
It wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century when the budding film industry and rising popularity of Westerns created a demand for more realistic toy cap guns. Soon every little boy and girl wanted to emulate their favorite actors in their plight of good versus evil. Before this time, toy cap guns had very generic names like Buster and Scout, but the growing popularity of fictional western characters created a trend towards very life-like guns with specific names like the Gene Autry repeating rifle. During this time, the company Kilgore released its Lone Ranger cap gun and its highly-prized cast-iron Roy Rogers gun. Hubley was another leader in cast-iron cap guns, and after WWII when toy companies stopped using cast-iron, Hubley’s nickel-plated Cowboy became one of the best-selling cap pistols ever produced. The Cowboy was modeled after the Colt .45 and is incredibly close in copy. Other popular guns modeled after the Colt .45 include Nichols’ Silver Pony, Silver Mustang and Silver Colt.
By the 1960s, production of toy cap guns seemed to come to its end. During this time famous western stars were riding off into the sunset, and television companies were cutting most of their western shows. A lot of companies that had based business on the success of all things western then fell by the wayside. The decreasing popularity of these shows during this time is partly to blame, but it can also be attributed to an awareness of rising crime in the United States. Parents today are much less likely to buy their children something they see as glamorizing violence. The toy cap guns of old have been relegated to the memories of little gunslingers and the rooms of collectors still charmed by the image of the Old West.