Monday, December 3, 2007

History of U.S. Toy Safety Regulation

Article in the Wall Street Journal -- It Dawned on Adults After WWII: 'You'll Shoot Your Eye Out!', by Cynthia Crossen -- that discusses the history of toy safety regulation in the United States.  Here's an excerpt:

In late 1969, President Nixon signed into law the Toy Safety Act, the first national safety standard for playthings. The act authorized the Department of Health, Education and Welfare to test and ban hazardous toys. A year passed before the department ordered any toys removed from store shelves. On Dec. 22, 1970, it announced a ban on 39 toys, including several archery sets, some squeeze toys with easily removable squeakers, dolls with barely covered pins or wires and some breakable baby rattles.

By 1974, more than 1,500 toys had been banned by the newly established Consumer Product Safety Commission. Among them was a Smokey the Bear tent that was highly flammable; the popular clacker balls -- two plastic balls on a string -- that could shatter when banged together with enough force; several brands of xylophones, whose keys had sharp edges; and a Betsy Wetsy doll partly held together with a straight pin.

Some people thought the regulations were going too far. "I believe the decision as to whether or not Junior ought to be allowed to play with a sharp-eyes Sniffy Dog or a Talkie Tiger whose squeaker is removable is a decision that in a free society ought to be made by a child's parents and not the federal government," wrote a syndicated columnist, John Lofton, in 1973. "Why, pray tell, ban a battery-operated 'Cheerful Daschund No. 256' simply because it has a sharp pointed nose? Should it not be assumed that the average buyer will notice the shape of the nose and decide for himself whether or not it is too dangerously sharp?"

Both the government and the toy industry began to point to parents as part of the problem, charging they weren't always doing their jobs in protecting their children. Not all hazards came from poor design, a federal safety official said. Some came from the consumer's improper selection and use of toys. "Toys can never be designed or regulated with absolute safety," he said.


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