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The Era Of Buck Rogers And Flash Gordon

The first toy space guns were produced in the 1930s and 1940s. Part of the Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon craze that swept the United States, they were an important byproduct of the popularization of space that occurred in the early decades of the twentieth century. During the 1920s and 1930s, an American scientist, Robert H. Goddard, began the first early tests of liquid-fueled rockets. Disproving the theory that rockets could not move forward in space because there was no air to push against, Goddard discovered the basic principles of rocket science. Yet, ironically, it was not Goddard, the father of space travel, who first caught the public's attention and popularized space exploration. It was a far more fanciful and romantic character, Buck Rogers.

Anthony "Buck" Rogers was born in August of 1928 in an early edition of the pulp magazine, Amazing Stories. Although not the first cheap, popular magazine to include tales of science fiction, Amazing Stories was the first to specialize in the genre, and its premier editions, published in 1926, contained reprints of stories by such writers as H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. Eventually, when it received enough original submissions, the magazine began to publish new works. And it was in one of these, in a story entitled "Armageddon 2419" by Philip Nowlan, that Buck Rogers was created. An air force officer who lapsed into a coma and awakened in the 25th Century, Rogers and his cohorts, the lovely Wilma Deering and the intrepid scientist Dr. Huer, struggled to rid the world of evil warlords and "Mongol" hords.

The editors of the National Newspaper Service were looking for a new adventure comic strip, and so in January of 1929 Philip Nolan and illustrator Dick Calkins were invited to inaugurate a syndicated comic strip of Buck's adventures which became so popular that it ran for over forty years. A radio adaptation was broadcast from 1932 to 1947, movies were made, and television versions ran in the 1950s and 1980s. Buck Rogers became THE American space hero, and one of the great American heroes of all time. So insatiable was the public appetite for the daring space traveler that he spawned another popular space hero, Flash Gordon, created in 1934 by King Features to compete with the Buck Rogers comic strip. Like Buck, Flash soon became a comic book hero and radio star, and over the years, he appeared in the movies and on television. By the end of the 1930s, space had become a popular and well-known adventure setting. And until the late 1950s and early 1960s, with the inauguration of the space race, Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon were probably responsible for teaching most Americans what they knew about outer space.

Ray Guns of the 1930s and 1940s
Space guns were just one of the many kinds of space toys and memorabilia that accompanied and promoted the popular interest in space during the 1930s and 1940s. From storybooks to space helmets and games to model rocketships, space-related merchandise captured the American consumer's imagination. This was not surprising. For by the 1930s, the practice of promoting toys and other saleable goods by connecting them to popular comic strip characters and radio personalities was well established. The Yellow Kid, America's first well known comic newspaper character in the late 19th century, set a model when he became the subject of numerous licensed products sold to cash in on his popularity. With the advent of radio this practice intensified as advertisers rushed to associate themselves with popular radio characters by producing and distributing products, or "premiums," connected to these characters. Buck Rogers was one of the most often licensed characters, as companies like Kellogg's, Cream of Wheat and Onward School Supplies promoted their products by offering Buck Rogers merchandise. The first toy space gun was created in 1933 exclusively as a Buck Rogers premium, and other early guns were sold both in stores and offered as product promotions. Among the most notable ray guns made in the 1930s and 1940s were four Buck Rogers guns made by Daisy Manufacturing in various sizes and finishes. Other important space guns include the Flash Gordon Radio Repeater by Marx, the Atom Ray Gun by Hiller, The Spinray Blast Pistol by Armstrong and Brewer, and the Atom-Matic Water Rocket Gun by Playcraft. These guns were all made of die-cast or pressed metal, or cast aluminum.