Christmas 1961
A Historical Perspective in the Post-Nuclear Age

It's time for the pre-Christmas marketing push of 1961, and Mattel is ready to introduce what is probably the world's first "electronic" game.

The U.S.A. and The Soviet Union are the two lone nuclear powers, and each is living in fear that the other will "push the button" in a pre-emptive strike. There is no technology available that can provide any hope of defense, so the only alternative is MAD - Mutually Assured Destruction.

Nuclear arsenals are expanded, better and more powerful bombs are researched, tested, built and deployed. Fear and paranoia grow while the world holds its collective breath hoping that cooler heads will prevail.

The McCarthy era "Red Scare" and Communist witch hunts have passed, but strong fear and suspicion are still alive and well. John F. Kennedy is president, and his strong anti-Communist stance brings US-Soviet relations to a boiling point. In less than a year, Soviet nuclear missiles will be deployed on the island of Cuba, creating a direct threat to 98% of the continental US. In the ensuing game of political poker Kennedy will use a combination of strong-arm tactics and bluff, and will thankfully come away as the winner.

Many U.S. families were canceling summer vacation plans and instead using the money to build bomb shelters in the backyard. Meanwhile, the US government was producing black and white films and TV ads with snappy music jingles in order to show classrooms of kids how to "Duck and Cover". The whole ritual was treated as if it were a some type of game to be enjoyed.

The entire population seemed to be living in a world of fear coupled with ignorant belief that you could survive a nuclear detonation just down the street from your house; few bomb shelters had filters to eliminate radioactive air and dust, and a cheap public school desk is not going to last very long against the shock wave and fervent heat of an atomic bomb blast.

To this day I still remember believing that a Russian attack was certain. My 6 year old response was to pray each night, "God please, just don't let them attack us tomorrow." I thought that if every day God could just delay the attack for another 24 hours, our destruction could be put off indefinitely.

Kids of the time were still kids; we played, laughed and enjoyed life much like the kids of any generation. Play was different, though. The advent of Television and the freshness of World War II brought us programs like "Combat!", while patriotic Hollywood war films were broadcast for the masses. Toymakers found a ready market for every type of toy weapon imaginable, and most parents, with war against Nazi and Japanese threats still recent in their memories, had little objection to childhood re-enactments of battle.

Seven years would see changes that no one of the time would have ever dreamed. Our long ordeal in Vietnam and the nightly news reports of daily casualties would cause a tremendous shift in public opinion. College campus anti-war protests would become almost daily events, culminating in the tragedy at Kent State University. By the end of the decade politcal lobbying organizations would be protesting for "No More War Toys".

But kids in the fall of 1961 were thinking of the beginning of the school year, the new TV shows, and the long ride into Halloween, Thanksgiving, and finally, Christmas.

Mattel was one of the first toy companies to exploit the child TV viewing market, and so brought us "Matty Mattel's Funday Funnies". Single company sponsorship of a program was very common in those days, and Mattel was savvy enough to run cartoons for kids in the early evening hours of Sunday. The schedule was to eat dinner, get ready for bed, and then watch Mattel Toy commercials which were occasionally interrupted by Casper the Friendly Ghost, other Harveytoons and later Beanie and Cecil. The show would later be moved to Friday night and finally to Saturday morning. "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color" would become the Sunday night staple.

So was the platform for the advertising push of Sonar Sub Hunt. In the background of fear, ignorance, and perhaps a slightly dimmed view of our future, we would blissfully go on, grow older, and hope for a better world.

Copyright © 2018
Jeff Popp
All Rights Reserved
Web page contents and images may not be
copied or reproduced by any means without
expressed written permission
Copyright © 2000
Jeff Popp

Sonar Sub Hunt ™ 1961
Mattel Inc.