Vintage Cap Guns – Did You Have One?
Cap Guns

Cap Guns: A Blast from the Past

Cap guns were once a staple in every child’s toy chest and a symbol of imaginative play and adventure. These toys, which used some form of mild explosive to create a popping sound and puff of smoke when the trigger was pulled, were an integral part of childhood for generations of kids. From cowboys to cops and robbers, cap guns allowed children to act out their favorite stories and play out their wildest dreams.

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The Early Years

The first cap guns date back to the 1860s, shortly after the American Civil War, when firearms companies began experimenting with toy guns to keep their businesses afloat. These early cap guns were made of cast iron and used paper strips enclosing sealed tablets of a gunpowder mixture, similar to tiny fireworks. Later toy ammunition strips were designed to advance automatically and often included eight or ten percussive caps in a single plastic round.

Cap Guns

Novelty Cap Guns

Many early cap guns were produced as novelty items with little resemblance to actual weaponry. These toys represented cartoon characters or animal figurines, such as the “Sea Serpent” gun shaped like an underwater goblin whose snapping jaws would ignite the cap.

Other toys played on racial prejudices like the “Chinese Must Go” gun, which depicted an American immigration officer kicking a caricatured Chinese man, whose mouth would then close on a gunpowder cap.

Video: Vintage Flintlock Cap Gun

The Great Depression and War Years

During the Great Depression, the demand for cap guns skyrocketed among young children. The increased attention was fueled by the popularity of comic-strip characters like Dick Tracy who were known for their shoot-outs. Cap gun manufacturers like Nichols, Esquire, Daisy, Halco, and Stevens, as well as larger toy companies like Hubley and Marx, dominated the market. However, in 1935, parents like Rose Simone in Chicago became concerned about the violent nature of these toys and organized toy-gun bonfires in an effort to eliminate them.

Despite these efforts, cap guns continued to be popular, especially during World War II and the golden age of American heroism. The association of cap guns with cowboy movie characters like Roy Rogers, Buck Jones, Gene Autry, and Hopalong Cassidy further fueled their popularity. In the 1950s, Western-themed TV shows put miniature guns into the hands of millions of young fans, solidifying their place in pop culture.

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Mattel’s Cap Gun Revolution

In 1955, Mattel launched its noisy, fully-automatic “Burp” gun, which it promoted through a year-long sponsorship of the Mickey Mouse Club television show. Several years later, in 1958, Mattel released its widely popular “Fanner” cap gun line, allowing kids to fire their guns in rapid succession by hitting the hammer directly with no need to pull the trigger.

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Mattel also created a series of “Shootin’ Shell” guns and playsets, which fired plastic bullets that could be coupled with its “Greenie Stick-M-Caps” to create the desired popping sound.

The Decline of Cap Guns

The cap gun craze finally slowed during the 1960s and 1970s due to images of bloodshed in Vietnam and increasing parent protests against the toys. Then, in 1988, the U.S. Federal Toy Gun Law made it illegal for companies to sell “look-alike” firearms, including toy cap guns, without a “permanently affixed” bright-orange plug at the end of its muzzle. Even vintage cap guns are now required to be sold with this orange marker, as you will see with just a quick look at cap guns for sale on eBay.

Cap Guns Caps
Wouldn’t you love to smash these caps with a rock? We did it all the time as kids! Good times!
Video: Smashing cap gun ammo with a hammer!

Closing Thoughts

Cap guns have been a part of American toy history for over a century, from their early days as cast-iron novelties to their glory days as Western-themed toys in the 1950s. While their popularity has declined in recent decades due to concerns about violence and safety, they remain a nostalgic reminder of a simpler time.

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Today, cap guns are mostly collector’s items, and while they may not be as popular as they once were, they still hold a special place in the hearts of those who grew up with them. Whether playing cowboys and Indians or simply enjoying the thrill of a popping sound and puff of smoke, cap guns will always be remembered as a beloved toy from the past.

If you have any thoughts on this subject, please leave them in the “Leave a Reply” section at the bottom of the page

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Did you have a vintage cap gun growing up? Do you collect them now? Share your memories and experiences with us. Vintage cap guns may be a thing of the past, but they will always hold a special place in the hearts of those who remember them. They may have been small toys, but they left a big impact on the children who played with them.


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14 responses to “Vintage Cap Guns – Did You Have One?”

  1. Richard Ripley Avatar
    Richard Ripley

    if it wasn’t for cap guns i wouldn’t be doing twenty to live in Kingston prison–just kidding–cap guns for most were a hell of lot of fun and used to piss off our sisters -so good all the way around–happy trails.

    1. Miguel Avatar

      Loved them…. I’m 68 and like get couple to leave my grandkids

  2. Phyllis walker Avatar
    Phyllis walker

    Where can I order a cap gun and caps

    1. Eric James Hartman Avatar

      Amazon or Ebay

  3. Ronald McVay Avatar
    Ronald McVay

    Loved them had so many kinds too. Squish the rolls together and hit it with a hammer . Sounded like a fire cracker.

  4. Barry Krautter Avatar
    Barry Krautter

    where can you buy caps

    1. Eric James Hartman Avatar

      Ebay or Amazon

  5. Judy Adams Avatar
    Judy Adams

    YES. I had a cap gun and lots of caps when I was a young kid growing up. They were alot of fun. Wish I had the cap gun and caps now as a Souvenir.

  6. Shirley Riley Avatar
    Shirley Riley

    I still have a cap gun with the caps. Thought it might be valuable some day.

  7. Mike Newton Avatar
    Mike Newton

    The Kilgore Cap Gun which used disc or circular caps looked very much like a cheap .22 caliber Saturday night special. I had one for my dad’s toy collection as well as the Gene Autry cap pistol from Kenton, Ohio….I also had two of the Hubley Cowboy Pistols where the cylinder actually turned when you fired it and the ejector rod pulled down to unlock the cylinder frame so you could use roll caps.I also had the Roy Rogers 49’r pistol, gold plated, put out by Leslie Henry.

  8. Martin Davis Avatar
    Martin Davis

    I still have like 6 different Kilgore cap guns . new still on there original selling cards

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  10. Dedra Avatar

    I have a kadet riffle not sure if worth anything I think I won it when I was like 7 so be 1967 has a boy standing holding it was told its Daniel Boone

  11. Brian Kasik Avatar
    Brian Kasik

    So I used to do the roll caps with the hammer thing when I was like 7. Today I am 66 and have lots of hearing trouble. Who new back then.

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