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1970s Fads: Clackers

By Patrick Mondout

Clackers, also known as click clacks, Knockers, Klackers, Bo-Los, Kerbangers, and countless other names (some, invented by parents and educations, are not printable) were a string and acrylic (or hard plastic, wood, or steel) ball toy that was popular and annoying enough to be called one of the first fads of the Super70s. They were also dangerous enough to receive a warning from the FDA.

The object was to make the pair of nearly 2" diameter balls clack (from opposite sides of a 12-18 inch cord with a ring in the center) against each other as many times as possible without missing, using a up and down hand motion until the balls are eventually hitting one another both below and above your hand. (Hey, we didn't even have Pong! yet!) Another object was to do all this without causing serious injury or death.

"We outlawed them the first day they arrived and we haven't had any since" - a junior high school principal.

"I go two kids in my house. They have two sets of them. It's like a nightmare." - a father of two

"Click-Clack Follow the Bouncing Ball", March 16, 1971 Los Angeles Times pg E1.

When the acrylic - not glass, as some have suggested - balls hit one another, they let out a annoying (to adults - and that was part of the attraction) clack sound. If the sound of the balls clanging didn't drive parents nuts, the sounds of their children screaming when a misplayed ball smacked them upside the head surely would.

Am I overstating how popular, loud and annoying these were? Consider the quotes on the right and:

  • An estimated three million were sold in the first six weeks after they were introduced to Italy.
  • An estimated 1600 companies had manufactured 42 million by March of 1971 in the United States alone and they were said to be the biggest fad since the Hula Hoop!
  • The first (and probably only) Click-Clack world championships were held in Calcinatello, Italy in August of 1971. (Gualtiero Panegalli won.)

I'd love to tell you who invented these things or at least where they originated, but I can't. Oh sure, there are some today who take credit, but no one back then (or now) had any credible creation story, though an Italian suggested that they came from a Norwegian mental institution where they were used to relax patients. My guess is that those patients were parents of kids who had clackers and had only recently been admitted!

On February 11, 1971, the Food and Drug Administration warned that the acrylic balls could shatter on impact and cause injury. There were reports of eye injuries from sharp, shattered fragments. There were also concerns about the velocity at which the balls fly when the cord breaks and the magnifying effect of the Sun through the transparent ball was apparently responsible for a fire as well! A Democratic FDA might have forced the unsafe product off the market, but with an estimated 100 companies having already manufactured in excess of a million of them, Nixon's FDA decided it would simply post the warning and let retailers decide what to do. Toys 'R Us immediately pulled the product from their shelves, but most kept selling them.

By the summer, the FDA had proposed a ban on Clackers that were either not shatterproof and/or did not have a nylon cord, and many of the companies still manufacturing them complied.

You can find vintage - as well as more recent - Clackers on eBay (check our links on the right and below). Just make sure you are careful if you plan to play with them!



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Some great vintage clackers.

Picture courtesy of Losangelesphilip.

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