The first cap guns were born out of economic necessity. After the American Civil War ended in 1865, several gun manufacturers found themselves with too many factories and too little demand for weaponry.
To keep the factory doors open, some gun makers turned their instruments of destruction into toys, loading them with loud but harmless gunpowder caps.
Kids were enthralled with the realistic armaments, and a new toy legend was born.
Over the next several decades, cap guns remained the toy of choice for many an over-aggressive young lad (and a few over-aggressive little Annie Oakley wannabes as well).
The little dashes of gunpowder that gave cap guns their noisy kick were relatively inexpensive, making cap battles an affordable upgrade to simply chasing each other around and shouting “POW! POW!”
Times changed over the cap gun’s lifespan, but somehow, guns were always a part of the make-believe lifestyle.
Whether playing Prohibition-era cops and robbers, protecting the home front during World War II, conquering the wild frontier during Gene Autry and Roy Rogers’ heyday, playing cloak and dagger spy games in the 60s and 70s, or going full-out Rambo in the commando 80s, there was always a good reason to pick up a cap gun and start blasting.
The decades brought changes in the guns and caps themselves – from wood and metal to plastic, from single-shot to rapid-fire, from hand-loaded caps to roll caps to machine-fed cap clusters and so on – but the basics remained the same.
Even after a seeming epidemic of youth violence and anti-gun sentiment, cap guns are still being produced today, and the explosive sounds of gunpowder-fueled make believe play on.