These sparking wheels were hours of fun

Originally published at:


when i was 6 i got a “ray gun” for a christmas present that had one of those wheels inside and “shot” sparks out the translucent, blue plastic barrel. tragically, i ruined it within a week because i heard someone talking about a blast of “cold fire” from a wand in a story and i put the gun in the freezer. never worked again.


We had jarts, sparking wheels, slingshots, a slip-n-slide, all the best stuff. Somehow I survived to adulthood.


I vaguely remember having a clockwork tank that shot sparks.

I still have a flint lighter for my camp stove. I don’t think the design changed in generations.



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Also, the smell, I always remember that flinty smell.


livin’ that jart life
jart life


I had one very much like this


that may be exactly the model i had 50+ years ago. neat!


no BB guns? (ironically, at least in my experience, BB guns were the least likely to injure as the parents’ perception that they were dangerous resulted in more rules and supervision)

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I put a new flint in my kids “ Inspector gadget“ toy we got a garage sale and it worked, but finding a flint that fit was difficult- almost as difficult as taking apart the chest with its tamperproof triangular screw heads and putting it back together.

I am pretty sure most of these toy have a ruff sand paper like material or ruff metal wheel plus a round lighter like flint and engages via gravity (like the Inspector Gadget toy) or are fed by spring.

I had a robot that shot out sparks as a kid. It was a treasured gift, as I asked my mother for it at a store and tops he agreed. It was fly wheel driven, with wheels on the base.

I have fond memories of buying one of thee things when we went to Olvera St. Or China Town as a kid. We would spend our pocket money on sparkers like the one shown in the article, translucent plastic warbling water filled “bird” whistles, and paper yo-yos (the kind that were wound paper).

Image source: see below

Edit to add:
This got me to want to share these with my kids. They are sold out most places I checked. The price for new ones seems to be about $2-$3 with $2.50 being the median. I found some for sale at Incredible (simple non affiliate link), for $2.22 . I know nothing about the company. BoingBoing should have them in the BoingBoing store.

Last edit: Wow “vintage” versions start at $25.00 U.S. some of them aren’t the old all metal ones. I won’t link but they even made sparking wheels to add to one’s bicycle!

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No, oddly enough. Mom had a strict rule about realistic gun toys. Could be a fake piece of plastic that shot a projectile, but anything remotely realistic-gun was verboten. Had slingshots and made lots of bows/2x4 crossbows though.


I grew up in the era before orange barrel inserts…many toy guns were very realistic in those days, could have been a problem I guess . Not really a thing for me, but, as you say, slingshots, that’s another matter :slight_smile: I know people always respond to the “I survived to adulthood” as survivor bias
but I really don’t recall any of the kids I grew up with being injured by toys. Bicycles, ya, horses, ya, but not toys :slight_smile:


That thing seems like it should come from the 1950s, doesn’t it? Rather than the 1980s where it was probably from. When did they decide that sparks weren’t a good toy for kids?

I got mine in the early 70s in the cheap toy section of our local J. J. Newberry’s.

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Clearly they existed before that but I’m also sure that my little brother had wind-up spark-breathing gojira toys well into the 1990s.

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[Takes a long deep hit of nostalgia]
[Passes to the left]
[Slow exhale]


I preferred the pull-back cars that shot sparks when you let them go. Basically, the sparking wheel turned on it’s side and given four wheels and a flame paint job. :wink: