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October 12, 2022

Vintage Adverts for “Big Dick” Machine Gun for Boys From the 1910s

As early as 1915, the “Big Dick” Machine Gun was being marketed by the Milton Bradley Company of Springfield, Massachusetts. The smooth-bore barrel was made of wood, the tripod of iron, and the ammo belt was canvas. The toy came with 36 wooden bullets; if you lost those in the heat of indoor battle, you could send in 25 cents for 25 fresh rounds.

Despite the wording of the ads, the “Big Dick” was not a “real” machine gun in anything but a superficial sense. It used neither gunpowder nor real metal cartridges; rather, it was a spring-action toy that fired bullet-shaped wooden slugs. According to David Mikkelson on Snopes, although the modern meaning of “dick” as a slang reference to male genitalia had entered the English language at least a few decades prior to World War I, it didn’t become common parlance in America until after the era of the “Big Dick” machine gun toy.

The inspiration for the toy had been in existence, in one form or another, for decades, but it wasn’t until World War I that its horrifying efficiency was demonstrated. In 1914, the German forces had 12,000 machine guns, compared to a few hundred in the hands of the British and French, and they were dramatically changing how war was waged. As night fell on July 1, 1916, the first day of the allied Somme offensive, more than 20,000 British soldiers had been killed, and another 40,000 wounded, most from the withering fire of the German machine guns. In one day. A German gunner said that it hadn’t even been necessary to aim.

It would be another year before the U.S. entered the war, but Milton Bradley was well ahead of the curve.


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