By Some Guy:
The other day a friend and I were talking about the upcoming Christmas. The conversation turned into a reminiscing session. Back to our youths and the best Christmas presents we ever received. We both agreed that our first BB guns were at the top of the list.
I believe every boy at that time wished for a new BB gun from Santa. It doesn’t seem Santa is much into the arms trade these days. At least I hardly ever see boys toting BB guns around like you used to. I think they would rather do their “shooting” on video games now, rather than engaging in the real thing.
I also believe that every boy’s first Christmas wish for a BB gun met the same response that was made famous by the movie “A Christmas Story”. Poor old Ralphie was told by everyone “You’ll shoot your eye out!” when he expressed his desire for the coveted Red Ryder BB gun.
We got our BB guns on Christmas anyway, despite the inevitable eye loss. Personally I don’t remember getting the whole eye being shot out warning. I kind of remember the warning from my dad was much more intense. I was only able to take the BB gun out after a lengthy session on firearms safety.
Almost all the people I have known who had BB guns as kids still have both eyes. But shooting your eye out with one does have some credence however. I do know one person who actually did lose an eye this way. But that accident was the result of reckless and generally stupid behavior. It seems that having BB gun fights with your brothers is reckless and stupid. As a kid I was informed in no uncertain terms that if I ever did anything stupid like that it would be a different part of the anatomy targeted for damage besides the eye. And it would be dads boot instead of a BB doing the damage.
I suppose that as long as there have been BB guns, there have been boys wanting them.
The first air powered guns were developed in Europe in the 16th century. These early air guns were actually quite powerful and of large calibers. Most were around .30 to .50 caliber and were capable of taking large game animals.
Captain Meriwether Lewis of the famed Lewis & Clark expedition carried a .31 caliber air rifle with him. When Lewis was packing for the expedition, do you suppose his mother said, “Now you be careful with that thing Meriwether, you’ll shoot your eye out”? Probably not! That sort of warning didn’t become popular until later in history.
The modern BB guns we know didn’t come into existence until 1886. That is when Clarence Hamilton first designed his spring-piston gun that fired BB sized lead shot made for shotgun loads. Hamilton demonstrated his new BB gun to Lewis Hough, owner of the Plymouth Iron Windmill Co. of Plymouth Michigan. When seeing the rifle in action Hough declared the common vernacular of the day “Boy, that’s a daisy!”
Plymouth Iron Windmill began manufacturing and giving out the BB guns as premiums to farmers who purchased one of their windmills. Soon the demand for BB guns outgrew the demand for windmills. In 1895 the windmill company was reincorporated as the Daisy Manufacturing Company and mass production of BB guns commenced.
Did the sons of Plymouth Iron Windmill customers hear the famed words “you’ll shoot your eye out”? Probably not. These early guns actually fired the lead shot. It seems lead BB’s would hit their target and either penetrate, or drop harmlessly to the ground.
About 1930 ball bearing companies wanted to cash in on the Daisy popularity and started making BB’s. The new BB’s on the market were made of steel and were more economical to produce than lead BB’s. The new steel BB’s had a tendency to ricochet off of hard surfaces quite easily. Eye injuries at this time period skyrocketed. Due to this the often heard phrase “you’ll shoot your eye out” was born.
Since then BB’s have been made of softer steel and copper plated. This greatly reduced the possibility of ricochet, but it still exists. And eye injuries still occur while shooting BB guns, either from ricochet or from the results of reckless or generally stupid behavior.
The advent of hardened safety glasses has since virtually eliminated all BB gun related eye injuries. That is if the shooter actually wears them. I suppose the modern day response to a boy asking for a BB gun for Christmas should be “wear your safety glasses or you’ll shoot your eye out!”