Toys in love and war

As Walletpop's own Francine Huff recently noted, Build-A-Bear's customers have recently discovered a new use for the lovely, cuddly line of toys. In addition to being cute little child magnets, the fluffy 'lil bundles of love also make great containers for smuggling heroin.

However, as the New York Police Department and the Build-a-Bear company sort out this public relations nightmare, it's worth noting that this isn't the first time that this has happened.

From toy tool boxes used to move cocaine to Mr. Potato head dolls stuffed with ecstasy, smugglers have long recognized the value of using deceptively innocent toys to move illicit substances. Perhaps the most interesting example was the miniature helicopter used to smuggle contraband into England's Elmley prison, although the inflatable kayak full of coke is also pretty impressive.

Even beyond smuggling, however, toys have often been serious business for soldiers. Slinkies, for example, are not only "fun for a girl and a boy"; during the Vietnam war, soldiers used them as portable radio antennae. Compact, easy to store, and inexpensive, the spring toys apparently improved reception mightily.

In World War II, on the other hand, "cricket" clickers were the order of the day; D-day, to be precise. Before the massive invasions, the military issued thousands of the handy little metal noisemakers. When they met each other behind enemy lines, soldiers would use little clicks on the crickets to alert each other of their presences. Cheap, compact, and easy-to-use, the toys headed off thousands of potential friendly fire incidents.

In the recent Iraq war, Silly String has proven a useful protection against explosive devices. Soldiers going into unsecured areas often spray them with silly string: if the strings don't fall to the ground, it is an indication that there is a trip wire present. As Silly String isn't standard issue for the military, some soldiers have even raised money to send cases of the stuff to Iraq.

Even Silly Putty, the undefinable goo that has fascinated adults and children for decades, was originally produced with a military purpose in mind. In 1943, after the Japanese took over most of the rubber-producing territory in south Asia, engineer James Wright was attempting to develop a rubber alternative. While combining boric acid and silicone oil didn't produce the rubber that he was looking for, it made an interesting goo that later took America by storm.

As drug dealers become more clever and toymakers become more creative, it seems inevitable that these sorts of stories will become more popular. Who knows? It might not be long before "smuggle me Elmo" comes to a town near you!
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