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You know them - those toy soldiers molded in soft plastic that are sold by the bagful. They have been around since the 1950s. Known as Army Men, the two- to three-inch soldiers are a staple of many a boy's toy chest. Most folks eventually THINK they outgrew them.
We KNOW we will never, ever outgrow them!!!!!
True Army Men are soft plastic toy soldiers (mistakenly called "rubber" in some regions). They generally have the following attributes:
Army Men stand 2 to 3 inches tall
They are molded in one piece, exceptions being special weapons or "ring hand" figures
They are commonly sold in plastic bags, with 20 or more soldiers
Larger lots are sold in plastic buckets or as boxed playsets with accessories
They are sold as toys, not as scale figures, miniatures, etc.
They do not pretend to be accurate, detailed miniature replicas.
They are the same cheap toy soldiers we have known and loved since the 1950s
They are generic "no brand" toys
A toy soldier is not necessarily an Army Man. Figures made of lead, tin, or other metals are not Army Men. With one or two exceptions, hard plastic figures are models, not Army men. Boxed sets of soft plastic figures sold by model companies are not Army Men, either (they're actually cheap scale miniatures - blah!)
The most common kind of Army Man is modeled after the American Soldier, with the old M1 Steel Helmet. Though particular types vary, the vast majority represent US troops circa 1941 to 1960. A later type armed with M-16 rifles has been around since the 1960s. Most Army Men are molded in green plastic. Those molded in other colors were done so to represent "enemy" troops.
Army Men were accompanied by an assortment of soft plastic accessories, vehicles and heavy weapons. These include tanks, M3/M4 half tracks, 105mm howitzers, Jeeps, 2 1/2 ton "deuce and a half" trucks, pup tents, sandbag emplacements, barbed wire fences, heavy machine guns, mortars, bazookas and parachutes. The common tank types include the M26 Pershing heavy tank, M41 "Walker Bulldog" light tank, M47 Patton tank and M48 Patton Tank. One manufacturer included an odd type of open personnel carrier that could carry a missile launcher and an obscure kind of tank destroyer.
Other accessories that might be included were pillboxes (concrete fortifications), fighter planes, helicopters, small landing craft, missile launchers and 3/4 ton trucks.
Packed with virtually every set was a paper American flag on a small wood dowel with a round plastic base.
An odd but common type was the "ring hand", with the soldier's weapons, field gear and helmets molded separately. These were a particular brand which were produced in great numbers.
Cowboys and Indians - generally these included standing figures along with a few mounted on horseback. Cowboys and Indians were molded in many colors. Accessories included covered wagons, stagecoaches, cavalry forts, Civil War era cannon, tepees, a plastic campfire,canoes and plastic trees. Indians were mixed bag, as a set included figures with the accouterments of several tribes and regions. It was not uncommon to find Mohawks mixed among Sioux and Apaches.
Civil War - soldiers were the same, the difference between armies being that one was molded in blue and the other in grey. There were usually a few mounted men included with the foot soldiers. Accessories included cannon, mortars, caissons, wagons, bunkers and molded "wood" fences. Most sets had both an American and Confederate flag. Usually, the standard 48 star flag represented the Union.
Foreign Legion - a few of these were available. They included foot soldiers and mounted figures, and a cannon or two. Armies represented were the French Foreign Legion and Arabs. Most figures were molded in any variety of colors.
American Revolution - not as popular as the others, American Revolution sets had figures molded in blue and red. Some included a handful of Indians. They often had cannon; most included a few mounted figures with foot soldiers.
Spacemen - very popular, Space Men were in two kinds. After 1962, the most popular kind of spacemen looked like American astronauts in action poses. Some had ray pistols and rifles, but one brand's astronauts carried scientific gear. Accessories could be missiles (the same used by regular Army Men), tracked vehicles (those personnel carries refitted with odd accessories and molded in "space" colors), rockets, radar sets and Mercury Capsules. Colors varied, but most were molded in red, white, blue, silver or gold. One occasionally found an earlier kind of spacemen armed for battle in "Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers" type suits. Aliens, if any, were invariably green bug-eyed monsters with ray guns.
Knights - very popular, with a great variety of knights. Any given brand's knights had armor covering various eras, and included both foot soldiers and mounted figures. Knights could be molded in a variety of colors. A few makers offered them in opposing armies molded in silver and gold or silver and black. Accessories included catapults, extra shields, small round medieval tents and a small castle molded in hard or soft plastic, or made of lithographed stamped metal with plastic gate and drawbridge. A few had Knights and Vikings. The Vikings were more correctly Migration-era Germans with horned and winged helmets and furs. A few companies had soft plastic Viking ships.
Pirates - very popular, pirates came in many colors and had the usual assortment of cutlasses, flintlock pistols, tricorn hats and hook hands. Some were molded with a parrot on the shoulder. Accessories included Pirate ships, rowboats, cannons, extra swords, a treasure chest and in some, a crocodile.
Romans - very unusual, sets of Romans included soldiers molded in two different colors. Most had a few mounted figures and some catapults; a chariot was common. If a fort was included, it was that respective brand's medieval castle. One company made a small Roman boat.
Many manufacturers made enemy soldiers for the American GIs to fight. There were a few varieties out there. Because they were designed in the post WWII era, most enemy troops are foreign soldiers circa 1940 - 1945.
German Infantry - a few companies still make standard 1942 German soldiers armed with light machine guns, rifles and submachine guns. The officers invariably wear their dress caps and carry Luger pistols. Most Germans were molded in grey, but in recent years we have seen tan and green. During the Gulf War, at least one manufacturer molded them in Olive Drab and Tan and sold them as US Troops. Some soft plastic scale figures have reappeared as Army men, most notably the German soldiers originally designed by Airfix.
Russians - a maker of several unusual kinds of Army Men issued Russians in the 1939 uniforms and headgear. Some wore fur hats, others had the old Russian Helmet. They carried rifles, Degtyarev light machine guns and the common "burp gun" submachine guns with drum magazines. They were molded in a dark, slightly metallic blue.
Japanese - they were molded in tan or yellow, and were armed with rifles, bayonets, light machine guns and officers with pistols and Samurai swords.
British - in particular, crude copies of the Britains/Herald British Infantry appeared from time to time, molded in green plastic. They were sold as regular Army Men. I remember the copies had the rounder, later type of British helmet, and Sten guns, rifles, bren automatic rifles and a radioman.
Odd-colored GIs - the standard way to make enemy soldiers for many companies was to mold their US troops in colors other than green. These enemy troops have been seen in grey, brown, tan, and blue. Odd colored troops were not sold alone, but were mixed in the bag with green soldiers.
Vehicles - at least one maker offered German PZ5 "Panther" tanks, German "jeeps" and odd half tracks, plus a hard-plastic, firing 88mm gun. Most of the enemy vehicles were standard US equipment molded in other colors, the most common being tan or grey.
African Explorers - a few sets had a handful of Jungle Jim/ Ramar of the Jungle type figures packed along with plastic palm trees, a canoe, tents, a jeep or truck, and a handful of African natives with spears and shields.
Divers - a few sets included Scuba and deep sea divers, plus an assortment of large fish, sea serpents, octopi and sharks. Most had a treasure chest, giant clam and small boat or submarine. I have seen divers in both non-combat and combat poses, including one carrying a "limpet" anti-ship mine.
Monsters - at least one company made a set of 3-inch movie monsters, including Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolf man, a mummy, and some bug-eyed monsters based on the common 1950s space movies.
Farm sets - these had farm animals. Most included "wood" fences, farmers, a tractor and a small barn or silo
Zoo sets - these were usually a collection of wild animals in various colors, and most included a few farm figures.
Dinosaurs - there were several makers of toy dinosaurs. Some were small, others big enough to challenge standard Army men. A favorite enemy when re-enacting our favorite 1950s sci-fi.
Firemen - a few firemen sets appeared, usually with one or two small fire trucks.
Cops and robbers - one or two makers offered sets of cops and gangsters. They didn't have accessories in the bag.
Cars - a few makers offered soft plastic cars and trucks. The larger ones went well with standard Army men.
Of course, the easiest thing was to have a war in a sand pile. You could also use the living room, with furniture being the landscape. Favorite variants were Army Men versus Dinosaurs, Army Men versus Spacemen, and Army Men having a war around the electric trains.
One could annoy Mom by adding Army men to the Yule village under the Christmas Tree. Moms tend to get upset when they notice a Panzer 5's barrel edging around the side of the little creche, or a Confederate sniper taking a bead on the Three Wise men. A proven way to raise a ruckus since I started doing it in 1960.
Soft plastic used to be marketed as 'unbreakable." However, Army Men could get broken in several ways:
Ice cold - when cold, some brands' plastic got brittle. Whack them with a hammer and they shatter
Fire - when subjected to fire, Army men burn and melt.
Firecrackers - firecrackers will shatter a soldier in close proximity.
Teeth - dogs and baby brothers can chew a toy soldier into an elongated mess.
Guns - a 22 caliber bullet will usually pass through Army Men doing little more than making a big hole. Unless it hits an arm, leg or head, which it will sever.
Are you kidding? Knights, Indians and several other types of Army Men are the embodiment of Anachronism. And how many WW2 play sets came complete with post war tanks like the M41, M47 and M48? And helicopters? If you're into historical accuracy, take up scale models and prepare to overpay and overpay for toy soldiers that you wouldn't dare play with.
The average Army man's scale is 1/35 to 1/25. Though most wagons, jeeps and trucks were close to scale, some were not. Tanks and half tracks were almost never to scale. Do you insist on scale accuracy? Then get into HO scale model railroading, because you won't find it around Army Men! A lot of stiffs get into HO (not many get into N scale or O gauge). Just ask your local model railroaders where the stiffs are. They will send you to the one club that nobody else talks to - even the regular HO guys don't want anything to do with them!
Army Men go great with O-gauge, 3-rail electric trains such as Lionel and K-line. Army men can ride in hoppers and gondolas. Do not stuff them into boxcars because it's hard to get them out. Seeing as tanks and half tracks were usually closer to 1/48 scale, they ride well on flat cars. Lionel made a load of firing combat trains in the early 1960s that were the perfect match for Army men.
Arms don't fall off Army Men unless you chop them off
Army Men never lose their weapons because they're molded right on
With Army Men, you get an army. Action figures come one at a time
You don't have to read the associated comic books to understand who's on which side with Army men. It's simple - one side is green and the other is another color
You don't have to worry about buying accessories for Army men. They come with everything you need.
Army Men's vehicles don't break, run out of ammo or need new batteries. The only problem with Army Men is that wheels can fall off the jeeps.
Army men are the same yesterday and today and tomorrow. They never go out of style when a new TV show and comic book series is released.
Army men can be had in abundance for a small percentage of what it costs to buy a team of Action Figures.
It costs a fortune to buy a whole series of Action Figures. With Army Men, you get the whole set for one low price.
You don't have to wait for a new accessory or figure to be released so you can complete the set. Army Men are always available with all the goodies, all the time.
Click here to see photos of Army Men and other toy figures
Click Here for The Rules for using Army Men
Click here for a History of Army Men
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Click here for Today's Army Men
Click here for Classic Plastic Army Men - Soldier by Soldier
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Click Here for Army Men in the Atomic Era
Click here for Command Center - facts about Army Men
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Click here for American Revolution, Alamo, Civil War and Fort Apache
Click here for Knights, Vikings and Robin Hood
Rome, Gladiators and the Ancient World
Click here for Home Cast Toy Soldiers
Of Sticks, Swimsuits, Hercules and Gladiatiors - a boy's view of ancient warfare, circa 1960
Of Playtimes Long Ago - a few remembered stories from decades long past
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Classic Tanks and Armored Vehicles
GI Joe TM and other 12-inch Action Figures
How to tell good figures from bad
How to Evaluate Figures for Collecting
Collecitbles: Basic Primer for the New Collector
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Troops Substitutions - Using the next best thing!
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Toy Soldier Reviews
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Cool Tanks and Vehicles of the 1950s
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Toy Soldier Links - links to other Toy Soldier sites and sites with related materials
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