Starting in the 1970’s, people began to cast a suspicious eye on the safety standards used in making toys. Parents and lawmakers began voicing their concerns and this led to new legal standards for what could and could not be sold to children at the toy store. Toys have become much safer over the years as a result of this, but a hazardous toy slips through the cracks every now and then and makes it to the market. One of the most notorious examples in recent memory is the case of Lawn Darts. These outdoor leisure items enjoyed a lengthy period of popularity, but quickly got yanked from the marketplace when its potential for danger became too obvious.
Lawn Darts began to appear in sporting goods and toy stores in the 1960’s and were made by various manufacturers (Sears Department Stores had their own Sears Lawn Darts, and so on). Also sold under the name “Jarts”, these items were 12 inches long, with a heavy tip made of metal on one end and decorative plastic fins at the other end. The metal tips were blunt so they wouldn’t cut the hands of the person tossing them, but remained pointy and heavy enough to stick in the ground they were thrown at.
These Lawn Darts were used in a unique four-person activity that crossbred darts with horseshoes. Players would set two plastic rings on the lawn thirty feet apart and split into teams of two on each side. Each team would toss the lawn dart in an underhand style towards the opposing ring with the objective of landing inside it. Players won three points for getting the Lawn Dart in the ring and one point for getting it within a dart’s length of the ring. The first team to score eleven points would be declared the winner.
All in all, it was a very entertaining game, but not a good one for children, as the darts were heavy and pointed enough to cause injuries. Some manufacturers and stores reacted to consumer complaints by moving lawn darts out of Toy sections and keeping them exclusively in the Sporting Goods area. Just the same, this didn’t keep kids whose parents owned Lawn Darts from digging them out and playing with them when no adults were looking. Between 1978 and 1987, hospital emergency rooms treated a reported 6,700 Lawn Dart injuries: over three-fourths of these injuries happened to children.
In 1988, Lawn Darts were officially banned in the United States. Since then, they have not been legally sold in any stores, though altered forms like the plastic Lawn Toss are still around. To use the metal-tipped originals today is a legal offense, yet Lawn Darts remain popular with a cult of adult enthusiasts who still gather together for private Lawn Dart games and tournaments. Some of these Lawn Darts fans even have their own web pages dedicated to this activity. This continued against-the-odds popularity shows that Lawn Darts remain attractive to a lot of people. After all, a game must be pretty cool if you’re willing to break the law to play it.