As television rose to prominence in the early 1950’s, it provided a new entertainment frontier for science fiction to conquer. The result was a flood of sci-fi shows like Captain Video, Space Patrol, and the ever-popular Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. Tom Corbett began his life as a character in Robert Heinlein’s 1948 novel Space Cadet. Two years later, he received his own 15-minute television show. That program’s success inspired a wide-range of tie-in items that included eight novels, a line of comic books, Halloween costumes, and (of course) plenty of toys.
Tom Corbett, Space Cadet stood apart from other space operas of the time because its main character was a teen. Since the show’s kid viewers identified with Tom, it was natural that they would want to re-enact his adventures at the Space Academy when playtime rolled around. Toy manufacturers picked up on this and produced a large assortment of toys for budding space cadets to snap up. Like many shows of its era, Tom Corbett, Space Cadet made toys available for its fans both at toy stores and as premium items available by mail or inside cereal boxes.
Premium toys included rocket balloons, a membership kit that came complete with a decoder, a cardboard helmet with a one-way plastic “viewport,” and space goggles. One of the most amusing premium items was a set of ‘Space-O-Phones,’ a futuristic-looking plastic update of the ‘tin-can telephones’ that had been popular with kids for decades. There were also Tom Corbett, Space Cadet premiums that fans could get by purchasing the item they came with, like the free Space Rings inside boxes of Pep Cereal.
In the toy stores, Corbett fanatics could treat themselves to an array of space gadgetry. The coolest of these by far were the colorful, handsomely designed ray gun toys. There was the Space Cadet Sparkling Gun, a tommy-gun-like toy that spat sparks, and the Atomic Pistol, which let out a beam of light and made a buzzing noise when fired. Other interstellar weaponry included the Space Gun and the Space Rifle. The latter looked like a comic book weapon brought to life, making it a prized find for sci-fi toy collectors today.
Tom Corbett, Space Cadet ended its successful run in 1955, and the toy line was retired around that time. No attempts have been made to revive the show since then, but the popularity of the show and the merchandise it inspired live on today. Corbett merchandise, especially the prized toy ray guns, regularly changes hands among collectors and traders. The continued popularity of these toys is easy to understand—as long as people have a soft spot for the sci-fi shows that fired their imaginations as children, there will always be room on the collector’s shelf for Tom Corbett, Space Cadet.