You can play hard, but play it safe.
June 14, 2012 6:33 AM   Subscribe

If you see anything that looks like those, don't touch them. This PSA, featuring the Say Hey Kid warning American youth of the dangers of blasting caps, made a huge impression on pretty much everyone I know that was born in the mid-to-late 50s.

What was it about that ad that was so fascinating? Also: remember when TV ads were frequently 60 seconds long?
posted by kinnakeet (27 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I like the constant repetition complemented by less-than-clear diction. It feels like a very honest ad, not strictly produced at all. Doesn't explain why it was so fascinating, I suspect that's par for the course for ads of the era. Couldn't imagine something this clumsy airing now.
posted by Nelson at 6:39 AM on June 14, 2012

I was born in 61 and I remember that ad playing in Detroit when I was a kid.

I'm not sure why it's so memorable, but it's fascinating to me now for 2 reasons: First, the unlikeliness that I would ever stumble upon a blasting cap in inner-city Detroit. Second, that if I did stumble upon one, and handled it, the possiblily that the tiny blasting cap could cause a catastophic explosion as depicted in the ad.

Nice find!
posted by The Deej at 6:41 AM on June 14, 2012


A helpful public safety message, or a guide for finding explosives for your amusement.
posted by helicomatic at 6:41 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Were blasting caps lying around like cluster bombs in 1950s America?

Here is a more modern version of basically the same PSA.
posted by three blind mice at 6:43 AM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

First time I've seen this, but I really like how he repeats himself in his particular speaking style. He sounds like he's genuinely concerned and he's comfortable with speaking to kids and encouraging them to play the game of champions and poets: Baseball.
posted by Skygazer at 6:50 AM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

According to the blasting cap identification image, the thermostat we have in our generator room is a blasting cap.

Fitting, because it's failure caused the generator to overheat.
posted by MysticMCJ at 6:56 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Of course, all of this fascination with the ad does nothing to hide the racial intentions the uploader had.... youtube seems to bring out a LOT of that.
posted by MysticMCJ at 6:58 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

All the kids I know hunted high and low for blasting caps as a direct result of that ad, and I've never been sure why. Maybe it's the HUGE explosion shown--I remember thinking wow, cool! I've gotta find me some of those!

I don't remember many other PSAs from that era, but something about Mays' sincerity made that one indelible.
posted by kinnakeet at 7:02 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

When did they stop doing this? Has there been an epidemic of blasting cap incidents since these ads stopped?
posted by thelonius at 7:05 AM on June 14, 2012

It worked! I have never touched a blasting cap. Thanks, Mr. Mays!
posted by I'm Doing the Dishes at 7:12 AM on June 14, 2012

When did they stop doing this?

When it became more likely that, somehow, you would "put your eye out" instead of blowing your hand off.
posted by HuronBob at 7:14 AM on June 14, 2012

"I say look out! That's a bomb you've got there!" - British equivalent.

[to British kids unexploded bombs are a picnic compared to Dark and Lonely Water]
posted by rongorongo at 7:29 AM on June 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

Strangely enough, I have grown up knowing one of my mother's friends who DID blow part of her hand off with a blasting cap. It would have been just about the heyday for these ads, and the story is as a small girl she found some old fuse-type caps in the toolshed, decided they would make good glasses for her dolls to drink out of if only they didn't have this crud in them, and started digging with a bobbypin.
posted by pupdog at 7:36 AM on June 14, 2012

From the Institute of Makers of Explosives:


Two short television films were produced under the Blasting Cap Safety Education Program.

A Congressman proposed marking all blasting caps with "Danger" or "Danger High Explosives". This proposal was later withdrawn.


An episode in the television series "Danger Is My Business" was about explosives, with one segment devoted to warning children not to play with blasting caps.


Special television spots featuring well-known persons warning about the dangers of blasting caps were produced.

IME began cooperating with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Air Transport Association on ways to detect explosive materials in baggage or freight. The proposal to seed blasting caps with radioactive material continued to be discussed.


For the fourth consecutive year, blasting cap posters were mailed to all elementary and secondary schools in the United States - an audience of over 42 million children.


IME recommended that all blasting caps be marked "Blasting Cap - Dangerous - Explosive" and that all cartons be marked "Dangerous - Explosives", "Keep From Children", "Lock Up Blasting Caps." Also recommended was marking sleeve wrappers or shunts to warn children.


There were one million blasting cap safety education posters printed and distributed this year.

And then this from 1957:

Blasting Cap Danger

And then this from 1966:

North Fond du Lac, WI blasting cap accident, Aug 1966

Morgan County The Morgan County News Newspaper 1950-12-01
Morgan County 1950-12-01 Innocent Looking Blasting Caps Can Easily Maim You for Life

I guess in 1950s and 1960s there were lots of blasting caps lying around.

While I am sure Willie Mays PSA had an effect, I wonder what changed since then that this no longer seems to be a problem.
posted by three blind mice at 7:44 AM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

It always seemed to me that, if there is such a widespread and enormous problem with blasting caps being left lying-around all over the place that you have to broadcast PSAs to warn kids about them, then, just perhaps, you should DO something about the practice. Or would that unnecessarily restrict the free market?
posted by Thorzdad at 7:56 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

i'm sure most of them were lying around after building the interstate system...lots of hills to level out and such...
posted by sexyrobot at 7:56 AM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

buying explosives for farm use was a lot easier in the past as well. My grandmother tells stories about her dad setting off quarter sticks of dynamite on the 4th of July to 'show the neighbors who's boss' when they would have firecracker battles. I know regulation was tighter in the 50's/60's than the 30's, but we still weren't quite so scared that anyone who could get something that would blow up was a terrorist...
posted by pupdog at 8:00 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Does that accent still exist? (honest question)
posted by meows at 8:02 AM on June 14, 2012

A guy I went to high school with whose dad owned a construction company did indeed blow his hands off playing with blasting caps, circa 1984. I saw him with his metal hooks/pincers a few times in the following years.
posted by tippiedog at 8:37 AM on June 14, 2012

I too spent a good amount o time trying to find these due to the commercials. I remember a different commercial though. As I recall it ended with a black screen, as if that is what would happen if you played with them.
posted by oshburghor at 8:46 AM on June 14, 2012

Hey - that's what my cockring looks like.
posted by symbioid at 8:53 AM on June 14, 2012

Oops - wrong blast caps. I'm thinking of those gunpowder cap-gun circular things. I hate when my jokes go horribly awry. But not as much when my face gets blown off by an actual blasting cap. That really sucks.
posted by symbioid at 8:55 AM on June 14, 2012

I ordered the blasting cap identification poster pack from somewhere or another when I was a kid in the '70s. In the Appalachian and TVA and coal-mining areas they were common enough. I used to think that all of those rock faces that had those grooves that looked like bite-marks were made by the teeth of some back-hoe or front-loader. Nope, them there are bore holes where they stuffed the explosives. There was at least one un-exploded bore hole with some wires sticking out of it right next to my house (long gone now that they cut the hill back even further). IIRC from all the literature they were beginning to move to some sort of gas activated detonation system that was more reliable than the electrical type, and not susceptible to being set off by random CB radio noise. That and most of the road construction being done and coal-mining moving underground... not as many blasting caps laying around anymore.
posted by zengargoyle at 8:57 AM on June 14, 2012

I never saw the TV ads, but where I grew up (rural Oregon) they were common enough from logging activity to warrant presentations in school and boy scout meetings.
posted by Dr. Twist at 10:48 AM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

This explains a lot. When my sister and I were kids my mother was always exhorting us to not pick up or mess with stuff we found on the ground because "it might be a blasting cap!" Never could figure out why, since we grew up in middle-class suburbs, and never once did I ever see anything remotely resembling one. Ever since, I've wondered where the hell this "blasting cap" idea came from...well, now I know.

Also, in retrospect, wouldn't it have been better if she had SHOWN us pictures of blasting caps and saying "Don't touch these"? Oh, that's right, mom preferred instilling us with a nebulous sense of FUD rather than educating us on any specific, concrete dangers. But I digress....
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:57 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I remember seeing that on TV as a kid, but I remember it not being at a ball game. My bad memory, or was there another version?
Even as a seven-year-old I remember wondering "What are these things, and why are they laying around?" But if Mr. Mays said not to pick them up, I sure wasn't going to.
posted by cccorlew at 1:23 PM on June 14, 2012

Some of the off-links from the video are the awesome! Never mind those blasting caps, kids, get a select-fire tommy gun! A radio that turns into a gun! Achieve battlefield supremacy! Who would have time for finding blasting caps?
posted by Ogre Lawless at 2:13 PM on June 14, 2012

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