Each American generation seems doomed to live a life less dangerous, original, and exciting than the one before. My kids love their drum-fed fully automatic Nerf guns, which couldn’t kill a mosquito unless you squished it with the buttstock. They shake their heads in horror at the spring loaded dart guns my pals and I used to shoot at each other all summer, back in the 1970s: they could easily put an eye out even before we pulled off the soft suction tips for better range and accuracy. But back in the 1940s, things were even cooler…
The Austin Magic Pistol was well before my time, but I would have traded all my Red Series Star Wars cards for one. It sold (briefly) in the late 1940s and fired ping-pong balls at velocities no modern Nerf gun can touch. How did it do that 65 years ago, you might ask? With a few spoonfuls of calcium carbide and a few drops of water.
Never mind this guy’s horrible range safety practices (no eyes, no ears): I can’t believe he puts his face up to a can of calcium carbide and spits into it. Calcium carbide hydrolyzes on contact with water to produce extremely flammable acetylene gas.
In a carbide lantern it yields a bright, steady flame with very little smoke or soot. In the Austin Magic Pistol it yields an impressive fireball at the muzzle, that easily puts a Mosin-Nagant M44 carbine to shame. Also notable are the flames and sparks shooting out the breech end of the gun as well, scorching the shooter’s wrist. How long before the screw-on lid, I meant ‘breech’, blows off and scorches the shooter’s face with burning acetylene gas? Statistically speaking, not very long.
The Austin Magic Pistol was only a state-of-the-art toy back then, but many states now classify it as an actual ‘firearm’ because it uses a chemical explosion to propel a projectile. They’re highly collectible and expensive these days, because there aren’t too many surviving examples: many of them ruptured or exploded during firing.
If you’re looking to fill an odd niche in your collection of toys or guns (or toy guns) the Austin Magic Pistol is a great find. But if you want to bring some old-school danger, originality, and excitement to your children’s play, you’ll want something a little less dangerous. Like lawn darts.