Imitation Bedbugs and Squirting Cigarettes: A Look Inside the Joke Novelty Business of 1946

Exploding cigars, spring-loaded snakes in cans, fake vomit — who buys this stuff? As one reporter discovered when he interviewed “joke novelties” manufacturer S.S. Adams in 1946, most customers were businessmen, not kids.

Man holding joke toy
Gus Pasquarella / © SEPS

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—“The Jumping Snakes of S.S. Adams” by Maurice Zolotow, from the June 1, 1946, issue of The Saturday Evening Post

One of [Adams’] consolations is that few children buy these jokers’ novelties, apparently on the theory that it is cheaper simply to put a tack under Aunt Susie than to pay 25 cents for No. 774, the Shooting Book — “A large book which shoots when opened.”

Retailers bear out Adams’ contention that the overwhelming majority of buyers are men past 30. Consider the Joy Buzzer: a round tin box which is secreted in the fingers of the joker’s hands. When he shakes hands with the victim, the machine gives forth an ominous hum, and a sharp point is pressed into the dupe’s palm, giving him the illusion of an electric shock. Some years ago, someone showed a Joy Buzzer to Henry Ford, who was fascinated by its diabolical ingenuity. The next day Ford devoted the entire day to giving electrical handshakes to foremen and minor executives of the Ford Motor Company.


Read “The Jumping Snakes of S.S. Adams” by Maurice Zolotow from the June 1, 1946, issue of the Post.

This article is featured in the May/June 2021 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

Featured image: Gus Pasquarella / © SEPS

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