Tot Sauce: The Boys' Life Archive

by Jason Toon

Tot Sauce is the new, less lame name for the series formerly known as Triple Shot. One topic, three links, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning, for kids, people who have kids, or people who used to be kids...

Former Boys' Life subscribers of all ages: earn your merit badge in nostalgic time-wasting with Google's exhaustive Boys' Life archive. From the very first issue in 1911 (cover story by Jack London) up through the end of 2009, the Boy Scouts of America's official magazine maps a century of the evolution of American boyhood.

But even voracious retrophiles like me can't possibly devour it all. Lacking any better principle, I started with the issues whose covers caught my eye. The three I settled on span just 15 of the 98 years of the archive, and I can't necessarily say they're the "best" issues of Boys' Life. But their covers didn't disappoint.

Boys' Life, May 1982: "What is this marvelous machine so many are using so well?" asks the future-forward cover story. "What's in that box, behind that screen you've heard about, seen at school or a friend's house - or even operated now and then?" It goes on to predict that in 2002, you'll have a computer in your brain activated by a switch behind your left ear, and you'll search for information just by thinking about it. "Do you think this story is farfetched? It's not." Along with the full-page ad for the basic Dungeons & Dragons game, and the piece on recumbent bikes, this issue captures the geek ascendancy in its larval stage.

 

Boys' Life, June 1974: "Colon(, Michigan) could be tagged 'The Town That Magic Built,' for many of its citizens are practicing magicians who work for Abbott's Magic Manufacturing Company." No, that isn't the first sentence of some whimsically poignant Michael Chabon novel. It's from the cover story of this issue, reporting on the sleight-of-hand boom that made Doug Henning and David Copperfield famous. The photos of '70s teenage magicians performing their illusions have a magic all their own. The kids of the Watergate era were finding other new enthusiasms, too, like soccer (in a piece by respected veteran English soccer writer Brian Glanville) and photography ("You Can Take Good Color Pictures"). But the ads for air rifles, baseball gloves, and dirt bikes prove that American boys were still American boys.

Boys' Life, December 1967: No, the psychedelic op/pop cover didn't mean the Boy Scouts had turned into the Merry Pranksters. Articles about model ships and Johnny Unitas are as wholesome as ever. But the Age of Aquarius casts its kaleidoscopic shadow over an ad for Chevrolet's experimental Astro I concept car, a Smith-Corona ad proclaiming a "type-in", and a trippily illustrated Poul Anderson story about "Christmas on Atlantis: a weird mystery that rocks a boy's world." The boys, they were a-changin'.

Three down, 900-odd issues to go. Let's talk children's magazines: share your reminiscences, show us what you found in the Boy's Life archive, talk about which other vintage kid-rags you wish you could browse (Highlights archive, where are you?), and tell us what periodicals (paper or pixel) your kids read these days.