How about we give 30,000 kids hand grenades?

Ah, the times really have changed.

Back in the day, lots of us carried pocket knives to school and played spirited games of cowboys and rustlers, Flying Tigers, and Gene Autry vs. the Phantom Empire, not to mention fighting off the ChiComs, laying about us with pretend revolvers and machine guns. Nowadays, doing that can get kids suspended from school.

Today’s modern anti-violence sensibilities aren’t completely off-base, of course. It seems a week doesn’t go by without some sort of mass violence involving a nut with a gun. And the horrific school massacres, such as the one last year in Newtown, Connecticut, seem to be, if anything, increasing.

But there was a time when there was a more matter-of-fact attitude towards objects and ideas that would be ringing all sorts of loud alarm bells these days. For instance, back in 1919, the federal government decided it would be a wonderfully patriotic thing to give at least 30,000 school children hand grenades as a way to teach them thrift in the wake of World War I.

Here, from the June 25, 1919 Kendall County Record is how the whole thing was explained in the local press:

Soldiers with the U.S. Army's  83rd Infantry Division train with grenades before going into action during World War I. (Photo courtesy of the Doughboy Center at WorldWarI.com)

Soldiers with the U.S. Army’s 83rd Infantry Division train with grenades before going into action during World War I. (Photo courtesy of the Doughboy Center at WorldWarI.com)

THRIFT WEEK IN ILLINOIS

This week, beginning last Monday, is being celebrated as “Thrift Week” throughout the United States as designated by the War Savings Organization of Illinois. The idea is to promote thrift in the country and to start the children on the right track as to saving.

In order to bring about the cooperation, the children are promised a real treat by the government. The treat resolves itself into the gift of a hand grenade, manufactured by the government for use abroad and made over to a saving bank for the school children. The proposition is explained in the following letter from the Chicago headquarters:

Real Hand Grenades and Savings Banks

Thirty thousand Illinois school children, probably more, will receive at the reconvening of school in the fall, a souvenir of the war that in later years will be highly prized. The souvenir is a real hand grenade converted into a savings bank. These banks are being manufactured from grenades designed for use by the American troops in France.

These are the four main types of hand grenades that were used by U.S. Troops during World War I. The two grenades on the left were used for defensive combat (far left) and offensive warfare.  The third grenade from the left was a poison gas grenade, while the final example was an incendiary phosphorous grenade.  (Image courtesy of Inert-Ord.Net)

These are the four main types of hand grenades that were used by U.S. Troops during World War I. The two grenades on the left were used for defensive combat (far left) and offensive warfare. The third grenade from the left was a poison gas grenade, while the final example was an incendiary phosphorous grenade. (Image courtesy of Inert-Ord.Net)

The mechanical contrivances for exploding the grenade and safeguarding the thrower are left intact. Only the TNT is removed. This had to be done to make room for the pennies and dimes the school children will save therein for the purchase of War Savings Stamps.

When the armistice was signed, the War Department had 15 million grenades on hand and these are being transformed into banks. Illinois has been allotted 30,000 and has asked for an option on an additional 30,000.

Under a plan approved by the Treasury Department for the distribution of the souvenir banks, each child under 10 years old who during the vacation season earns enough money to buy one War Savings Stamp and submits to his teacher an account of how the money was earned would be entitled to receive a bank. Children of more than 10 years would be required to purchase two War Savings Stamps.

The banks will be distributed in the fall by the teachers upon the pupils’ essay. it will be for the teachers to determine whether the Stamps bought represent bonifide vacation earnings.

Well, at least we can be relieved that the TNT was removed from the grenades before they were passed out to the kids. After all, had to have room for pennies, nickels, and dimes. I haven’t been able to find out whether this (at least to me) harebrained scheme came to fruition or not, but I’m going to keep looking with a sort of horrified fascination to see if there were any follow-up stories.

It’s interesting to ponder whether, if it did come to pass, whether these grenade banks might not be the source of some of the scary stories in the news that erupt when an inert grenade of some kind is found in places from private homes to show and tell sessions in elementary schools.

Further, and recalling my own youthful experiments making gunpowder, building rockets, and blowing stuff up in general, I can’t help but wonder how many of those hollow grenades were filled with black powder from emptied shotgun shells and then blown up with a satisfying, if terrifically dangerous, explosion, blasting shrapnel in all directions.

Handing out 30,000 hollow hand grenades to kids, many of whom liked nothing more than to see a satisfying explosion. What could possibly have gone wrong?

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4 Comments

Filed under Illinois History, Kendall County, Newspapers, Nostalgia, Semi-Current Events, Technology

4 responses to “How about we give 30,000 kids hand grenades?

  1. Bert Gray

    Yes … times have changed in the schools. In the spring of 1971 OHS produced 110 in the Shade, its first “real” musical — not a student written variety show or minstrel show (Mushfuddle, do read this blog?) This Broadway show would later become The Rainmaker movie. Cast in the part of the Sheriff I needed to help find props to make my office believable. I had a desk, and a coat rack. What I needed was a gun. My dad didn’t have anything western enough or police-like, so I asked a local deputy sheriff I was closely associated with (I had served as the brave babysitter for his pack of wild children when he and his wife were involved in Masonic duties). He kindly loaned me a spare 38 caliber S&W service revolver with belt and holster. With it hanging on the coat rack, the office looked complete for the show. Oh … and when it wasn’t hanging on the coat rack, it was lying in the desk drawer off stage. Stayed there for at least a week ….. during the school day, final rehearsals, and performances.

  2. Bert Gray

    Don’t you think that if these ever really made a big bang on the savings bank scene we would see them well represented in antique and collectable stores these days? I get to those kinds of places regularly and I’ve never seen one. Must have been a dud.

    • I’ve looked all over the web since I found the story, and haven’t been able to find anything, including on eBay, so I suspect cooler heads prevailed. As a practical matter, not sure how many coins would fit inside a hand grenade anyway.

      Roger Matile rnsmatile@sbcglobal.net – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

      >________________________________

  3. Tom

    I stumbled across this article after running across a notice in a 1919 paper about the grenade banks and wondering if there was anything on the Internet about them. They were very real. Mayfield Kentucky Weekly Messenger, September 17, 1919, page 8. “War Souvenir Grenade Banks Now Available. These Wonderful Instruments of Destruction Now On Peaceful Mission. Whole Car Load Of them. Banks in Nearly Every CIty in Eighth District Have Limited Supply.”

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