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Home --> Military --> M-16


Claim:   M-16 rifles used by American soldiers in Vietnam were manufactured by the Mattel toy company.

Status:   False.

Example:   [Morgan and Tucker, 1987]

The handgrip of the M16 rifle was made by Mattel. When the gun was first introduced in Vietnam, soldiers noticed the toy company's logo embossed on the handgrip and complained. Later shipments arrived without the imprint, but the grips were still manufactured by Mattel.

Origins:   The M-16, a rapid-fire, 5.56 mm assault rifle carried by thousands of American soldiers during the Vietnam War, grew out of efforts to develop a replacement for the
standard M-1 Carbine used during World War II. The M-16, constructed using plastics and alloys, was a much smaller and lighter weapon than its predecessors, one that fit in with the developing Vietnam-era strategy of sacrificing accuracy in favor of more easily-carried weapons with rapid rates of fire. Hundreds of thousands of M-16s were supplied to US troops in the mid-1960s as US Army made the M-16 their standard rifle.

However, the M-16, manufactured by the Colt Firearms Corporation, soon developed a reputation for unreliability, frequently jamming and fouling (especially when not kept clean, a next-to-impossible task in the dust and mud of Vietnam battlefields). Problems with the M-16 eventually achieved such prominence that a congressional inquiry was ordered, resulting in design changes, additional troop training, and other modifications that ameliorated many of the reliability issues soldiers were experiencing with the weapon.

To the troops in the field, the original M-16 was new, it was small, it was light, it was made of plastic rather than wood, and it often performed poorly to boot. It was no surprise that many of them started expressing their dissatisfaction by referring to it derisively as a cheaply-made "toy," and that they associated it with the most prominent toy company of the time: Mattel, the Hawthorne, California, toy manufacturer famous for introducing the Barbie doll to the world:
One of the sayings soldiers had about the M16 was, "You can tell it's Mattel" which was a toy company's slogan at the time — the gun had a lot of plastic parts, which can't stand up to the vibrations like wood can but it is cheap.
The Mattel legend was undoubtedly fed by the fact that Mattel really did sell an M-16 Marauder toy gun in the mid-1960s, a quite good reproduction of the actual weapon, complete with "realistic" sound effects:

M-16 (real)

M-16 Marauder (toy)

The sardonic joke about problem-plagued M-16s being toys morphed into a legend about their really having been produced by a toy company, with "proof" offered in the additional detail of soldier's spotting M-16 handgrips embossed with the Mattel logo. The redesign that improved the M-16's reliability was then attributed to a switch in manufacturers (to a "real" gun company) prompted by soldier complaints.

Last updated:   2 August 2007

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  Sources Sources:
    Morgan, Hal and Kerry Tucker.   More Rumor!
    New York: Penguin Books, 1987.   ISBN 0-14-009720-1   (pp. 175-176).