Learn about the Made in Texas toys that defined generations of young cowboys across the globe.
Nichols Cap Guns: A True Texas Legacy
There’s no real way to quantify the cultural impact that Texas has had on the US (or the world for that matter). However, one thing is certain: the mythology of the cowboy is one of the most iconic and recognized embodiments of Texan lifestyle—a spirit that still exists in popular culture to this day.
In many respects, this culture owes a great deal to the unassuming town of Jacksonville, Texas, where the renowned Nichols Industries manufactured what many refer to as the highest quality toy cap guns ever made. Owned and operated by brothers Lewis and Talley Nichols for the majority of the company’s history, Nichols Industries single-handedly sewed the seeds of western culture across several generations, equipping boys with the most advanced and trustworthy cap guns on the market.
It all began at the end of the Second World War, when the Nichols brothers shifted their business from manufacturing war parts to creating custom dies to craft high-quality cap guns. And these were no ordinary toys.
Their inaugural model was a die cast metal, single shot Pony pistol introduced in 1946—a time when other cap guns were made of cheap tin with few working mechanisms. The next year, the Nichols brothers incorporated plastic molding into their process as well, heightening their manufacturing capabilities to produce more robust models like the tiny Dyna-Mite Derringer (shown in these photos) with reloadable cartridges and moving parts for a more realistic feel.
It didn’t take long for the popularity of the Nichols cap guns to surpass their availability. When the first reloadable Nichols cap gun was unveiled in 1950, the unique innovation encouraged a rush of orders that cleared out the entire first year’s production in a few weeks.
Rather than becoming complacent as the industry leader, the Nichols brothers continued to push the envelope to manufacture cap guns that were even more advanced. In fact, it was this drive that sustained their production during the early '50s when raw materials became difficult to come by due to the escalation of the Korean War. During this period, the Nichols brothers experimented with alternate materials, ultimately making guns from repurposed metals recovered from scavenged auto parts.
Though Lewis Nichols left the company in 1953, his brother Talley pushed ahead to develop models that were smaller, louder and more advanced. Business was booming. By 1957, the 650 employees of Nichols Industries produced millions of toy guns per year, ultimately amounting to 50% of all the cap guns that were ever produced in the US since. However in the 1960’s, sales gradually began to decline as cowboys faded from Hollywood in light of a newfound fascination with a newer frontier: outer space. Yet decades after selling the business in 1967, Nichols toy guns have become sought-after once again—not necessarily by nascent cowboys, but by collectors and enthusiasts eager to capture a piece of a true Texas legacy. - JE