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Great Canadian Cootie Game - 1920 - 5

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Copyright Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996-1999-2005

The earliest recorded use of the word "cooties" was in Albert N. Depew's World War I memoir, Gunner Depew (1918).

"Of course you know what the word 'cooties' means....When you get near the trenches you get a course in the natural history of bugs, lice, rats and every kind of pest that had ever been invented."

The cootie, a kind of body louse, was an awful byproduct of men living bunched together in trenches in France, for years at a time without a chance to bathe or wash very often. A dirty soldier's body was the ideal breeding ground for "cooties."

They nested and multiplied in different parts of the body, and burrowed into clothes where they were hard to detect, as they bred the next generation. Men scratched constantly and spent spare time hunting cooties, and cracking them between forefinger and thumb. They could not escape the pestilence.

During the war someone dreamed up the cootie game. And suggested that you should buy "four to twelve" of the boxes to play...

It's a glass-topped cardboard box which contains two capsules loaded with a BB sitting on top of a picture of soldiers, tanks, and airplanes shooting across a battlefield.

As soon as the box is tilted, even slightly, the BB rolls to the lower end inside each capsule and they start to hop wildly across the bottom. The action is amazingly lifelike, as if the critters are skittering about trying to escape.

The idea is to tilt the box back and forth to get the cooties through the gate and into the trap. The person who can do it fastest wins.

Cooties were so persistent and widespread a problem during the World War I that cooties were talked about decades after the war was over.

"She has cooties!" - As late as the 1950s we can still recall public school taunts of kids who were poorer dressed and a bit disheveled looking.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

One of the good things to come out of World War I was this fabulous Cootie Game patented in Canada in June 1920.

The object of the game was to capture the dreaded cooties, just like the soldiers in the trenches of World War I.


Cootie Game, Irvin-Smith Company - 1920
Orig. box - Size - 10 x 13 x 2 cm
Found - Copetown, ON