Mystery Solved! My Obsession with Acquiring a Polaris Submarine

Growing up, I read a lot of comics. Comics in my era had classified ads in the back, and they were visually stunning, and full of lies. It took a few tries to steel myself from inevitable disillusionment. For example.. the “Box of 100 Soldiers” ad, which promised something really cool:

100 Soldiers

100 Soldiers ad, the theoretical…

… only to discover, after scraping together the fee and postage and sending (cash! through the mail!) to this company that the foot locker was cardboard, and the figures rather pathetic poorly made flats, not in scale with anything, including the planes and ships that came with:

… and the actual.  When you are expecting 3D and get 2D, you get a little cynical.

Gradually, even the dimmest, dewey eyed enthusiast looking for creative ways to blow his paper route money gets a little jaded. One figures out that Sea Monkeys are actually brine shrimp, and that X-Ray specs (women will never trust you with these) aren’t even a particularly clever gimmick.

So when I started to see the greatest promise made by comic book ads — the King Ghidorah of coolness in comic book ad form.. yes, THE POLARIS NUCLEAR SUBMARINE FOR 6.98, I had grown worldly wise far beyond my years, sufficient to know this ad was a scam. Uncle Sam wasn’t going to part with advanced weaponry for a mere 7 dollars.. er.. or was he? That was a whole week of scavenging construction sites to find bottles to turn in for deposit! I wasn’t about to risk it!  And yet.. I wanted to believe…

Polaris comic book ad

The Polaris ad, in all its four color glory!

I can’t tell you how much the 9 or 10 year old me wanted it to be true, yet at the same time, I KNEW it was going to be a toy, and made cheaply at that.  Hope perversely endures.  In the back my mind I thought that, hey, maybe, just maybe it was a big plastic thing, with spring loaded torpedoes, large enough to house me and all my buddies.. maybe it will float, at least.. and hey, maybe we could take it to the pool an submerge it!  This actually might be almost worth it!!! YEAH!!! (suddenly, my still-forming adult BS detector would ring alarmingly, and I would real in my fantasies).

I am amused to look back on my childhood and remember what I was picturing in my mind’s eye:

Even in my my most optimistic moments, the smart part of me knew that these adults were taking advantage of me, of course.

Gradually, I got older, put comics away as childish things and didn’t really think of it, until I discovered a nostalgia webpage that was dedicated to the toy soldier sets of my comic book-reading past. Sure enough, there was the 100 Toy Soldier set I was stupid enough to save up for. And other sets I jonesed for in pre-adolescent envy.. the American revolutionary set. The Romans (who turned out to be flats again, those sneaky thieves!). Nowhere did I see a representation of my childhood obsession, the Polaris Submarine. I have looked high and low on the internet since, and it seemed as if there as no visual record of what the actual sub looked like and what it was made of. Did all the submarines that got sold self destruct? There were (are) no artifacts of the Polaris sub’s existence, anywhere! Just mentions of the ad here and there on the web where the writer was feeling nostalgic for a more innocent time. Why, why was there NO evidence that this thing ever existed in reality? Was no one ever taken in? I just found that hard to believe.

I was resigned to living a Polaris-free existence for the rest of my days. That is, until a Boing Boing reader recently sent in the following picture in response to an article that ran on the subject of comic book ads:

The Polaris Sub

The Polaris Submarine from the comics, at long last.

Yes, that’s it. At long last, we see what it looked like. My guess (even at age 9) was that it would be made of pasteboard or cardboard, and the rockets and torpedoes were just cardboard as well. Upon actually seeing what they sent you for your seven dollars, now I feel two things.. A) that I pretty much got it dead on. and B) I’m glad I didn’t get taken in when I was a kid.  As an adult, I kind of like the lines of the thing, it looks sort of like a wingless space shuttle.  As a kid, I would have felt horrifically ripped off to get this for my seven hard-earned dollars.  I could just hear the hoots of derision if I had uncrated THIS thing in my front yard.

And in conclusion, It’s nice to finally solve this mystery!



24 responses to “Mystery Solved! My Obsession with Acquiring a Polaris Submarine

  1. I actually think its kinda cool.

  2. The company also offered a tank. I think I got it at about age seven, and could barely fit into it.
    The only sort of cool thing was that the dashboard inside it had all kind of neat, undefined guages.
    To a seven year old, this was just interesting enough. It was a disappointment, but learned to live with it.

  3. I was never a big comics reader but I read enough (i.e., >1) to see “100 Toy Soldiers” too. I remember my thoughts when I opened the outer box to see the “GENUINE (pasteboard) FOOTLOCKER!!!” and how tiny it was. “How do they fit them all in there?” It didn’t even occur to me that they might be flats. My bedroom wars were staffed with several boxes of Airfix soldiers, who were fairly realistic, so I didn’t need crap like this. Of course, when casualties started mounting, and the rubber snake from South of the Border was closing in on the city, even flats got conscripted to hold him off.

  4. Good article and very geeky. Seeing the 100 pc toy soldier advert brought back a flood of fond memories at a time when i needed that kind of distraction.Thank you.

  5. Looks like some early “stealth” technology!

  6. Bal T'san Chin

    Are those vents I see…on a submarine?!

  7. Holy S***t I have thought about the Polaris Nuclear Sub for 40 years..Never saw one either and I always wanted one.I never knew any kid who had one. its one of those mysterious things that never materialized. Great Article

  8. I got one of these when I was about 4 and it was amazing. The periscope was of good quality plastic as were the torpedo tubes and projectiles. It did not last long but the memories sure did. Jeff

  9. That’s awesome. You are literally the first person I’ve talked to that actually has real world experience with the Polaris. Do you have any pictures of it you could share?

  10. At long last, I am satisfied my father was right! I had the money in hand for a Polaris sub when he reminded me how disappointed I was when the Revolutionary War kit arrived. Besides, he said, first rain and the sub is trash! Still for 40+ years I have wondered!

  11. Parker Reilly

    I also had a Polaris sub, and it’s just as Jeff said. Even though it was cardboard, it was incredibly fun. In those days (I was probably 5 or 6) I’d wake up really early in the morning (that’s what happens when your parents put you and your three siblings to bed at 7pm so they can have some fun!). So I used to get up at 5am and get into my sub and the adventures would begin. It had dials and things printed on the inside, some of the parts were plastic, and the sub itself was heavy-duty cardboard. The cardboard didn’t last for long, but it was incredibly fun while it lasted. Definitely worth $6.98. Sorry, I don’t think my mom took any pictures.

  12. I too wanted one of these subs. Like Santa Claus, you wanted it to be true and you kinda thought it might be… even though you really figured it couldn’t be. You fantasized about using it to explore nearby lakes or maybe venturing out to the ocean floor! Yep, I really, really wanted one of these but never got it and I am ever so happy to finally see it. I’m sure I would’ve felt a tiny bit ripped-off if I had gotten it, but that would’ve been short-lived as my imagination kicked in. After all, if I could imagine getting a REAL Polaris submarine for $6.98… I could imagine piloting a piece of cardboard underwater! It is a measure of my long-time fascination with this that I posted here just to express the same fascination everyone else has expressed. That is a real kid fantasy of our time!

  13. kenneth turner

    My goodness! As a child I DREAMED and longed after this sub (and its cousin rocket) for years. I was obsessed and even now at the age of 54, I still want this toy
    Ken Turner

  14. Butter Toffee

    Once I ate tons of cheese from my butt. I also had chicken legs on a log potato when I was 7. It was really GREEN but later on I realized it was a little bit water!!!

  15. I owned both of these toys, I got the sub in the 60’s it was rounded more than your version I have photos. At about 6 I didn’t care about the simple things like size… I let my mind take me on many voyages until I kinda broke it and I did.

    • Robert! Thanks for replying. Please, please.. if you think of it, could you scan those photographs and send me a couple of the images? I would love to post them here.

  16. Philip Wilde

    wow. I was just looking for one comic that would have this advert on. I was the uk and my folks had a real thing about anything made in the US so I couldn’t even try to send for one. Many thanks for your article and to the kind person whop sent the photo of the actual sub… I have grand children now and I would still like one even if it is a bit squarish… but just for me.

  17. I remember the joys of cutting up cardboard boxes to make tanks and such as a kid in the 70s. one of these would have been a dream! At the time though, the price seemed astronomically high.

  18. Such an awesome story. I always wanted one of these too. It’s actually better than I thought it would be.

  19. I recall The Mail Away Polaris Submarine very well and remember how fun it was putting one together .

    My pop was a house painter and took me on several jobs as his helper to sweep up , etc. I remember one house we went to was an older one and when I was donehelping my dad the owner said I could play in the garage untill my father finished for thre day.

    Well there were some Tonka trucks by the corner and I was rolling them around when I noticed a flatish long box leaning against the wall, it had a pasted picture of a sub next to the mailing label.

    I went inside the house to ask if I could play with it and the owner said fine and I could have it if I wanted , so I spent the next few hours pulling out cardboard pieces punching out holes and slots connecting tubes and putting this thing together

    Hey man this was fun it had cardboard controlls, firing missiles (I believe by rubber bands but can’t remember) and for a kid it was pretty big and impressive , If I had gotten one w/ my hard earned money I would have still liked it.

    At the end of the day my pop said it was time to go home but sadly he did not want me taking any “junk” back with us so the sub had to stay there.

    I’m sorry I do not have the sub but I still have somewhere the army guys , civil war guys and even romans in their little mailaway boxes.

    Thanks for posting about the sub as it brought back some cool memories

  20. Wow, I always wondered what one of these subs looked like having seen them in many comic books. Thanks!

  21. I have to say I had one of these as a kid. It was awesome! So awesome in fact that I recently ask my dad if he remembers it and immediately he recalled how cool it was. My mom quipped, “you mean you can’t remember my birth day but you remember this submarine”?…good times. I have to say hands down my favorite toy as a kid. For those wondering, it had plastic torpedoes and rockets that launched with an accordian squeeze device. It was actually built rather well, can’t believe that was some 43 years ago!

  22. John Barry Hughes

    Living in Wales,Britain, America as seen on TV seemed really exotic and i sort of imagined American toy’s would also be more cool, The 100 soldiers seemed great value as i always had Airfix or Britains which you bought individually and were expensive and came on metal bases. I often think back to the Polaris submarine advert and came to the conclusion that i had imagined it, I really thought the Sea Monkeys were humanoid and that the X ray glasses really worked, such is the gullibility of childhood, i used to think the ice cream man came around because he liked kids!!!

  23. A friend sent me this link after a discussion about my longing for this submarine and how I dreamt of submerging it in my swimming pool, but also knowing that because I lived in Australia it couldn’t be sent because of the distance and not having the iconic Zipcode!!! It’ so heart warming to think that there were other children out there with similar dreams, and because of the lack of our current social media never knew of our common desires. Oh and I also wanted those x-ray glasses.