Scott Young has taken the allure of the cardboard box one step further.
"Every kid likes to play hide and seek, climbing in and out of a cardboard box," said Mr. Young, who built on that concept with his new invention, the Tuff-Tank, a corrugated plastic playhouse for children ages 4 to 8.
"I remember doing it when I was a kid, building forts and playing house in the neighborhood," he said.
After watching his son play army with a dishwasher box and his nieces ignore their Christmas toys for the containers in which they came, Mr. Young, 39, decided to take up the challenge of converting children's love for boxes into a profit.
The result has earned the Hampstead resident a gold medal for novelties and toys and a trophy for Best Invention of the Americas, both from the international Inventions and New Products Exposition in Pittsburgh last month.
"My mother said I should come up with an idea and sell it in stores," Mr. Young said, recalling the holiday with his nieces about four years ago. "I got to thinking that maybe I should."
After tinkering with several designs, Mr. Young seized on the idea of creating child-sized tanks while watching coverage of the Persian Gulf war on CNN, he said.
"They were doing a special on tanks, and I realized tanks are really neat things," he said.
Also, there wasn't anything else like it on the market. There are police cars, fire trucks and hard plastic pedal cars, but no tanks."
His first marketing attempt -- creating a cardboard tank for his son Scott's day-care playmates -- helped convince him that the idea had merit, Mr. Young said. Scott, about 9 at the time, is now 13.
"They literally tore it apart," he said, noting that the children played with the tank continuously for about two weeks. "They played with it until it got ruined."
At the suggestion of Scott's day-care provider, Mr. Young investigated a stronger, waterproof material and discovered a corrugated plastic manufacturer nearby who was willing to construct a few demonstration toys.
Made from bright green plastic imprinted with a tank design, the 4-foot-long and 18-inch-high toy has a removable foam gun barrel suitable for squirting a water gun through, Mr. Young said.
The lightweight toy, which Mr. Young said complies with all federal safety requirements, is assembled by bending the five plastic parts and inserting 48 industrial snap fasteners designed to withstand considerable force.
"I don't think I could pull it apart," said Mr. Young, who put the product to a neighborhood strength test. "I had three kids bashing into each other with them, rolling down the hill, and they held up great."
From there, his next stop was a Fourth of July festival at Fort Meade two years ago with the improved product. Again, the reception was overwhelmingly positive, Mr. Young said.
"I thought if I was going to get any sort of reaction, I should get one frommilitary folks," he said. "The kids were in it all day. I would see little ones with their parents stop and point, like they were saying, 'What's that? I want to go see that.' "
Mr. Young said he was also pleasantly surprised to find that the toy appeals to boys and girls.
"My nieces will get inside and play with their dolls," he said. "They just get in and close the lid. It's someplace to go where the grown-ups can't find them."
After obtaining a patent in August, Mr. Young was invited to the INPEX convention May 20, where he received his two awards. The entrants, about 500 from 33 countries, were judged on such factors as creativity and marketability, Mr. Young said.
"I thought it would be a good opportunity to show off the product and get some leads," he said.
Mr. Young said he is looking for financial backers and attempting to get retail chains to carry Tuff-Tank, which probably would sell for $39.95 retail.
"Everyone seems to agree that would be a fair price," he said. "It will last a long time and is a multipurpose toy. It makes a neat room decoration, and kids can use it as a clothes hamper or place to keep their toys."
Mr. Young said he has sold several dozen of the tanks himself and has given many to friends with children.
"They tell me they've found their kids sleeping in it," he said. "They like to hide out or play house in it. They just like to be inside."