Top Five Stupidly Dangerous Vintage Children's Toys



2017-01-20 16:34:08

Spinning blades, exploding weapons and Uranium - you were allowed to play with pretty much anything in the 1950s...

Since 1973, the W.A.T.C.H Organization (World Against Toys Causing Harm) has published an annual list of the most dangerous children's toys on the market.

Past lists have included a C.S.I fingerprinting kit which used highly poisonous asbestos, a game featuring 'magic beads' containing the date rape drug G.H.B, and dolls with motorized mouths which ate children's fingers and hair.

But prior to 1973, who was keeping an eye on toys to make sure they were safe for kids? Judging by the items on our list, apparently no-one.

Here are five wildly dangerous things that kids were encouraged to play with. 

Molten Glass


The A. C. Gilbert Company was responsible for a number of highly popular children's toys, including the Erector construction sets which were sold with the tag line "Boys today – Men tomorrow!"

However, the company also produced countless toys that even Krusty the Klown would be hesitant to put his name to. Amongst the most wildly irresponsible of these was the Gilbert Glass Blowing Kit, which encouraged kids to heat molten glass to 1000 degrees Fahrenheit and then blow into it.

The accompanying manual showed you how to make everything from a fountain pen filler to a squirt nozzle and an 'acrobatic pollywog'.

What it didn't show you how to do was peel molten glass from your face and hands, but according to Gilbert that's kind of life lesson that turns boys into men overnight.

Volatile Chemicals


Gilbert soon realised that, as much as kids enjoyed artisan crafts such as glass blowing, they'd probably rather just blow things up.

The Gilbert Chemistry Sets were sold as highly educational toys for inquiring minds, but the company knew its audience: experiment #1 in the manual was titled "How to make an explosive mixture".

Featuring highly dangerous chemicals such as potassium permanganate and ammonium nitrate, and endorsed by Good Housekeeping Magazine, the set gave you all the ingredients to make a 3-ft crater in your back yard.

Owning a Gilbert Chemistry Set today would probably get you registered on an FBI watch list, but in the 1950s the main concern for kids was how quickly their eyebrows would grow back.

Explosive Weapons


The Austin Magic pistol was a toy gun released in the 1940s which used explosive chemicals to fire plastic projectiles. And when we say fire, we mean actual fire.

Calcium carbide is a volatile chemical compound which, when mixed with water, produces highly flammable acetylene gas. And the Austin Magic Pistol was full of it.

When you pulled the trigger a foot-long flame shot out of the barrel (and occasionally the back of the pistol as well), firing a ping pong ball which had often partially melted in mid-air before it hit its intended target.

Most of the pistols exploded or melted, meaning few vintage examples survive today. But those that do are technically classed as firearms in most U.S states, because that's exactly what they are.

Power Tools


In 1969, the Ideal toy company came to the conclusion that a battery-operated table saw was an acceptable thing for kids to play with.

With everyone sane apparently away on holiday, the company released the Powermite range of working power tools – essentially a selection of whirring metal blades designed to fit perfectly in tiny hands.

The Powermite line consisted of a router, a circular saw, an orbital sander, a hand drill and a sabre saw. The tools were designed for use with balsa wood and Styrofoam, but could be used equally well to torture G.I Joes into revealing their secret missions.

They included ideas for model sets and construction projects, but, crucially, not the directions to the nearest emergency ward or tips for reattaching fingers.

Radioactive Material


During the first half of the 20th century, mankind had a fairly lax attitude to radiation poisoning.

Manufacturers used the dangerous chemical Radium in everything from toothpaste watch faces to condoms and cigarettes, until scientists pointed out the poor business practice of slowly killing your customers.

However, by the 1950s nuclear power was being advertised as the clean, safe energy of the future.

The 'Atomic Age' captured the public's imagination, and companies cashed in with a whole range of movies, television shows, products and even children's toys.

The American Basic Science Club decided to continue the grand tradition of recklessly endangering curious kids by releasing the Atomic Energy Lab.

Sold throughout the 1950s and 60s, the set featured a spinthariscope which displayed exploding atoms and an electroscope to measure background radiation. It also came with samples of Uranium and Radium, radioactive substances which can be deadly in even small doses.

The box described the set as 'fun', 'easy' and 'exciting', three words not often associated with radiation poisoning. But the same decade also saw Gilbert (who else?) produce a working toy Geiger counter to help kids to hunt for Uranium deposits, so perhaps those three words meant something different in the 1950s.

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