Image via Tiia Monto / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)
If stepping on a plastic brick is enough to set you off, it’d be to your benefit to stay as far away from this innocuous-looking briefcase as possible.
The Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab Kit has been attributed as “the most dangerous toy in the world,” Atlas Obscura details. First available in 1950, the set contained four containers of uranium; beta-alpha, beta, and gamma radiation sources; a cloud chamber for ionizing particles; a spinthariscope to peer at decaying atoms; an electroscope to detect electric charges on the body; and a Geiger counter for measuring radiation. The comprehensive kit had the capacity to fuel 150 scientific experiments.
The toy was produced by American businessman Alfred Carlton Gilbert, and distributed by his firm the A. C. Gilbert Company, in hopes to introduce children to chemical reactions via radioactive material. Gilbert was adamant about toys creating the building blocks for a “solid American character,” and made it his mission to invent children’s products with educational value.
To assuage parents who might have been terrified by the concept, as they should be, a note in the catalog stated: “All radioactive materials included with the Atomic Energy Lab have been certified as completely safe by Oak-Ridge Laboratories, part of the Atomic Energy Commission.”
For even more reassurance, the box’s inner cover was marked with the word “Safe!” and it also arrived with a comic book-style instructional manual, with lovable characters and a dog, teaching kids how to mine atomic energy.
Photo 124097524 © Claudiodivizia | Dreamstime.com
As a word of caution, though, always read the fine print, especially with radioactive materials. The kit also came with a warning that read, “Users should not take ore samples out of their jars, for they tend to flake and crumble and you would run the risk of having radioactive ore spread out in your laboratory.” Definitely keep this away from kids who can’t read warnings yet.
Thankfully, fewer than 5,000 units of the set were sold before it was discontinued. Parents might have been deterred by its eye-watering price of US$49.50 (about US$530 today).
It’s also unlikely that you’d find a toy as extreme as this in stores ever again, as when the 1966 Child Protection Act came into effect, toys containing hazardous substances were banned.
[via Atlas Obscura, images via various sources]