8 Dangerous Toys From Years Past

Keep Houston Press Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Houston and help keep the future of Houston Press free.

Most parents probably assume that manufacturers have their kids' best interests in mind when they release a new toy on the market, and in most cases they are probably correct. If for no other reason, toy companies want to make as much money as possible, and stories of injured children have a decidedly chilling effect on that goal.

Of course, over the decades, a lot of pretty spectacularly dangerous toys have managed to slip onto the market, and looking back at some of them, it's difficult to understand how any adult could've ever green-lighted these ideas.

8. Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab

In the 1950s, people were fascinated with atomic power. Although, based on the number of monster movies that blamed radioactivity for creating havoc, it seems as if that fascination was mixed with horror.

So it's not really surprising that a company named Gilbert released a science kit for kids interested in atomic power. What is surprising is that the kit came with four real samples of uranium to use in experiments and that you could send away to get more delivered! The '50s were a different time, a time when little Jimmy might glow in the dark after playing with the science kit he got for Christmas.

7. Gilbert Glass Blowing Kit

Yes, the same company that provided uranium samples in a child's toy also made a glass-blowing kit for children interested in heating glass to 1,000 degrees and forming it into interesting shapes. Glass blowing is a craft that's, well...dangerous. Accidentally breathing in the super-heated air through a blow tube can seriously hurt a person, and then there's the glass itself. It can explode, sending splinters all over the place, not to mention that there's an inherent risk of having a molten glob of super-hot glass come into contact with a kid's skin.

Reviewing the evidence, I'm not sure if Gilbert was an educational toy company or part of a plot to injure or kill as many of America's children as possible.

6. Austin Magic Pistol

This Raygun-resembling pistol was a product of the late '40s, and maybe back then it was common for toy designers to consider "things that burn or explode" as prime plaything material.

The Austin Magic Pistol was meant to be loaded with calcium carbide, a chemical that experiences an explosive reaction when mixed with water. That would cause an enormous flame to blast out of the barrel, propelling plastic balls at a high rate of speed. The resultant fireball was as dangerous as it sounds, and could easily result in burn injuries. Surprisingly, Gilbert weren't the super-villains responsible for this chemically triggered toy gun abomination.

5. Creepy Crawlers Beginning in the mid-'60s, toy giant Mattel began releasing a steady line of kits that would allow kids to pour a weird liquid plastic goo into die cast molds that were then heated to more than 300 degrees, creating rubbery insects and other creepy designs once they cooled.

The problem is pretty obvious. High temperatures burn little unsupervised hands pretty easily, and the process also released fumes that were probably not particularly healthy to breathe. The sets were popular and kept going for several years, until Mattel released a safer, less effective version in the late '70s, before phasing them out completely. However, the basic concept has kept going, with other toy companies releasing similar, though much safer, sets more recently.

4. Lawn Darts (a.k.a. Jarts)

In the 1970s and '80s, lawn darts ruled many a backyard gathering. After all, the concept of hurling large, weighted darts into the air to try to hit a distant target on a lawn is genius -- like something out of a handbook of medieval weaponry turned into a suburban yard game! The problem, of course, was that "Jarts" could just as easily plant themselves into the top of a person's head as they could the intended target, and people died as a result, not to mention thousands of injury reports. Perhaps unsurprisingly, lawn darts were actually banned in 1988, and people who already owned them were advised to destroy them. But they're still out there, waiting for someone to discover a box at the local swap meet, and there are lots of fans buying and selling them online.

Lame, blunt "safer" versions are also still manufactured today, but where's the fun in buying one of those neutered sets when it's possible to still dig up the very dangerous original designs?

3. Sky Dancers Galoob released Sky Dancers in the early '90s, and looking at these toys, they certainly don't look dangerous. Sort of a mashup of Barbie dolls and fairies, they're sent flying into the air when a child pulls the cord in a launcher. Despite the pink and blue girly doll toy appearance, Sky Dancers were really all about shooting a randomly coursed spinning projectile out at a very high rate of speed, and they hurt a lot of kids when they hit them in the face. And not a "little hurt," but scratched cornea and head laceration "trip to the hospital" hurt. Unsurprisingly, Sky Dancers were eventually pulled off the market.

2. CSI: Fingerprint Analysis Kit In 2007, CBS was raking in money with its popular CSI television series, and released a cool fingerprinting educational toy kit marketed to children. All in all, that's a pretty cool idea, I suppose. The problem was, the powder used to dust for fingerprints contained deadly asbestos, and it's generally frowned upon to include poisonous materials in kids' toys. Once this was discovered, it would be normal to assume that CBS sprang into action and immediately recalled the dangerous kits. But that didn't happen, because it didn't want a recall to cut into holiday profits with Christmas just around the corner.

It was only after pressure from watchdog groups and the threat of bad publicity and governmental intervention that CBS very quietly issued a recall. Classy folks at CBS.

1. Aqua Dots

The year 2007 must've been a stellar time for poisonous toys (on a side note, I now want to form a hair metal band named "Poizonouz Toyz"), because during that year, numerous cases of children suffering from horrible seizures and comas began to pop up, and it turned out that a popular children's toy was to blame. Aqua Dots were a cool toy where kids arranged designs made from tiny beads, and when sprayed with water, those beads fused together, making the design permanent. This was made possible by a chemical reaction that activated a glue built into the beads. The only problem? That chemical process also unleashed doses of GHB, an infamous date rape drug. How does something like this happen? Who knows; the toys were manufactured in China, so that was an easy target, but they weren't designed there. Since the key component of the toy was little beads, lots of kids ate them, as kids are wont to do, and the chemical coating then metabolized into GHB. The toys were recalled later in 2007, and were eventually rebranded as Pixos, although presumably, or at least hopefully, the chemicals used in their glue have probably been changed.

This is not a complete list of horrifyingly risky toys that have been released; a book could be written on them, there are so many. Whether badly conceived or ill--designed, or just plain irresponsible and stupid, bad toys have been around since the beginning of toy companies, and will likely continue to put kids at risk in the future. Looking at some of these things, it's amazing that most of us survived into adulthood.

Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.