Want to know what’s better than exposing adults to radiation? Giving children uranium to play with to their heart’s desire! This may sound bizarre in the present day, but in this odd science kit from the 1950s, it was a reality.
Blame the uranium boom
Ah, uranium. The lovely, radioactive metal. During the 1950s, the uranium boom was substantial. Since it helped the government construct nuclear weapons, they mined for that stuff like crazy, hardly considering the consequences for those who dug it up. But I mean, it powered some epic bombs, so what was the issue, right?
The real problems started when the substance began to find its way into every household in the US. Uranium coolers? Enjoy a refreshing swig of radiation! Uranium-based hand lotion? It’ll give you an incredible glow! Think it can’t get any better? Well, somehow, one company managed to get this dangerous substance into the hands of children.
Getting the kids in on the fun
Sure, a cute, childish science kit from your local museum probably isn’t harmful. But have you ever heard of the mass-recalled Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab? In case the name doesn’t cue you into the dangers already, here’s a hint—it’s ridiculously radioactive. But who, you ask, came up with this genius contraption?
This brilliantly horrifying kit was the invention of magician Alfred Carlton Gilbert. Now, the guy was no idiot. In the same era, he produced the popular children’s Erector sets, which have remained relevant even today. However, he definitely tried to up the ante too much with his Atomic Energy Lab—by including literal uranium.
The kits were recalled…but not for uranium
This crazy kit came with radioactive ore, a particle-physics cloud chamber, and a machine used in mining to observe radioactive decay. What’s a little toxic substance to add a spark to playtime? Fortunately, the popularity of these kits plummeted quickly…but not for the reason you think.
Rather than acknowledging the dangers of this kit, Gilbert admitted that his Atomic Energy Lab was probably too difficult for even the smartest kid to enjoy playing with. Despite a number of fun suggestions (such as gamma-ray hide-and-seek and uncovering uranium fission tactics for the government), most kids found the advanced science far too complex. And after a while, the kits were recalled due to seemingly obvious safety concerns. But a lucky 5,000 kids got to hold onto their kits!