Here are some of the stories we have had in our weekly Tidbits. To read our current edition simply click on the tab above for Read Online.

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Come along with Tidbits as we play with some dangerous toys!


• The A.C. Gilbert toy company had a hit in 1913 when they invented the erector set. The company went on to release many educational toys such as microscopes and magic tricks. However, there were issues with several of their products. One was a chemistry set which offered 56 different chemicals. There was potassium nitrate (used in gunpowder); ammonium nitrate (used in bombs); nitric acid (used in rocket fuel); sulfuric acid (highly corrosive); and calcium hypochlorite (creates poisonous gas). A piece of safety advice, offered on the page with instructions for creating an explosion out of homemade gunpowder, was: “Do not try this on a bigger scale or a larger explosion will result.”

• The kits were intended to be used under adult supervision while strictly following the instructions but that didn’t always happen. Given the proclivity of kids to mix things up, such as adding sodium ferro-cyanide to iron ions to create poisonous cyanide, parents became concerned and A.C. Gilbert Corp. had to release chemistry sets with more mundane chemicals.

• Another of A.C. Gilbert’s bad ideas was the glassblowing kit. What could possibly go wrong when you hand a kid a blow torch and encourage them to heat a glob of glass to 1,000 F and then do a bunch of experiments with molten glass? No safety equipment was included in the kit, nor even suggested in the manual. The guidebook contained complete instructions on how to make glass straws, champagne glasses, window glass, and even beakers. “You’ll know the glass is hot when it’s glowing red.”

•  If melting glass wasn’t dangerous enough, A.C. Gilbert also released the Kaster Kit with everything needed to melt metal to create die-cast figures. Kids melted lead in an electric crucible that reached temperatures up to 400 F and poured the molten metal into one of 32 different molds in order to create their own lead soldiers. The manual contained only a single piece of safety advice: “Don’t pour water into the molten metal.”

•  Perhaps the very worst of A.C. Gilbert’s ideas was the U-238 Atomic Energy Lab. The kit included a Geiger counter that ran on three C-cell batteries, three types of uranium ore, a nuclear fission chamber, radium samples, polonium samples, and an electroscope. A form in the back of the manual allowed kids to send off for mail-order uranium refills, as well as instructions on how to search for uranium deposits where you lived. The kit also included a comic book called “Dagwood Splits the Atom” in which Dagwood and Blondie, along with Popeye, gave kids a crash course in atomic energy. Some of the experiments required kids to go out and purchase their own block of dry ice, which has a temperature of -109.3 F  The U-238 Atomic Energy Lab was released in 1950 and removed from the market in 1951.

• Why not hand children a bunch of oversize pointy steel-tipped darts and then encourage those children to hurl said darts across the yard? That was the thinking of the inventor of the game called Jarts. A cross between darts and horseshoes, the force of a thrown Jart could reach up to 23,000 pounds of pressure per inch, more than needed to penetrate the skull. In an attempt to avoid pierced skulls, the packaging said, “For adults only” but after 6,100 injuries and three deaths in eight years, the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned Jarts in 1988. Today you can find the revamped game, made with projectiles that have safely rounded plastic ends.

•  In 2007, the Spin Master Company introduced Aqua Dots. Aqua Dots consisted of tiny colorful beads that could be assembled into different designs. Just add a few drops of water to activate the built-in glue, and the individual dots would fuse into solid shapes. It was named “Toy of the Year,” an honor that was rescinded when young children who had swallowed the beads became dizzy, nauseous, and comatose. The water-activated glue on Aqua Dots contained chemicals that metabolized into gamma-hydroxybutyrate, better known as the date rape drug GHB. The product was on the market for less than eight months before being recalled.

• The hot new toy in 2010 was called Colossal Water Balls. These gel-like balls were about the size of gumballs or marbles, but would expand to 400 times their size when soaked in water. Since they looked like candy, small children swallowed them. Colossal Water Balls then proceeded to swell to 400 times their size while inside the child’s intestinal tract, causing blockages that did not show up on X-rays and had to be surgically removed. They were removed from the market in 2012.

• When Cabbage Patch dolls were all the rage, the hot new version for the holiday season of 1996 was the Cabbage Patch Snacktime Kids doll. These dolls were built to mechanically chew and swallow plastic food provided, which would then magically appear in the plastic backpack worn by the doll. There were two basic problems with the design. First was that the chewing/swallowing mechanism was activated any time anything was placed inside the doll’s mouth, such as fingers or pony tails. There was no way the doll could differentiate between the approved plastic food and the tail of the family cat. The second problem was that once the doll started chowing down, there was no “on/off” switch and the only way to stop the chewing action was to find and remove the doll’s batteries. After many pinched fingers and a couple of kids nearly scalped, half a million Snacktime Cabbage Patch dolls were recalled in 1997.

•  Kids love toy guns and in the 1940s the Austin Magic Pistol lived up to expectations even though the ammunition consisted of ping pong balls. The issue wasn’t the ammo used as much as it was the propellant that powered the ping pong balls. The instructions called for loading the ping pong balls into the muzzle of the pistol, and then sprinkling the “magic crystals” into a small screw-top container in the back of the gun. Next, just add a few drops of water, and then pull the trigger to see your ping pong ball launched up to 70 feet away. The problem was that the “magic crystals” were actually calcium carbide which reacts explosively with water to form poisonous and flammable acetylene gas. Not only did it launch the ping pong balls with a fiery muzzle blast, but the screw-top container in the rear often blew its top.

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