When you think of children’s toys, the words “life threatening” are unlikely the first thing to pop into your mind. Today though, we are going to look at the crazy world of children’s toys, and the companies who recklessly put out problems that have severely injured, and in some cases even killed children. So, make sure your child is secure, and pour yourself a stiff drink, because this one is going to get heavy.
Hasbro – Javelin Darts
Released in 1968 Hasbro’s Javelin Darts were a disaster waiting to happen. Imagine taking a standard dart, upping the weight to 500 grams, and marketing it at children; what could possibly go wrong? By 1970 Hasbro was under pressure to discontinue Javelin Darts in the wake of the death of three children. However, with much lobbying and push-back, the darts were able to continue to be sold with a few conditions. Firstly, they had to be marketed as a game of skill for adults. Secondly, they had to be marked as hazardous, and lastly, they could not be sold in toy stores, or toy departments.
Although these regulations seemed very watered down, given the dangerous nature of this product. It continued to be sold, well into the 1980s. The product became so popular that other brands brought out their own versions; some well-known ones were Jarts, and Lawn Darts. By 1987 there were over 6500 reported cases of injuries for the product, but it was the death of 7-year-old Michelle Snow, that was finally able to ban the death darts once and for all.
This tragic event galvanized Michelle’s father, and he begun a David verse Goliath battle, literally, to have these toys outlawed once and for all. David was able to achieve, what many thought was impossible, and he was able to rally politicians from across the country and have the product banned. The ban was so effective that 30 years later, it is still a federal offense in the US to import Javelin Darts, or any similar product. It also helped to create strong regulatory framework within the toys.
CLICK HERE to read 1978 article from Los Angeles Times regarding David Snow’s fight to have Javelin Darts banned.
Alfred Gilbert’s Company – Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab
The year was 1950, and five years had passed since the horrific events of Hiroshima, but Alfred Gilbert was on a mission. He was desperate to get children excited about Nuclear Fission, and what better way then a children’s science set. This was no ordinary science set though, the Gilbert U -238 Atomic Lab contained some great stuff for budding little scientist. They included Autunite, Torbernite, Carnotite and Uraninite. Not sure what these are, or what they have in common, don’t worry I am here to help. They are all minerals found naturally on Earth, and have one very important thing in common. They all contain high levels of Uranium.
That’s right the Gilbert Company was selling tiny pieces of nuclear materials to children to play with. Who needs to visit Chernobyl when you can get radiation poisoning from the comfort of you own home? If you are a parent reading this, and you’re stressing about how potential danger of your children. Alfred Gilbert has you cover! The set came with it’s very own Geiger Counter, so you could know exactly how much radiation, you were exposing yourself to. The kit also included a cloud chamber, and encouraged kids to put the material in there and watch the “magical” show unfold as the nuclear atoms decayed.
To be fair to Alfred Gilbert’s Company, the materials were relatively safe, as they emitted very low levels of radiations, no worse than the sun. However, if kids were holding the jars they came in for too long, there was a very real chance of the radiation burning their hands. The other critical issue was that if the minerals feel out of their jars, you were essentially exposing yourself to full blown radiation in your home, and it’s not like kids to break things ever!
Fortunately even parents in the 50s weren’t that crazy, and the set was a real fizzer. In its two-year life it only managed to sell just over 5000 sets. Many of these sets likely didn’t even end up in kid’s bedrooms, as university’s saw them as a relatively inexpensive way to get themselves some good gear for studying fission. For anyone lucky, or unlucky enough to still own one of these. They are sitting on a potential gold mine, and possible Uranium mine! Due to the low number of sets made, if you’re lucky enough to find one for sale on eBay, you’re probably looking at $10,000+ to make it yours. Not bad for something that could potentially kill you!
Mattel – Battlestar Galactica Colonial Viper
Have you ever wondered, who had the bright idea to come up with choking labels for toys? Well it might not surprise you to find out the answer to that question. As with most things that involve companies trying to turn a profit, it’s usually a reactive decision, and choking labels is no exception to that.
It was December 9th 1978, and Mattel has just purchased itself the Battlestar Galactica toy line, and was hoping beyond all hope to replicate the success of Kenner’s Star Wars line. The show had released that year, and was widely popular. Mattel leaving nothing to chance, was advertising heavily during the show, to ensure their toy ended up under Christmas trees everywhere. The toy was a hit, and the executive’s at Mattel would have gone home Christmas Eve, high on Christmas cheer, and probably a big fat bonus check. What Mattel didn’t realise though was, it was living on borrowed time.
Four days after Santa had visited all the good little boys and girls, on December 29th tragedy struck! A four-year-old who was playing with his brand-new Colonial Viper managed to shoot the missile directly into his mouth. It got lodged in his throat, and caused him to choke. He was rushed to hospital, and doctors managed to remove the missile, saving the boy. Unfortunately, the damaged had already been done. Two days later on December 31st the young boy Robert Warren sadly died from his injuries.
Mattel was suddenly in damage control, and what followed was a massive recall, in conjunction with a plethora of lawsuits. Robert’s parents also launched at fourteen-million-dollar lawsuit against Mattel for the death of their child. Robert had an even greater legacy though, the four-year-old became the face of a campaign designed to hold toy manufactures more accountable. As a result, there was sweeping changes through the industry. Toys with firing projectiles, now had to be for kids eight and up, and all toys had to have a choking label clearly displayed on the box. Although Robert never got to live to see his fifth birthday, he probably had a more profound impact on the world then most of us will, and he probably saved countless lives through better regulation of an industry that traditionally flew under the radar.
If you would like to read the full article regarding Robert’s story, I have sourced it from a local newspaper, and it is at the bottom of this page.
Planet Toys Inc – CSI: Fingerprint Examination Kit
If you thought unsafe toys were just the product of a different generation, think again! In 2007 Planet Toy Inc secured the rights with CBS to produce a toy line based on the hit TV series CSI. Why there was a toy line for children, about a show that focussed on gruesome murders, it a question for a whole other article. The toy line had many different kits in it, but the one in question was its Fingerprint Examination Kit.
The kit encouraged children to become super sleuths in their own house. Did someone steal the last cookie, from the cookie jar? No worries a quick check with the kit, and the culprit could be found. Sounds like some harmless fun, so what’s the big deal? Well the powder used for doing an examination contained Tremolite. Don’t know what Tremolite is? That’s ok, I’ll help you out.
Tremolite is a form of Asbestos, and not just any form, but it’s considered one of the most lethal! For those who haven’t dealt with old houses, and aren’t quite familiar with Asbestos, it’s not great! Asbestos has strong links to cancer, and is using introduced to the body through the lungs. The small Asbestos particles are so tiny, and rather than our body treating them as food, they are breathed with air, and get lodged in the throat and lungs. Considering that the fingerprint kit was a powder, and kids were actively encouraged to put their fingers in it. The chances of them introducing this into their system was probably relatively high.
Initially Planet Toys denied that their product contained Asbestos, but independent testing quickly verified the claims, and the toys were soon pulled from shelves everywhere. We may never know the full impact of this blunder, as Asbestos related diseases can take decades before it affects its victims. What we do know is there is no safe level of Asbestos, and breathing in any of it, will mean that it gets trapped in your lungs for good!
Mattel – Creepy Crawlers ThingMaker
Whilst the other toys on this list, have, or will likely cause death. I thought I would finish this list off on a lighter, but no less stupid note. The 1968 Creepy Crawler ThingMaker by Mattel, could quite possibly be one of the stupidest ideas any toy company has knowingly gone to market with. If it wasn’t 1968, I am sure Mattel would have been sued, just for thinking about releasing this toy. So what is it?
The basic idea behind the ThingMaker, is exactly that, to make things. In the box you were given a bunch of metal moulds of various creepy crawlies. You then used Plastigoop, which is a liquid that when heated sets into a hard plastic to make yourself some fun creepy crawlies. There were two small problems though.
The first which is hopefully apparently obvious to you, how do you heat the plastic? Hopefully the kids don’t have to put it in the oven, that might be dangerous. Don’t worry though, Mattel gave kids their own little hot plate (see below) that heated up to 200 degrees Celsius. If that wasn’t scary enough for you, it was completely exposed and offered no protection. If you thought your children leaving Lego on the floor was bad, imagine stepping on a hot plate that was 200 degrees!
The second problem was, when you heated your Plastigoop, the chemicals that it put off were toxic. Obviously, just don’t breathe in the chemicals, while it’s cooking and your fine. It’s not like kids are curious, and would be leaning in nice and close to watch their creations come to life, is it?
Surprisingly the ThingMaker is not dead and at the 2016 toy fair, Mattel officially relaunched the product, albeit with a 21st century twist. They’ve replaced the searing hot plate, and dangerous chemicals with a cute little 3D printer, and an App you download on your phone. Before you go swiping that credit card though, it might not go ahead at all. Although it is available for pre-order on some sites, it’s been three years and there is still no official release date.
I hope you enjoyed that truly horrific journey through the scary history of death traps designed for children. Which toy horrified you the most? It may not surprise you, that while researching for this story I found countless other unsafe toys. So if you enjoyed this, and want to see a part two, please give us a like and comment below.
Happy & SAFE Hunting – Toy Hunters!
Battlestar Galactica – Colonial Viper
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