An original Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Laboratory kit, showing four jars of radioactive samples in the upper left corner by Webms (CC BY-SA)

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An original Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Laboratory kit, showing four jars of radioactive samples in the upper left corner by Webms (CC BY-SA)


We often never know how potentially hazardousour favorite childhood toys, familiar household items, or even family cars were until they’re a couple decades in the rearview. That’s certainly the case when it comes to many products that were considered safe and even suitable for kids in the past. Here are some of the most dangerous items many of us remember having or using in childhood before anyone knew better.

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Cabbage Patch Kids had been a toy phenomenon for more than a decade by the time then-owner Mattel released the Snacktime Kid for the 1996 Christmas season. The toy’s ability to “chew” and suck pieces of plastic food into a stomach cavity turned into a dangerous tendency to chomp and not stop chomping on anything that came near its mouth, including children’s hair and fingers. After receiving around a hundred complaints, Mattel pulled 200,000 Snacktime Kids from toy stores and offered refunds to 500,000 previous buyers in the company’s largest recall to date.

United States Consumer Product Safety Commission


Twelve children were known to have died in mini hammocks — a common item found from the ‘70s in sporting goods, department, and drug stores — before 10 manufacturers and importers recalled more than 3 million in 1996. The problem in making a hammock so portable was it required removing the standard spreader bar, which makes the netting liable to twist, entangle, and even strangle someone getting in or out.

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A form of synthetic latex that resisted stains, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) became ubiquitous in the 1950s carpet and upholstery industries for pre-treating fabrics, while 3M made it the key ingredient in their popular stain repellent Scotchgard. The company only phased out this chemical ingredient in 2000 based on tests showing the tendency of PFOS to accumulate in human tissue and potentially contribute to health risks like liver damage, high cholesterol, cancer, and the development of ADHD in children. The 3M company is still dealing with the legal and environmental fallout of the chemical’s use today.

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The Ford Pinto was atop-seller in the 1970s before a fuel system defect was discovered that could cause the car to explode into flames after even a minor rear-end collision. Though still under dispute, the number of deaths attributed to the car was believed to be as high as 500, according to Automotive News. Ford recalled 1.5 million Pintos in 1978 and faced criminal homicide charges the following year.



Lobbing weighted metal darts across an open backyard might not be the safest yard game to play with kids around, as several families discovered during the height of lawn darts’ popularity in the 1980s. The game caused more than 600 injuries and the deaths of three children before the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a ban in 1988 on all lawn darts “capable of causing skull punctures.” Sounds like the right call.

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Toy guns have caused many a tragedy due to their resemblance of the real thing in recent years, but the bright red-and-yellow Austin Magic Pistol of the 1950s presented a different danger. The “magic crystals” it used to fire were actually hazardous calcium carbide, which was far more explosive than most parents would put up with today, firing plastic balls up to 70 feet or more. Concern prompted the state of Virginia to ban the Austin Magic Pistol and all combustible toy guns as a misdemeanor.

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This home craft set from the 1950s might sound like a fun idea for kids until you realize it requires heating the glass to reach a malleable state in excess of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The lack of safety equipment and irresponsible instructions for experiments like blowing a bubble of hot glass until it burst surely didn’t help matters. This wasn’t the only deadly hazard the good folks at Gilbert introduced to midcentury children, as their other sets taught how to cast molten lead and hunt for radioactive uranium.



When added to paint, lead helps accelerate the drying process and lends increased durability to corrosion. It also causes kidney and nervous system damage when swallowed by children. Though lead’s toxicity was well-established as far back as Benjamin Franklin’s time, lead poisoning was unfortunately common for many decades even after the federal government banned the sale of lead-based paint in 1978, owing to its presence in homes, classrooms, and toys as well as the paint chip’s reportedly sweet taste. Lead remains one of the most pressing environmental threats and old lead-based paints the most significant source of exposure.

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In 1964, Mattel released a toy that would enable young boys to concoct their own inanimate insects from syrupy goop poured into metal molds and set in a working miniature oven. In addition to burning themselves on a surface heating to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, the “PlastiGoop” originally used to make the bugs would give off noxious and potentially toxic fumes when baked.



In the latter half of the 20th century, American consumers were repeatedly enticed into buying highly-toxic pesticides marketed as harmless home maintenance solutions. First there was the carcinogenic DDT used for home-gardening purposes until its federal ban in 1972. Then there was Chlorpyrifos (brand name Dursban), a kind of insecticide nerve gas pulled from the residential market in 2000 but still used in agriculture. Finally there was the neurotoxic diazinon, which was used to take out cockroaches and ants plaguing backyards before its own residential ban in 2004.

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Sky Dancers were plastic dolls popular in the late ‘90s, which sat in a molded base and launched spinning into the air when kids pulled their cord. The momentum risked launching them at the children themselves, however, causing reports of eye injuries, broken teeth, cuts, a broken rib, and one concussion. Manufacturer Galoob finally recalled9 million Sky Dancers in 2000.



A common novelty toy of the late ‘60s and ‘70s, clackers were pairs of plastic spheres connected via string the user would swing up and down to produce a loud clacking noise. They were taken off the market following reports of children becoming injured when the hard acrylic plastic balls would shatter into tiny projectile shards. In 1974, the U.S. government even ordered the seizure of 50,000 clackers under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, resulting in one of the Supreme Court’s most amusingly-named cases, United States v. Article Consisting of 50,000 Cardboard Boxes More or Less, Each Containing One Pair of Clacker Balls.

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Before the advent of synthetic fibers, central heat, and other forms of home pest control, mothballs were a common method of keeping moths from chewing holes in stored clothing. Early mothballs were made of a crude oil derivative still used for industrial purposes called naphthalene, which is not only flammable but has beenlinked to health risks like respiratory problems, headaches, and nausea.

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One of Barbie’s style changes from the early ‘90s posed an unexpected problem for indoor play — fire. Barbie’s skates turned out to contain wheels similar to the operating device of a cigarette lighter, which would shoot out sparks when rolled along a flat surface, potentially starting a fire. Mattel stopped producing the Barbies before this defect was discovered and became a short-lived source of media hysteria — and hysterical media.



A longtime staple of backyard summer hijinks, the Slip ‘N Slide poses a danger not so much to the kids it’s designed for, but for the teens and adults who might be tempted to try it themselves. As the Consumer Product Safety Commission has periodically warned, the added height and weight creates momentum that can cause spinal injury when one slides too far or comes to a sudden stop. Manufacturer WHAM-O recalled 9 million of the slides in 1999 after one teen and seven adults suffered neck paralysis from using the product.

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The suntan became a status symbol in 20th century America, which was why the nation’s first skin care company Coppertone advertised its flagship lotion in the ‘50s as a way to get a “faster, deeper tan.” Popular well into the ‘70s and ‘80s, these early tanning lotions usually had a sun protection factor (SPF) of only 2 to 4 and used oils that amplified the sun’s rays. Coppertone falsely claimed that increased sun exposure made skin look younger and that the products only let in the safer UV rays that promoted tanning — UVA rays, which in actuality cause skin cancer.

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Wham-O also produced this novelty in the ‘70s and ‘80s, a tube of semi-solid pink plastic from which pea-sized amounts could be inflated into bubblegum-like bubbles. Though much heartier than soap bubbles, they were still liable to burst if overinflated or handled roughly. The substance were made from polyvinyl acetate dissolved in acetone, both of which emitted noxious fumes when kids blew the bubbles through a straw. The kits were recalled in Canadaa few years ago due to safety concerns.



The Ancient Greeks discovered asbestos and its harmful biological and carcinogenic effects more than two thousand years ago, but the mineral silicate became common in commercial insulation products from the late 19th century until the ‘70s, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began banning certain asbestos products. Asbestos remains legal for many uses in small concentrations and is present in many new products used in schools, homes, workplaces, and automobiles, contributing to an occurrence of 3,000 cases of mesothelioma diagnosed each year.

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Released in conjunction with the original “Battlestar Galactica” TV series, this Mattel spaceship is the toy that launched a million choking hazard stickers. In 1978, the Viper’s firing missile shot and lodged itself in the esophagus of a 4-year-old, choking him to death.Mattel recalled the toy and soon re-released a version whose missiles wouldn’t actually leave the toy when fired, instead just lighting up.

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In 1962, Wham-O — the company that brought you such classics of backyard recreation as the Frisbee, Hula-Hoop, and Slip ‘N Slide — released the Water Wiggle, a seven-foot plastic hose with a grinning plastic head over the waterjet nozzle. It was meant to flail about spraying water when attached to an outdoor faucet, but this simple function became perilous and nearly impossible to contain when water pressure was too high. One Water Wiggle from which the plastic head had come off even caused the drowning ofa four-year-old in 1978 when the exposed nozzle became lodged in his mouth, causing Wham-O to halt sales and recall more approximately 2.5 million units.

United States Consumer Product Safety Commission


In 1998, Fisher-Price owned up to a dangerous design flaw by recalling a whopping 10 million of their battery-powered ride-on toy cars that had been manufactured and sold since 1986. Both their Power Wheels 12 volt and Super 6 volt vehicles were subject to more than 150 reports of fires and hundreds more of smoking or overheated parts, some of which occurred even when the vehicles were sitting idle in the garage or playroom.



Invented in 1983, Slap Bracelets are one of those toys that became a phenomenon despite, or perhaps because of, their simplicity —a taut piece of fabric that would snap into a coiled bracelet when whacked against your wrist. The problem was the steel frame that gave the bracelets their shape, whose edges — especially in cheap knockoff versions — could become exposed and cut unsuspecting young wearers. These safety concerns have dogged every attempted slap bracelet revival up to as recently as 2018, when Fantasia Accessories recalled their plushie animal slap bracelets following reports of five minor cuts and injuries to consumers’ hands and wrists.

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Hasbro and Disney teamed up and released a goopy green toy ball called Flubber for the 1962 Christmas season, promoting the upcoming release of “Son of Flubber.” Within weeks of the toy’s release, approximately 1,600 reports came flooding in of children experiencing sore throats and rashes after exposure. A lawsuit, voluntary recall, and FDA investigation all led to the discovery that Flubber caused a painful infection of the hair follicles called folliculitis. Unable to burn the recalled Flubber due to the black smoke it emitted,Hasbro allegedly rid itself of the overstock by burying and paving a new parking lot over it for their warehouse in Providence, Rhode Island.

United States Consumer Product Safety Commission


Like many toys, Magnetix are pieces of plastic that connect together to create structures of plastic. The problem was that the magnets used to connect those pieces were easily detached and swallowed, and that rather than passing through the digestive system these could become stuck together in the intestines and eventually cut off the blood supply to vital organs. When such a situation allegedly caused the death of 22-month-old Kenny Sweet in 2005, the manufacturer Mega Bloks, now known as Mega Brands, settled a lawsuit with the child’s family butmade no admission of liability before issuing recalls of more than 4 million units in 2006 and 2007 following reports of other serious injuries.

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In 2007, Aqua Dots, similar to other toys throughout the years, offered kids the chance to create designs out of colorful beads that can then be set and glued together, just by adding water. Unlike other toys throughout the years, the glue these used contained chemicals that would metabolize into the date rape drug GHB. This defect became widely known after two children slipped into a coma, which resulted in Aqua Dots manufacturer Spin Master recalling 4.2 million sets.

United States Consumer Product Safety Commission


This classic toy has been helping children whip up their own sugary treats for decades, but one version was recalled by its manufacturer Hasbro in 2007 due to reports of children getting second- and third-degree burns from its heating coil. The culprit was the front-loading oven’s door, which would often trap the user’s fingers upon closing In the case of one five-year-old, this resulted in a partial finger amputation.

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The Easy Bake Oven was a cakewalk when compared with the Empire Little Lady Stove, an earlier iteration of the child-friendly cooking set sold in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Both the miniature working cooktop and oven were capable of reaching scalding temperatures up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit. For comparison, most adult ovens today only reach 550 degrees.



Trampolines sent an estimated 100,000 bouncers to the emergency room with injuries in 1999, the Consumer Product Safety Commission reported. The majority of these came from privately-owned trampolines, which often lacked the safety precautions of mesh netting and foam pads to prevent broken bones and concussions. For these reasons, some medical organizations advocate banning the device for personal home use.

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Sold in various iterations from the 1950s up to the ‘90s, Moon Shoes were billed as “mini-trampolines for your feet,” and were potentially as dangerous as their full-sized counterpart. Though all versions make the wearer susceptible to ankle injury, the early designs from the ‘70s were even more hazardous for being made of metal with springs and plenty of sharp edges.

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The Zulu Blow Gun was but one of many toy guns that became a must-have item for children of the 1950s. Beyond the problematic racialized advertising, the Zulu Blow Gun posed a threat to children’s safety both because the game involved shooting sharp pointed darts — made of metal in older versions, plastic in later models — by blowing them through a tube, but also because the user could accidentally inhale the darts and choke on them.