The Most Awesome Toy of All

In our efforts to make the world safe for retards, we have removed all of the fun from life. That includes the most awesome toy of all time: The Atom!

Atomic Energy Lab from 1959

This bad boy comes to us from 1959. It comes with a spinthariscope and a cloud chamber for two different ways of viewing radioactive decay; it comes with an electroscope for doing electroscopy things; and it also comes with two radiation sources: radium and uranium ore!

Drooling idiots who injure themselves with Nerf dart guns need not apply.

This was back in the day when men were men, and boys were men, and girls were men, too! This toy had balls! It was nuclear!

It was also very educational. Of course, these days you wouldn’t be able to sell something like this. “Oh, help! It’s nook-yoo-lur! Get it away from me! It’s almost as dangerous as the swine flu vaccine!”

I’ll have you know that most of the radiation this thing gave off was alpha, and that’s relatively harmless. As Wikipedia says:

In general, external alpha radiation is not harmful since alpha particles are effectively shielded by a few centimeters of air, a piece of paper, or the thin layer of dead skin cells.… If substances emitting alpha particles are ingested, inhaled, injected or introduced through the skin, then it could result in a measurable dose.

So as long as you keep this thing away from your baby sister who sticks everything in her mouth, you should be fine.

My only concern is that the source of that radiation was tiny amounts of radium and uranium ore, and I don’t know if there are any additional concerns around those materials (besides obvious careful handling).

But if you think that toy is frakkin’ stupendous, check out this puppy:

Atomic Energy Lab from 1951

Oh, you so want to click on this picture to embiggen it!
Beta radiation

This mother-of-all-awesome-toys dates back to 1951.

If, back in those days, the U.S. government could have its soldiers stand above ground to witness a nuclear blast, and then march through fallout across the drop zone, it sure as hell could give its kids radioactive materials for Christmas.

To quote ORAU:

The set came with four types of uranium ore, a beta-alpha source (Pb-210), a pure beta source (Ru-106), a gamma source (Zn-65?), a spinthariscope, a cloud chamber with its own short-lived alpha source (Po-210), an electroscope, a geiger counter, a manual, a comic book… and a government manual “Prospecting for Uranium.”

You wouldn’t even be able to mail this toy today! Imagine trying to bring this to market in 2009.

This toy isn’t all roses, though. It’s a little backward. What do you notice here (aside from the fact that he seems to be enjoying being radiated a little too much)?

Boy oh boy! It's a happy boy!

Based on the illustrations on the packaging, this toy is only for boys. I guess girls aren’t smart enough for this thing. Marie Curie will have to go back to doing the laundry.

Panel A

Sell out your morals in exchange for research money
from defense contractors, just like real scientists!

Panel B

But once you hit puberty, you’ll be using
a viewer like this to look at pornography!

Panel C

Become a pawn of the military-industrial
complex and help perpetuate the Cold War!

The toy also comes with this order form for buying more fissionable material:

Restock your arsenal

I was disappointed to read that the toy is useless today, because all of its radiation has decayed away. It would be really funny to send in this order form today, but the A.C. Gilbert Company went out of business more than 40 years ago. I guess there is no such thing as long-term support any more. Where is a guy supposed to buy radioactive materials these days? (Maybe I should mail this form to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and see what happens.)

They mentioned above that the kit also came with a comic book:

Dagwood splits the atom

That’s right. Dagwood Bumstead splits the atom. Is that what Dithers & Co. has been doing all these years? They’re a defense contractor? And Dagwood is one of our top scientists? And we won the Cold War?

I noticed one last thing about this toy. As you’ll recall, Marie Curie died from exposure to radiation. That makes me wonder what happened to all the boys who had this kit. The illustration that comes with the kit makes it obvious. It made them gay:

He thinks this toy is fabulous

24 Responses to “The Most Awesome Toy of All”

  1. Another Steve Says:

    A bunch of stuff here:

    For years, I never understood why Alpha and Beta radiation were even worth talking about. I always thought, Big whoop! Alpha particles are stopped by a piece of paper or your skin.

    It turns out that the real problem (touched on in the quoted text) is the chance of getting an Alpha source into your body. The Alpha particles are emitted by the nucleus, but the effect they have on the body is purely chemical. An Alpha particle is a totally ionized helium nucleus. As it hits stuff, it is so “hungry” for electrons that it will rip them from any atom it comes into contact with (even Fluorine which is incredible).

    It doesn’t take many hits before living cells inside your body exposed to this onslaught die. Your body will try to replace the dead cells, but with the ongoing bombardment of Alpha particles can kill the new cells, or cause the replacement process to produce cancerous cells.

    Beta radiation is another sort of problem. In this case, the direct impact of Beta particles (high speed electrons) isn’t a huge burden on your body (with the proviso that you don’t want this shit inside you). The big deal with Beta radiation is if it strikes metal atoms. Then, it will kick loose secondary radiation: Neutrons. The neutrons can be somewhat penetrating and they will break atomic nuclei inside your body and again you have accelerated cell death and replacement.

    All of that said: there are still many sources of radioactive crap (some of them amazingly active all around us). To name a few: granite counter tops, Radon gas in your basement, smoke detectors, and the most remarkable of all is people who have had recent nuclear circulatory diagnostics performed.

    To your point: I miss the cool toys too.

  2. Rayceeya Says:

    I have very fond memories of AC Gilbert. The made my first chemistry set and my first microscope as well. Most people though remember them as the creators of the Erector set toys.

  3. mary b Says:

    The point you make here is a very valid one.

    Kids really have shitty things to play with compared to when I was a kid. Yes, I am getting old.

    We always had a toy where you actually learned something from it. Not some cheap piece of plastic from China that breaks the third time you pick it up. And the ones we had kept us interested in them. Our Mom usually made us wait for a rainy day to use them because they took up a lot of time. But it was fun, intelligent time.

    And……we could go outside to play in the neighborhood without someone’s nosy parent checking on us every five freakin minutes. We always had something going on, like kickball, baseball, stick-ball, whatever.

    And people wonder why there is an obesity problem in this country.

    It’s because all the fat kids are stuck in the house with over protective parents watching TeeVee or playing video games. Then when they get bored, they head to the Fridge.

  4. Thomas Says:

    On the other hand, my nephew was given a remote control car that can drive on the ceiling yesterday. I turned to my brother and said, “Suddenly our childhood sucks.”

  5. OtherRob Says:

    On the other hand, my nephew was given a remote control car that can drive on the ceiling yesterday.

    My son got one of those. We can’t drive it on our ceiling ’cause of the texture, but we’ve gotten it quite far up the wall. 🙂

  6. Moose Says:

    This is just too cool! Although it (slightly) predates me, I did have a chemistry set that rocked when I was a wee lad. Helps that dad was a science teacher and encouraged me…but you don’t always need a fancy science Kit to do some serious mischief…

    One time I was using an old battery as an electrolytic cell to create Oxygen and Hydrogen. Worked well (6V battery connected to a 12 Charger) and had a vent tube so I could collect the gasses inside an inverted bottle in a water bath.

    16oz bottle full of mixed gas-CHECK!
    Disposable lighter-CHECK!
    Total lack of parental supervision-CHECK!


    Never mind that-1: the bottle was glass, 2: the cell supplied both gasses in the exact proportions necessary for a perfect explosion and 3:disposable lighters can indeed explode themselves…

    I was bloody lucky to be alive and intact-which means I had to do it again, of course.

    I miss my childhood.


  7. Parrotlover77 Says:


    Kids really have shitty things to play with compared to when I was a kid. Yes, I am getting old.

    Are you fucking insane? I’ll take a Wii, XBox 360, or Playstation 3 ANY DAY over a do-it-yourself radiation kit.

    Man, nothing makes me feel younger than seeing my peers complain about how kids have nothing good to play with because they can’t make plastic bugs in their basement or see radiation vapor trails in a jar.

    Holy shit, Oldy McOldson! Kids can see youtube on demand of large particle colliders. I’ll take that any day!

    It’s because all the fat kids are stuck in the house with over protective parents watching TeeVee or playing video games. Then when they get bored, they head to the Fridge.

    The obesity problem is actaully very complicated and is not necessarily a direct result of the existence of fun video games. Sure, sitting on your ass doesn’t help, but neither does having no chores, no extracurricular activities, no friends, and parents that think that bringing home burgers and fries every night is okay since they don’t have time to cook.

    Anecdotally, my two nephews spend about 85% of their waking hours playing various MMORPGs, but still find plenty of time for soccer, football, and running around like crazy little kids do in every generation.

  8. Ron Britton Says:

    I don’t have a lawn. I live in a tiny condo, because the prior generation overcongested my area and drove up real estate prices.

    I didn’t have a radiation kit. I think they were already off the market by the time I came along. It would have been cool to have one, though.

    Just yesterday, I said to my second cousin or first cousin twice removed (or however the hell that works) as I watched him killing bad guys in a castle that I’m glad they didn’t have video games like that when I was a kid. I never would have left the house. I’m maladjusted enough already.

  9. Parrotlover77 Says:

    It’s never too late to become a gamer. I was a bit of a johnny-come-lately compared to my peers since my parents never bought me a video game system like my brother does for his nephews. I had an Atari 2600 until just about a year before the Sega Genesis came out. Then I got a Nintendo. My nephews on the other hand — they have all the current generation of game systems, plus computers actually capable of running all the latest games.

    Sigh. My misspent youth could have been much more misspent had my parents just bought me a Nintendo back when all my friends first got theirs…

  10. Parrotlover77 Says:

    Oops, like your cousin second removed whatever, I messed up my relatives…

    “my brother does for his nephews”

    should read either, “my brother does for his kids” or “my brother does for my nephews”

    Take your pick.

  11. Ron Britton Says:

    It’s never too late to become a gamer.

    The day I join an MMORPG is the day you can kiss this blog goodbye.

    My misspent youth could have been much more misspent had my parents just bought me a Nintendo back when all my friends first got theirs…

    Blame your parents! They’re responsible for everything that’s wrong with you!

  12. TOken Says:

    You are all idiots. This is not a cool toy. This is a collection of dangerous materials thought to be safe by an ignorant population.

    Toys and other dangerous products like these exist today, we just don’t know which ones are killing us until its too late.

    Think about that next time you are standing in front of the microwave watching your burrito twirl or chugging down a diet coke. And then have another red bull and sit in front of your big screen tv that is radiating so much energy that you can actually feel the heat from the monster.

    And don’t forget to turn on your air ionizer.

  13. Parrotlover77 Says:

    Indeed, a teevee does radiate a hell of a lot of energy!

    First, it emits energy in the visible wavelength. The only known protection for this sort of radiation is a blindfold. Do you want to walk around your house blindfolded?! I think not!

    Second, if it’s backlit, you have a very powerful light bulb that emits very dangerous levels of infrared radiation. You actually need oven gloves to be safe from the touch. This radiation will literally burn you! No waiting for cancer to kill you. Touch it and it burns you quicker than the sun will at the beach!

    Didn’t I comment a little while back about the person at my work that thought that microwave ovens caused “all the problems we have?” I think it was this blog.

    It never ceases to amaze me how ignorant some people are about the different forms of radiation, which ones are dangerous, and which ones are safe.

    I just remembered something my mother worried about that cracked me up. A friend of mine had an ancient — I mean ancient! — microwave oven that did not enclose the wire mesh used to block the microwaves in plastic. Apparently my mother was under the impression that a microwave has an air-tight seal because she didn’t want me to stand too close to his microwave when I told her about it and how I thought it was funny.

    Microwaves do not behave like water or air, people!

  14. Peter Says:

    There are 2 kinds of people in the world.
    People that are idiots and you (it seems).
    Me, I hope the alcohol gets me before the radiation, although I still enjoy feeling
    the heat from the monster (as have a couple of

  15. Ron Britton Says:

    One of the amusing things about writing a blog is getting comments from people with zero reading comprehension.

    I’ve been accused of being pro-Muslim, of advocating violence against Scientologists, of hating (America, freedom, apple pie).

    After reading TOken’s comment, I had to go back and reread this article. I didn’t remember advocating that every home today should be stocked with radium and uranium.

    It turns out I didn’t.

    Somewhere there’s a remedial English class missing one of its students.

  16. Ron Britton Says:


    Is your comment directed at anybody in particular, or is it just a superb example of post-modern poetry?

  17. Ron Britton Says:


    Over the many years, I occasionally heard about televisions giving off “radiation”. When my parents bought their first color TV back around 1970, I remember the salesmen telling them two things:

    1. Movies and TV shows that were originally filmed in black and white will still be black and white when viewed on this TV.
    2. Don’t sit closer than 6 feet, because color TVs give off radiation.

    I remember back about 1981, there was a truly horrible video game magazine called Electronic Games. They had an article about whether playing video games exposed you to too much radiation. I don’t remember what their conclusion was.

    Anyway, I thought I’d settle this once and for all and Googled it. This is from the FDA website:

    Do TV Sets Give Off X-Rays?

    X-rays may be produced when electrons, accelerated by high voltage, strike an obstacle while traveling in a vacuum, as in a TV containing a cathode ray tube (CRT). Since many of the components in television sets operate at thousands of volts, there is the potential for x-ray generation. These components may produce x-rays capable of escaping from the television receiver or CRT. This unintentional emission of x-radiation can pose a potential hazard and must be controlled.

    Is the TV Radiation a Hazard?

    Scientists have not identified specific health effects resulting from exposure to extremely low doses of low-level radiation over prolonged periods of time. However, the current assumption is that there is no threshold of exposure below which x-radiation may not adversely effect human health. It is advisable, therefore, that x-radiation from TV sets, as well as other commonly used electronic products, be kept as low as reasonably achievable.…

    It should be emphasized that most TV sets have not been found to give off any measurable level of radiation, and there is no evidence that radiation from TV sets has resulted in human injury.…

  18. Another Steve Says:


    Given that modern TV receivers don’t have CRTs in them for the most part, you’re more likely to be injured or killed by them falling off the wall and landing on you than exposure to X-Rays.

  19. Ron Britton Says:

    Yes. I chopped that part out. The point is that TVs really did give of radiation. Sometimes the hysterics are true.

  20. Moose Says:

    Yes, I can confirm TVs do emit x-ray radiation. One of the reasons CRTs weigh so much is the high percentage of lead contained in the glass.

    This is one of biggest problems with electronic waste; that CRTs contain large amounts of (leachable) lead.

    Even dead, the damn things are a nuisance.

    Also-for the record, the technical term for an electron beam creating x-rays (and other forms of em radiation) is bremsstrahlung radiation. It occurs any time you accelerate and electron.

    In a CRT this occurs three times: first in the gun at the back, second when the beam is steered (H and V deflection) and lastly when it strikes the phosphor. In a plasma screen this still occurs save the steering bit, and at much lower energies.

  21. Parrotlover77 Says:

    Yes. I chopped that part out. The point is that TVs really did give of radiation. Sometimes the hysterics are true.

    Yes, yes, I was aware that CRTs emit a tiny amount of x-rays. But when the hysterics are saying it, they are implying a health hazard, which has never been proven.

    Remember, the sun emits x-rays. I don’t know for a fact, but I’m pretty sure an hour in the sun is worse than an hour in front of the teevee, as far as x-ray radiation exposure is concerned. That said, an hour in the sun is probably better for one’s fat ass than an hour in front of the teevee.

    Also, does sitting back six feet from an x-ray source sufficiently shield you from the x-rays? I never could figure out the “don’t sit too close to the teevee” thing our parents were obsessed over.

  22. Chad Pinunni Says:

    I too was offended by the illustrations.
    Not one single black midget in a wheelchair was pictured.

  23. Jimmy Says:

    Buy your own spinthariscope. I had one when I was 12.

  24. ethinethin Says:

    Think about that next time you are standing in front of the microwave watching your burrito twirl or chugging down a diet coke.

    I hope you weren’t implying that microwave radiation is dangerous. Microwave radiation is lower energy than visible light.