From Cabbage Patch kids that chomped on fingers to a working atomic energy lab, these outrageously dangerous toys put everything from radioactive uranium to bona fide weapons into the hands of children.
Over the years, innumerable products have landed on store shelves and captured a level of “must-have” on countless Christmas lists. Unfortunately, these products aren’t always thoroughly tested on a mass scale, meaning that a well-intentioned present could end up being a terribly dangerous Christmas gift.
Now, most of these problems can be attributed to defects rather than questionable intent — a battery failure, for instance, causing something to catch fire, or even a product that works perfectly fine but failed to account for human nature — but prior to 1972, products were being sold that would make you scratch your head in astonishment if you saw it today.
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As a concept, the CSI Fingerprint Examination Kit was fairly simple: Kids could dust for fingerprints with the included powder, and when they blew it away, the fingerprint would be revealed. The problem was that the powder contained as much as 7 percent tremolite, one of the most fatal forms of asbestos, that has been linked to developing lung disease and mesothelioma after just one-time exposure. Reddit
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The Hasbro Easy-Bake Oven was an incredibly popular toy for children — though "toy" is perhaps a loose term, as this Hasbro-designed appliance functioned as a real oven that could actually bake things. As a result, it got very hot. A large number of kids, being untrained in the kitchen, got their fingers stuck and suffered burns, resulting in the toys being recalled twice in 2007. Matthew Simmons/WireImage for Silver Spoon via Getty Images
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Samsung's flagship smartphone from 2016 was supposed to be the next evolution of the company's strongest iPhone competitor. Instead, a battery defect led to many of the phones catching fire or blowing up. On Oct. 10, 2016, Samsung recalled the smartphone worldwide, and only a day later they ceased production altogether. It was on sale for less than two months, and the recall tanked Samsung's end-of-year profits. George Frey/Getty Images
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Moon Shoes were peak 1990s. They were small trampolines, essentially, that you could wear like sandals. They also had the problem of the elastic snapping, causing kids to bounce down and not come back up — sometimes causing injuries like ankle fractures.Big Time Toys
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In 1969, the company Ideal released Power Mite Power Tools — miniature power tools for children. It should be noted that these were not plastic replicas of power tools; they were, in fact, real, working power tools in miniature so that they could be held by children's small hands. Reddit
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In 1997, Mattel was forced to recall units of their Snacktime Cabbage Patch Kid, a doll that could be fed small bite-sized foods, after roughly 100 incidents were reported of the doll gnawing on children's fingers or hair and refusing to let go. In some cases, the patented chewing mechanism wound up gobbling up girls' hair to the point of nearing their ears before the doll could be deactivated. YouTube
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The Model Dockyard "Birmingham Dribbler" was a toy model train from the late 1800s that featured no track and actual steam power. The tiny engine was powered by water — and a small piece of alcohol-dipped cotton that was set ablaze to power the miniature locomotive. It earned the name "Birmingham Dribbler" as many models were made in Birmingham, England and often had a nasty habit of leaving a trail of water-fuel mixture behind it as it moved about. Tim Dunn/Twitter
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Buckyballs, also known as Zen Magnets and Neoballs, were popular desk decorations that could be connected and arranged in a wide variety of shapes. They were essentially small, round neodymium magnets with a strong magnetic pull. Unfortunately, they were banned in 2012 because small children, it turned out, were fond of swallowing these strong magnets — and that's not exactly something you want in your intestinal tract. Jared Cherup/Flickr
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Clackers were a really simple toy: two, hard acrylic balls attached to either end of a string. The appeal was that you could hold them by the string, wiggle your hand around, and they would "clack" together. What made these dangerous? Well, given how fast these things could get going, and the fact that they were made of acrylic plastic, they had a tendency to break apart when they hit each other, which led to a lot of injured children. Public Domain
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Fidget spinners are recent enough that most people probably know someone who had, or still has, one. But because of how quickly these toys took the market by storm, hundreds upon hundreds of companies were producing them hoping to cash in on the fad. But that also led to a bunch of cheaply produced fidget spinners that would break apart if they were spun too fast, sending little bits and pieces flying everywhere and hitting more than a couple eyes along the way. Silas Stein/picture alliance via Getty Images
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After the release of the Disney film The Absent-Minded Professor, there was naturally a large demand for the movie's gravity-defying substance, Flubber. Disney, no stranger to tie-in merchandise, obliged. Unfortunately, the Hassenfeld Bros-designed substance caused an outbreak of rashes across America, forcing them to cease the sale of Flubber. They also tried numerous methods of disposing of it — from burning it to dumping it into a lake — but the strange substance proved difficult to destroy. Eventually, it was buried in a hole in the ground, then steamrolled over to make way for a new parking lot. artfulblogger/Flickr
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The A.C. Gilbert Company was a known producer of educational toys for children. Unfortunately, because restrictions were far looser on what was deemed "educational" in the company's heyday, that often meant they made toys that were incredibly dangerous, especially in the hands of children. Enter, the Gilbert Glass-Blowing Kit.Cory Doctorow/Twitter
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The Gilbert Glass-Blowing Kit came with everything a young kid needed to blow their own glass. All a parent had to do was set their kid up with a tube, an open flame, and some class, and soon enough their child would be making glass art — or, more likely, burning themself or shattering a large amount of glass. Cory Doctorow/Twitter
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Lawn darts, or "javelin darts," in their original form were just as they sounded: large darts with metal tips, like javelins, that would be thrown a considerable distance across your yard for a game. One need not imagine for too long how this could be dangerous in the hands of a child — or even an uncoordinated adult. John Athernon/Flickr
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Magnetix were, as their name suggests, another magnet-centric toy that allowed children to create structures of all shapes and sizes. And like other magnet-based toys, many children wound up swallowing the magnets and experiencing gastrointestinal troubles as a result. fzurell/Flickr
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Rollerblade Barbie seems harmless enough — until you realize that her sparking shoes weren't merely a trick of fancy lights in her rollerblades. To create the effect of Barbie's blades sparking, Mattel opted for authenticity. Barbie's rollerblades actually created sparks. It's not difficult to see why this was a catastrophic failure. vaniljapulla/Flickr
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Sky Dancers, at first glance, don't seem like they'd be dangerous. These fairy-like dolls would be set on a small platform that would then spin them at a great speed before launching them into the air so that they could "dance" in the sky as they slowly glided down. Unfortunately, they did not ascend slowly, leading to many bruised eyes from those who thought they might get a bird's eye view of the toy. Reddit
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The Mattel Belt Buckle Derringer was a small, plastic toy model gun from the 1960s that quite literally fit into a belt buckle (though it wasn't a subtle belt buckle). It had a range of roughly 25 feet and fired a small bullet with almost no accuracy. More than a few eyes were the unfortunate targets of this toy. TSA/Twitter
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Hoverboards were/are a more recent trend than many other gifts on this list, but that doesn't mean they were free of problems. In addition to the learning curve required to actually operate one of these machines — which could, by itself, lead to injury — many early units had a tendency to catch fire back in 2017. By now, most companies have worked this kink out, but five years ago, your new hoverboard catching fire was sure to spoil the excitement. Ben Larcey/Flickr
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Another toy from the A.C. Gilbert Company, the Gilbert Kaster Kit gave kids to ability to make their own toy figurines at home. Out of lead. Using a hot furnace. A.C. Gilbert Heritage Society
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Trampolines may seem like an odd gift to include here, given that they are still widely popular and on the market. That said, they are commonly ranked among some of the most dangerous gifts for children, in large part due to the springs that hold their netting in place and the fact that, by nature, they can lead to numerous injuries including spinal cord damage. In fact, data from the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) and American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) reported 300,000 trampoline-related injuries in 2018 alone. Bryan Chan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
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The toothpick crossbow can still be found online and was even a big problem in China for a time, but it's a hard purchase to justify. These tiny toys are exactly what they sound like: crossbows that fire toothpicks at high speed. It might be fun to shoot at an apple, for instance, but it's likely less fun when the toothpick winds up in someone's arm or worse. Feature China/Future Publishing via Getty Images
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Slap bracelets were a trend that came and went a few times since the 1990s, but back in the day they proved to be a lot more trouble than they were worth. In order to get the "slap" effect advertised, these bracelets were loaded with tiny metallic spring mechanisms that, once hit, would cause the bracelet to tighten around the wearer's wrist. But because they were metal with a rubber or silicone shell, they didn't really hurt. That is, unless the shell started to tear apart at any point, in which case you'd wind up just smacking yourself with a pinching metal rod. Yvonne Hemsey/Getty Images
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Old slingshots were more weapons than toys, especially the Bird of Paradise slingshot which reportedly shot razor-sharp projectiles, leading it to become one of the first products banned by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. San Marcos Daily Record/Flickr
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Fisher-Price Power Wheels have been popular kids' toys for decades now, but there was a time in the early 2000s when a battery defect caused a number of them to catch fire while charging. In some cases, this led to entire houses also catching fire. Yoon S. Byun/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
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The Sky Rangers Park Flyer was a radio-controlled flying airplane that had a tendency to, well, explode. There were 45 reported cases of the model airplanes exploding, and the CPSC warned that the explosions could, in turn, cause severe hearing damage. CPSC
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Kick Scooters are another one of those seemingly innocent things that can be bizarrely dangerous. Simply riding one down the street isn't likely to hurt you, but attempting any tricks, stunts, or riding in dangerous areas can leave you with some seriously bruised ankles at best and more severe injuries if you're not careful. Even in 2022, these are ranked among some of the most dangerous products you could give to a child. Enoch Leung/Flickr
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Slip N' Slides are a summertime staple in many childhood memories — and that's all well and good as long as you keep in mind that Slip N' Slides are made for children. Adults, or even teens, attempting to dive onto a Slip N' Slide and actually slide down it often find themselves instead diving onto the hard ground, going nowhere, and in a fair bit of pain. Depending on how you land, though, this could cause much more severe injury, including damage to your spine. Kevin M. Murphy/Flickr
26 Of The Most Baffling And Downright Dangerous Christmas Gifts Of All Time
The A.C. Gilbert Company, for example, used to sell "educational" toys for children — including the Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab, which featured actual radioactive material for children to play with. We don't need to tell you why this was a bad idea.
But in 1972, two things happened that, while not preventing dangerous products from getting into homes, at least helped create a few standards by which products would be assessed. These two things were the passing of the Consumer Product Safety Act (CPSA) and the creation of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
What Is The Consumer Product Safety Commission?
On Oct. 27, 1972, the Consumer Product Safety Act was signed into law by then-President Richard Nixon. Along with it, the Consumer Product Safety Commission was created to develop standards, pursue recalls, and ban certain products that posed a threat to consumers.
Bettmann/CORBIS/Bettmann Archive/Getty ImagesU.S. President Richard Nixon, now mostly known for his infamous Watergate scandal.
Many of the agency's early efforts focused on common home products like refrigerators, garage doors, baby cribs, bicycles, pools, and products that could poison children.
Between 1973 and 1984, some 96 children died because they were trapped inside a refrigerator and suffocated, despite the Refrigerator Safety Act being enacted in 1956. CPSC data claims only two similar deaths have occurred in the past 25 years, with the most recent being 15 years ago in 2007.
As Inc reports, the CPSC faced difficulties establishing a significant role in consumer safety early on, largely due to a severely limited budget.
In recent years, however, their budget has increased and so too has their role in public safety. In 2004, for example, the CPSC's budget was $59.6 million, and they issued more than 350 product recalls — including 30 million toys that were deemed hazardous to children.
That same year, the CPSC levied nearly 10 times the amount of fines on companies it had assessed a decade prior.
Despite some notable success, however, the CPSC hasn't been free from criticism — and claims of the organization's failure to adequately enforce standards have also led to changes over time.
The CPSC Vows To Do Better Protecting Kids
From 2009 to 2019, the Fisher-Price Rock N' Play was available to consumers: a reclining baby sleeper that rocked, vibrated, and played music. But the popular product had come under scrutiny over safety concerns — and was later connected to at least 32 infant deaths.
Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty ImagesAll models of Rock n Play Sleepers by Fisher-Price were recalled in 2019 after reports of infant deaths.
Mattel, who owns Fisher-Price, naturally received a significant amount of criticism over the product — but so did the CPSC. How could a product that led to infant fatalities have remained on the market for a decade?
It wasn't until 2019, after Consumer Reports released a detailed account of infant deaths in relation to the sleeper, that the CPSC and Fisher-Price ultimately recalled nearly 4.7 million units and issued a joint statement saying, "Infant fatalities have occurred in Rock 'n Play Sleepers, after the infants rolled from their back to their stomach or side while unrestrained, or under other circumstances."
But even this was after a Wall Street Journal report from 2018 identified that the CPSC had been aware of at least 700 injuries since 2005 connected to inclined baby sleepers — like the Rock N' Play.
This oversight, among others, has led to criticism of CPSC regulators and calls for reform, which the CPSC promised just earlier this year.
Time will tell if new changes in the CPSC will provide more meaningful enforcement or not, but it would be unfair to say that in the course of its 50-year history the commission has been entirely unsuccessful.
At the very least, toy companies aren't selling uranium to children anymore.
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Austin Harvey has also had work published with Discover Magazine, Giddy, and Lucid covering topics on mental health, sexual health, history, and sociology. He holds a bachelor's degree in screenwriting (widely considered to be a bad move) from Point Park University.