Thursday, February 14, 2008

An Atomic Energy Lab -- For Children!

Oh, to have lived in the early 50's! When Father Knows Best was the ideal for households everywhere. When racial discrimination was still a simmering norm. And when the secrets of the atom seemed to promise both everlasting energy and weaponized domination, not to mention fodder for so many titillating "B" sci-fi monster movies.

In 1950, the year America's Federal Civil Defense Administration released its movie, Duck and Cover, and even the atomic scientists still thought atomic radiation was no more harmful than sunlight, Gilbert Toys released the Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab:


Yes, toy inventor (and record-breaking, Gold Medal Olympic athlete) Alfred Carlton Gilbert, the maker of the famous Erector Set, microscope sets, chemistry sets, and American Flyer toy train sets, released the most complete atomic energy detection set for children ever made.

Wait. For children?

Yes, this kit came complete with radioactive energy sources, including uranium ore, as well as detection devices, including a Geiger counter, cloud chamber (where atomic particles created shooting clouds of vapor), and the tongue-twisting-named spinthariscope (which showed alpha radiation particles using sparks of fluorescence). There was also a little nuclear model set and some manuals. For the not-so-low price of $50, little Johnie could examine simple nuclear phenomena and go search for new sources of uranium in the back yard.

Most humorous of all, though, was a comic book, entitled Dagwood Splits The Atom, featuring everyone's favorite deli-sandwich-eating, hollow-eyed comic couch potato, Dagwood's wife, Blondie, Mandrake the Magician, and even Popeye!

For one year, between 1950 and 1951, this kit was on the market, selling radioactive uranium ore to be marveled over by geeky young teens and preteens everywhere. And to think, today, the tiniest speck of nearly harmless radioactive dust used by scientists in biological fields has to be closely monitored, accounted for, and discarded according to strict Federal guidelines.

This was still several years before folks realized that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs had done more than kill with heat. The radiation eating away at the victims of those bombs, and numerous guinea pig American soldiers in Nevada ground zero sites, had yet to be understood. Heck, why not let little kids handle radiation?

Look at the cool sparks in your spinthariscope, Billy! That's American scientific eminence wavin' back at ya!

Image taken from HERE.


Lauso said...

Darwin's 199th birthday is coming! I know it's black history month, but you can't miss this one :)

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