5 Toys With Dark Histories

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You know the toys, but do you know about their dark sides?

1. Kites

Just how could something as delicate and serene as a kite turn into a harbinger of death, doom and destruction? Easy—turn it into a sport. An annual kite festival in Pakistan has become a regular safety hazard due to its highly competitive nature. Some contestants use a banned string with tiny metal serrations to cut their competitors out of the sky, and that has ended up harming and even killing people. Nine were killed and dozens were injured in a 2004 festival when the metal strings touched power lines and even cut a young girl on the throat. The Pakistan Supreme Court banned kite flying the following year, but lifted it for 15 days in 2007 after the local government promised tougher safety measures. Another 10 people died in the 2007 festival and over 700 were arrested for using the sharpened twine.

2. The View-Master

view-masterThis magic virtual transporter took children to all sorts of exotic and breathtaking locales, from the Black Hills of South Dakota to Barbie's tenure as the island princess. The factory in Beaverton, Oregon, where the View-Master was made, also took their workers to some far off places—mainly the hospital. The state's Department of Human Services found in 1998 that a drinking well used by workers at the plant contained an industrial solvent called "tricholoroethylene" at concentrations of up to 1,670 parts per billion, a solvent that had been in the well for more than 20 years. A study conducted by the agency found "higher than expected percentages of deaths from pancreatic and kidney cancers" among the plant's former workers.

3. Stuffed animals

The toy manufacturing industry has the unfortunate honor of having the largest and most destructive industrial fire on record. The Kader Toy Company hired sweatshop labor in Thailand to manufacture their stuffed toys. On May 10, 1993, a fire engulfed and destroyed three of the factory's buildings and killed 188 people. An International Labour Organization investigation found the building had an alarm system, but it did not sound when the fire started. The buildings also did not have a sprinkler system, fireproofed steel or an emergency plan in place, even after a labour officer requested the company submit one after an earlier fire.

4. Bratz

Some once thought this popular line of tween dolls would dethrone the reign of Barbie. But Mattel quelled that rebellion when the company sued the doll's "creators," MGA Entertainment, and won a whopping $100 million for copyright infringement. A federal jury ruled that the doll's creator, Carter Bryant, created and designed the concept while he worked for Mattel. The toy giant originally asked for $1.8 billion, so Barbie could start her own space program. Speak of the devil who wears Prada...

5. Barbie

The toy icon is far from controversy as well. A number of controversial dolls were unleashed on the public, like the "Teen Talk Barbie" that exclaimed "Math class is tough." But the funniest of the crowd goes not to Barbie, but her cute dog Tanner, the first dog that shows children the joys of caring for a dog down to the creepiest detail. Tanner poops! It gets worse. The "pellets" Tanner leaves behind have to be fed back to him as food. The Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a recall of the toy because of some loose (ahem) magnets. I guess the CPSC can't recall something based on its lack of taste.

Danny Gallagher is a writer living in Texas. He can be found on the web at dannygallagher.net and on Twitter.

December 24, 2009 - 3:10am
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