5 Toys With Dark Histories

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 and on Twitter.

The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]

Custom-Design the Ugly Christmas Sweater of Your Dreams (or Nightmares)

For those of you aspiring to be the worst dressed person at your family's holiday dinner, sells—you guessed it—ugly Christmas sweaters to seasonal revelers possessing a sense of irony. But the Michigan-based online retailer has elevated kitsch to new heights by offering a create-your-own-sweater tool on its website.

Simply visit the site's homepage, and click on the Sweater Customizer link. There, you'll be provided with a basic sweater template, which you can decorate with festive snowflakes, reindeer, and other designs in five different colors. If you're feeling really creative, you can even upload photos, logos, hand-drawn pictures, and/or text. After you approve and purchase a mock-up of the final design, you can purchase the final result (prices start at under $70). But you'd better act quickly: due to high demand, orders will take about two weeks plus shipping time to arrive.


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