CLOSE

8 Seemingly Harmless Toys That Were Yanked Off the Shelf

Some toys were doomed from the start, as any one of the thousands of people impaled by lawn darts will attest. But others seem completely incapable of causing injury or duress…until they do.

1. Aqua Dots

Oh, Aqua Dots. They looked so harmless and fun! Build something, spray a little water on it, and voila! You’ve made a multidimensional… thing. But the manufacturer’s decision to do a covert ingredient swap (presumably to keep costs low) ended in one of the most bizarre toy recalls in history. The beads (called Bindeez in Australia), perfectly safe for typical use, did something a little crazy when ingested.

In 2007, the CPSC began investigating reports of kids getting dizzy, vomiting, and falling unconscious after eating Aqua Dots. It was determined that a component of the coating metabolized into GHB—also known as gamma-hydroxy butyrate, or the date-rape drug. The worldwide recall involved over 4 million units of Aqua Dots kits in Australia, the US, Canada and Europe. While regulatory bodies quickly tried to pull the product off the shelf, people looking for a cheap high and big profits were buying them up to sell on the street. A reformulated and rebranded version, called Pixos (or Beados down under), is coated with a bitter-tasting ingredient to keep kids (and dates) from eating them.

2. Plush Toy Uterus

Aside from being a little strange, this squishy pink uterus plush looks pretty innocuous. But when manufacturer I Heart Guts performed a pull test and found the toy didn’t pass, they released a voluntary recall announcement that stated, “the ovaries may detach when pulled, becoming a potential small part choking hazard for young children.” If you’d like your kiddo to experience the joy of owning an anthropomorphic womb toy, don’t despair: there’s a new version available now, and the Huge Uterus Plush promises to be “bigger, fluffier, pinker and now child-safe!”

3. Toy Penguin Figures

This unassuming little guy looks like a perfectly safe and delightful plaything; it’s too big to pose a choking hazard, there are no sharp edges, and, c’mon, it’s a penguin. A round one. It jingles!

But in the hands of at least one curious kid, who pulled the head off and exposed the nails holding the adorable little seabird together, Plan Toys’ penguin figure became a serious laceration hazard. The company recalled all 3000 units in 2008, instructing parents to “take the toy away from children immediately,” which almost sounds scarier than “laceration hazard.”

4. Dive Sticks

Dive sticks, manufactured by a number of companies under various names, are designed to stand up on the bottom of a pool (or in one case, hot tub) after being tossed in. The idea is to dive in and pick up as many as you can before resurfacing.

One might think the problem with a toy designed to sit on the bottom of a swimming pool solely for the purpose of retrieval by children would be the risk of drowning. Nope. Dive sticks were recalled in 1999 after 6 reports of impalement and at least one facial injury, most requiring surgery and hospitalization, all in kids aged 6 to 9. At least 12 million dive sticks were destroyed, replaced or repaired before the product was redesigned. (You can buy them anywhere now, presumably with a lesser risk of losing an eye.)

5. Holiday Toy Mouse

Not all toys that get recalled are safety hazards. The cute little toy mouse in the video above was pulled from shelves by Chinese toymaker Humatt after reports came flooding in that the mouse, sold primarily in the UK, sang “pedophile” instead of “jingle bells.” A spokesperson for the company said the problem was that the man who provided the toy’s voice couldn’t accurately pronounce certain words, and when the speed and pitch were increased it just sounded wrong. Humatt recalled the mice “just in case anybody might take offence.”

6. Flubber

Hasbro and Disney once teamed up to create a tie-in toy for the 1963 release of Son of Flubber. All the kids wanted their own dark green bouncy ball of goop, a totally harmless, lab-tested concoction made of synthetic rubber, mineral oil, and green dye. The “parent-approved” formula hit shelves just before Christmas in 1962, and a few weeks later, complaints of kids with head-to-toe rashes, fever and sore throat were flooding the customer service departments.

After lawsuits and an extensive FDA inquiry, the companies determined that Flubber caused folliculitis—a painful infection of the hair follicles. After the recall, Hasbro attempted to incinerate the Flubber but found it just released noxious black smoke but didn’t really burn. So they enlisted the help of the Coast Guard to sink the excess product, but it floated back to the surface. In a last ditch effort, Hasbro buried tons of Flubber and paved over it to make a parking lot for their new Providence, RI warehouse.

7. Cabbage Patch Snacktime Kids

There’s some disagreement over the cuteness of Cabbage Patch dolls, but after reports of the Snacktime Kids’ tendency to eat kids’ hair and fingers instead of the carrots and pretzels supplied by Mattel, there was little debate over whether or not to halt production. The biggest problem seemed to be that there was no power switch on the doll, and the motor could only be turned off by removing the doll’s backpack—information that was buried deep in the doll’s instructions and not readily available to parents of imperiled children. As soon as Mattel announced its voluntary recall in 1997, doll collectors scrambled to buy them. (You can still pick one up on eBay, if you’re not a fan of having fingers or hair.)

8. Burger King Pokéballs

Not many chain restaurant toys were more popular than the Burger King Pokéball in 1999. But two months after handing out a toy that seemed impossible to injure someone with, reports that the halves of the red and white ball were suffocating children halted the frenzy, and Burger King recalled millions of the toys. One infant died and a toddler was caught with half a Pokéball stuck over her mouth and nose, but BK stepped up and offered a free small fry for anyone who wished to return their toys. After the CSPC deemed the toys perfectly safe for children over 3, the toys were distributed only with BK Big Kids Meals.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
arrow
History
A.C. Gilbert, the Toymaker Who (Actually) Saved Christmas 
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Alfred Carlton Gilbert was told he had 15 minutes to convince the United States government not to cancel Christmas.

For hours, he paced the outer hall, awaiting his turn before the Council of National Defense. With him were the tools of his trade: toy submarines, air rifles, and colorful picture books. As government personnel walked by, Gilbert, bashful about his cache of kid things, tried hiding them behind a leather satchel.

Finally, his name was called. It was 1918, the U.S. was embroiled in World War I, and the Council had made an open issue about their deliberation over whether to halt all production of toys indefinitely, turning factories into ammunition centers and even discouraging giving or receiving gifts that holiday season. Instead of toys, they argued, citizens should be spending money on war bonds. Playthings had become inconsequential.

Frantic toymakers persuaded Gilbert, founder of the A.C. Gilbert Company and creator of the popular Erector construction sets, to speak on their behalf. Toys in hand, he faced his own personal firing squad of military generals, policy advisors, and the Secretary of War.

Gilbert held up an air rifle and began to talk. What he’d say next would determine the fate of the entire toy industry.

Even if he had never had to testify on behalf of Christmas toys, A.C. Gilbert would still be remembered for living a remarkable life. Born in Oregon in 1884, Gilbert excelled at athletics, once holding the world record for consecutive chin-ups (39) and earning an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault during the 1908 Games. In 1909, he graduated from Yale School of Medicine with designs on remaining in sports as a health advisor.

But medicine wasn’t where Gilbert found his passion. A lifelong performer of magic, he set his sights on opening a business selling illusionist kits. The Mysto Manufacturing Company didn’t last long, but it proved to Gilbert that he had what it took to own and operate a small shingle. In 1916, three years after introducing the Erector sets, he renamed Mysto the A.C. Gilbert Company.

Erector was a big hit in the burgeoning American toy market, which had typically been fueled by imported toys from Germany. Kids could take the steel beams and make scaffolding, bridges, and other small-development projects. With the toy flying off shelves, Gilbert’s factory in New Haven, Connecticut grew so prosperous that he could afford to offer his employees benefits that were uncommon at the time, like maternity leave and partial medical insurance.

Gilbert’s reputation for being fair and level-headed led the growing toy industry to elect him their president for the newly created Toy Manufacturers of America, an assignment he readily accepted. But almost immediately, his position became something other than ceremonial: His peers began to grow concerned about the country’s involvement in the war and the growing belief that toys were a dispensable effort.

President Woodrow Wilson had appointed a Council of National Defense to debate these kinds of matters. The men were so preoccupied with the consequences of the U.S. marching into a European conflict that something as trivial as a pull-string toy or chemistry set seemed almost insulting to contemplate. Several toy companies agreed to convert to munitions factories, as did Gilbert. But when the Council began discussing a blanket prohibition on toymaking and even gift-giving, Gilbert was given an opportunity to defend his industry.

Before Gilbert was allowed into the Council’s chambers, a Naval guard inspected each toy for any sign of sabotage. Satisfied, he allowed Gilbert in. Among the officials sitting opposite him were Secretary of War Newton Baker and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

“The greatest influences in the life of a boy are his toys,” Gilbert said. “Yet through the toys American manufacturers are turning out, he gets both fun and an education. The American boy is a genuine boy and wants genuine toys."

He drew an air rifle, showing the committee members how a child wielding less-than-lethal weapons could make for a better marksman when he was old enough to become a soldier. He insisted construction toys—like the A.C. Gilbert Erector Set—fostered creative thinking. He told the men that toys provided a valuable escape from the horror stories coming out of combat.

Armed with play objects, a boy’s life could be directed toward “construction, not destruction,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert then laid out his toys for the board to examine. Secretary Daniels grew absorbed with a toy submarine, marveling at the detail and asking Gilbert if it could be bought anywhere in the country. Other officials examined children’s books; one began pushing a train around the table.

The word didn’t come immediately, but the expressions on the faces of the officials told the story: Gilbert had won them over. There would be no toy or gift embargo that year.

Naturally, Gilbert still devoted his work floors to the production efforts for both the first and second world wars. By the 1950s, the A.C. Gilbert Company was dominating the toy business with products that demanded kids be engaged and attentive. Notoriously, he issued a U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, which came complete with four types of uranium ore. “Completely safe and harmless!” the box promised. A Geiger counter was included. At $50 each, Gilbert lost money on it, though his decision to produce it would earn him a certain infamy in toy circles.

“It was not suitable for the same age groups as our simpler chemistry and microscope sets, for instance,” he once said, “and you could not manufacture such a thing as a beginner’s atomic energy lab.”

Gilbert’s company reached an astounding $20 million in sales in 1953. By the mid-1960s, just a few years after Gilbert's death in 1961, it was gone, driven out of business by the apathy of new investors. No one, it seemed, had quite the same passion for play as Gilbert, who had spent over half a century providing fun and educational fare that kids were ecstatic to see under their trees.

When news of the Council’s 1918 decision reached the media, The Boston Globe's front page copy summed up Gilbert’s contribution perfectly: “The Man Who Saved Christmas.”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Amazon
arrow
fun
Bob Ross’s Happy Little Menagerie Is Getting the Funko Treatment, Too
Amazon
Amazon

Back in August, the pop culture-loving toy fiends at Funko introduced a happy little Pop! Vinyl figurine of beloved painter/television icon Bob Ross, decked out in his trademark jeans and button-down shirt with a painter’s palette in his hand and his legendary perm (which he hated) atop his tiny little vinyl head. This Joy of Painting-themed addition to the Funko lineup proved to be an instant hit, so the company added a couple of additional toys to its roster—this time incorporating members of Ross’s happy little menagerie of pets, who were almost as integral to the long-running series as the painter himself.


Amazon

If you’re looking to score one of these toys before Christmas, it’s going to have to be a limited edition one—and it’s going to cost you. In collaboration with Target, Funko paired Ross with his favorite pocket squirrel, Pea Pod, which will set you back about $40. For just a few dollars more, you can opt to have the happy accident-prone painter come with Hoot the owl.


Amazon

On Friday, December 8, the company will release a Funko two-pack that includes Ross with a paintbrush and Ross with an adorable little raccoon.


Amazon

If you’d prefer to save a few dollars, and are willing to wait out the holiday season, you can pre-order Ross with just the raccoon for delivery around December 29.

So many happy little options, so little time.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios