What I Really Wanted in My Stocking: the U-238 Atomic Energy Lab


Scientific American has a fun look at gifts from yesteryear that were "hot" in more ways than one. My favorite: the Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, designed for the "junior scientist." It featured a Geiger counter, a variety of radioactive ores, a spinthariscope that showed radioactive decay on a fluorescent screen, atoms for model building, and several instruction books.  Here's a look at the complete kit, courtesy of ORAU Health Physics Historical Instrumentation Museum Collection. The box encouraged kids to "Prospect for Uranium and other radioactive ores!  Gilbert Geiger-Mueller counter may win you $10,000 govt. bonus!" Wonder if anyone cashed in?

The kit was only available from 1951-1952. A complete kit is a prized collectors item. Though it originally sold for $50 (the equivalent of $400 in today's dollars), here's one that sold in 2006 for nearly $8,000. My daughter received an Easy-Bake Oven this year - another iconic gift that dates from the early 1960's.  I asked her earlier today,"Which would you rather have: an Easy-Bake Oven, or the Atomic Energy Lab?" She went with the oven. I was stunned. There's always next year...




I have to agree with you hedberg. I grew up with all the chemistry sets and my uncle being a chemist, would help me with all kinds of crazy projects that wouldn't fly today. I do think that these kits are a great way to encourage our kids to pursue science but I'm not sure I'd like to introduce mine to radioactive materials just yet. Just think about all of the issues with lead paint. With the increasing health issues of kids today, I'd rather not add fuel to the fire. That's why I've tried to stick with the green movement and get my kids involved in alternative energy projects instead. But for me, I'd buy one in a heartbeat. But I'm sure the person paying $8000 isn't using it as a stocking stuffer.

Man, it always seems like the toys from yesteryear are always so much cooler than the ones you get today. Of course given that children like to put things in their mouth, I am not so sure including radioactive ore would fly today...

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