Does anybody remember radioactive glow-in-the-dark toys?

oceannaOctober 10, 2012

When I was in the third grade, as a reward for learning my Bible verses well, my Sunday School teacher rewarded me with a plastic cross on a cord to hang around my neck. The cross was about 3" long. It was a strange greenish color and it was super cool because it glowed in the dark. I used to suck on it a lot when wearing it around my neck. At night after lights out I used it to read books underneath the covers so my parents wouldn't catch me still awake.

This is the Catholic version of the same thing. Mine was Presbyterian so had no metal on it at all and no crucifiction, and it just hung on a simple cord, but otherwise was identical (this one sold on ETSY a while back):

My sister had a radioactive watch dial. The little boys at school had plastic glow-in-the-dark skulls. There was glow-in-the-dark jewelry and Christmas ornaments, you name it.

There is a lot on the web about the watch dials, but almost nobody mentions there were tons of radioactive plastic toys across the nation.

I don't know what happened to my cross, but I know that wherever it is, it's still glowing and still will be when my great, great, great, great grandchildren are alive.

Did any of you have radioactive toys?

Does anybody remember this?

It was a machine at the Buster Brown shoe store called a fluoroscope. My sisters and I would argue over whose turn it was to stand on it. If you looked through the viewer, you could see a real-time x-ray of the bones in your feet, and see them move as you wiggled your toes. Parents loved it because it helped them see how well our shoes fit and if we had growing room in the shoe. We kids loved it because it was FUN!

Predictably, shoe salesmen all over the country started dropping like flies (as my memory serves), so they took them out of the stores.

Do you remember these? Or are you all too young?

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I do! My parents bought me Tinkerbell's magic wand at Disneyland. I loved that thing!

    Bookmark   October 10, 2012 at 9:27PM
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Your Tinkerbell magic wand and my cross fall into the same ludicrous category. Glad we're still here to tell about it, Nancy. Sheesh, what they didn't know back then!

    Bookmark   October 11, 2012 at 12:13AM
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I got a Mickey Mouse when I was 5 with "radium hands"...I wore it to bed for about 3 or 4 years until I was old enough for a "nurse's watch"....also with radium hands. Eventually that watch needed a new crystal and I took it to the jewelery store and when it came back the radium paint was scraped off the dial!! Great disappointment!!
The shoe store about a block away from my house had a fluroscope....and my friends and I would stop in on the way home from school and look at our feet....and hands!
I did have glow in the dark plastic toys but can't remember what....seems to me it was a doll's face.
I also remember in Jr High Science class, the teacher had a Geiger counter....and we listened to the clicks from that watch dial!!!
Ai yi yi!

    Bookmark   October 11, 2012 at 12:20AM
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Thank goodness for my poor parents. Lol.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2012 at 1:28AM
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Oh man! Clicks from the watch dial? Yeow! I wonder who was brave enough to scrape the paint off your dial? I'll bet they didn't wear a respirator or even gloves. Risky business.

I did a little research on it and there was a big lawsuit in the thirties. Women who painted those watch dials would lick their paint brushes every few minutes to get a good point on the brush, encouraged to do so by their supervisors. Some of them painted their fingernails and lips with the paint. The company apparently knew it wasn't safe, and protected management from it, but lied and told the workers it was safe. They manufactured radium dial watches for U.S. service personnel, btw.

Many of the women later began to suffer from anemia, bone fractures and necrosis of the jaw, a condition now known as radium jaw. When the women started to complain, the company mocked them and said they had syphilis. They put the women through medical examinations including x-rays, which were thought to have made their conditions even worse. There was a lot of media coverage on it at the time. (No, I wasn't born yet.)

Eventually five of the women sued the company. First there was just one woman suing and it took her two years to even find a lawyer willing to go up against that powerful company.

The right of individual workers to sue for damages from corporations due to labor abuse was established as a result of the 'Radium Girls' case. In the wake of the case, industrial safety standards were demonstrably enhanced for many decades. Bless those women.

Nevertheless, that radium paint was in use clear through to I think it was 1957. Shameful, isn't it?

I sometimes wonder what became of all that radioactive stuff. I imagine it's in old landfills all over the country, leaching into our water table, for all we know.

You can still find some of the items showing up for sale on eBay and ETSY.

I have to admit I do get some perverse amusement out of the fact that the Presbyterian church 'nuked' me as a reward for learning my Bible verses! (Of course, they didn't know.)

    Bookmark   October 11, 2012 at 1:31AM
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I had a rosary just like the one in the original post.

We also used to PLAY with the foot x-ray thing at the shoe store. I am one of 7 children so spent lots of time in shoe stores.....there was a post on the Antiques forum about those machines not too long ago. I think someone still has one.

On top of that, we had a "sun lamp" for tanning at home. We did need to wear eye caps when using it. Many sunburns from that lamp.

Also had fun playing with mercury when a thermometer broke.


    Bookmark   October 11, 2012 at 9:17AM
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Elraes Miller

We went to Knotts Berry Farm every week for lunch. One of the places I had to see was the "glowing" church. They would turn off the lights and a life size Christ/cross, along with every wall, glowed. They also had a gift shop filled with glowing gifts. Have wondered for years why this went away. Was back in the early 50s when Knotts was free.

I remember the wood shoe sizers too.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2012 at 9:24AM
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I wonder how any of us are still alive! No wonder some of us have health problems.

I never read about the radium girls; I grew up not far from Orange NJ; was actually born in a hospital there lol

I was born in 65; don't remember the xray machines; hub may remember them. From what I read; they were gone by 1960. We had a lot of cool toys in the late 60's; early 70's- does anyone know of a good web site that gives info on what they were made of?

    Bookmark   October 11, 2012 at 9:33AM
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I honestly don't remember any radioactive toys, although I remember glow in the dark watches.

I also used to play with the x-ray machine at the shoe store. You could see the bones of your feet wiggling around inside your shoes. While my brother was getting new shoes, I was busy frying my feet.

My city's science museum had a non-working fluoroscope machine on display for awhile. I wish I had gone to see it!

    Bookmark   October 11, 2012 at 9:42AM
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Oh yes, I remember that machine in the shoe store. We were five girls only 7 years apart and we would all get new shoes at the same time. Only my sister who was pigeon toed got to use the machine. The rest of us couldn't. Maybe they nknew something others didn't .

I went into our local clock shop about a month ago looking for an alarm clock with light up hands. She told me they didn't work as well as in the old days when they were radium. I was floored. Didn't know that.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2012 at 1:15PM
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I remember looking at my feet in the Buster Brown shoe store. My father was going to graduate school during the 60's. He had a Geiger counter for a project they were doing. They tested an old alarm clock and ended up moving the clock way across the room. I imagine it got thrown out, but I don't remember that part of the story.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2012 at 3:42PM
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I don't remember the x-ray machine. I do remember the glow in the dark stuff but not that it was referred to as radio active. I loved the glow in the dark clocks. :c)

My dog has a glow in the dark ball and I love watching her play with it in the dark. Too funny!

    Bookmark   October 11, 2012 at 7:00PM
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I remember the radium dials (most contain tritium now...), but most "glow in the dark" toys are not radioactive, and I doubt the old ones were either. They contain a phosphor that needs to be exposed to normal light for a little while before they glow in the dark. Phosphorescence is not related to radioactive decay.

I used to have a pretty set of yellow dishes that were hand me downs from my grandmother-it turned out that had uranium in the glaze!

    Bookmark   October 11, 2012 at 9:03PM
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Maddielee, what a kick that you had a rosary like that. Now I'm feeling like the only nuked protestant. Hehe. We had a sun lamp and those weird little eye cap goggle things too! I had forgotten about that so thanks for the memories. Dunno why we had it because we lived in La Jolla, but we did spend a lot of time under that silly sun lamp. Nobody had any idea they weren't safe beyond the eye caps thing. Yes, there are still some of those machines out there. If you google 'fluoroscope' and hit 'images' you'll see some pics and some articles.

Technicolor, we used to go to Knotts Berry Farm too back when it was free, though not nearly as often as you. You must have loved that. I don't remember that chapel, but I was very impressed as a little kid by the room with the slanted floor. Remember that? Great fun. And their jam was great. Sorry I missed the chapel -- what a hoot!

Roselover, no kidding. Awww, you're just a baby! Yeah, the machines were gone way before you came on the scene I'm sure. Why not just google 60s and 70s toys? If you do it in 'images' you'll probably see just what interests you. I'm sure there is some fun web sites. It's a hoot to look at pictures from our childhoods, and see old TV shows and ads, isn't it? I'm sure the toys you played with weren't radioactive. They'd wised up when you got here, or gotten caught is more like it.

Dedtired, yep those x-ray machines were fun, weren't they? They were like a big magnet for kids.

Denali, oh that's not fair that you didn't get a turn! Just as well though, now that we know. Yeah that was radium paint. They were cool how the numbers all glowed in the dark.

Mary do you think moving the clock across the room helped? I doubt it but that's funny. Your dad sounds like a fun guy.

Lukkirish, maybe my memory is faulty but it seems to me we all knew it was radium paint. We just didn't know it was dangerous. I agree. Those clocks were much cooler than digital clocks. I'm sure your dog's ball isn't radioactive but it sounds like a great toy. One of my dogs would go nuts for that. Where did you get it?

Kristine, you're right about the tritium, I think. Wiki says of tritium, "While these devices contain a radioactive substance, it is currently believed that self-powered lighting does not pose a significant health concern." I'm sure the toys were radioactive (and still are). They came out at the same time as the radium clock and watch dials. It was all the same paint. I remember that. Interesting about your grandmother's dishes. The thing with the Radiation Girls happened in the '30s. But even today there are food-safe glazes and non-food-safe glazes (I think they have lead in them).

    Bookmark   October 12, 2012 at 6:36AM
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