Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab
1950 - 1952
A.C. Gilbert Company
New Haven, Connecticut, U.S
What's so interesting about this set, you may ask. It came with actual radioactive material, that's what. The No.U-238 in Gilbert's U-238 Atomic Energy Lab actually stands for Uranium-238. Yup, this chemistry set for kids interested in atomic energy came with radioactive rocks. By the way, U-238 is same material that is now linked with several cancers as well as Gulf War Syndrome. So that's one reason why this "toy" interests me. The other is that it was made in Connecticut, my home state. Knowing that this very, very bad idea for a children's toy was made locally gives me a very strange, very peculiar sense of pride. Is that weird?
A.C. Gilbert vehemently defended the Atomic Energy Lab despite criticism that it was too dangerous and too sophisticated. He called it the "most spectacular of their toys." I think both he and the critics were right.
The company that made the Atomic Energy Lab wasn't some shady, fly-by-night outfit. It was the A.C. Gilbert Company, started in 1909 by Alfred Carlton Gilbert (1884 - 1961). It was the same very successful toy company that developed the Erector Set along with other high-quality educational toys. The company factory was located on Peck Street in New Haven, known as Erector Square.
The Atomic Energy Lab was first introduced in 1950 and it is often referred to as the manufacturer's most unusual offering. For $49.50, along with the U-238, the set came with a Wilson cloud chamber for splitting atoms as well as a working Geiger counter. And we mustn't forget the electroscope, spinthariscope, alpha particles, beta particles, gamma rays and a Prospecting for Uranium booklet. Also included was an offer of $10,000 from the U.S. Government for any information about the location of large deposits of newly discovered uranium. Let, me emphasize just one more time, this was a "toy." The set originally came in a tan case while later examples came with a red one. Ultimately the Atomic Energy Lab was not a successful. It wasn't produced past 1952.