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ORAU: Then & Now

5 interesting atomic children’s items located at ORAU’s Museum of Radiation and Radioactivity

The purpose of ORAU’s Museum of Radiation and Radioactivity is to chronicle the scientific and commercial history of radioactivity and radiation. There are hundreds of items in the collection, ranging from Geiger counters to x-ray tubes to pop culture memorabilia.  The collection was started in the 1980s and expanded over time with the help of Paul Frame, a health physicist and trainer at ORAU. From electroscopes to dosimeters, there is something for everyone to check out at the online museum. There are even items for children, meant to make atomic energy and radiation fun. Here are five interesting atomic children’s items in ORAU’s Museum of Radiation and Radioactivity:

  1. Atomic Energy Lab

The Atomic Energy Lab was one of a series of similar science kits that were produced by the American Basic Science Club. While each kit could be purchased separately, buyers were encouraged to purchase them in what was known as the “kit-a-month” club. This Atomic Energy Lab was a great way for kids to learn about science, as it contained a variety of different pieces of lab equipment. Some of its best features included a spinthariscope, a cloud chamber, an electroscope, an alpha source, and uranium ore. These components allowed children to create and watch nuclear and chemical reactions. However, these items posed no risk to the children who used them. Not only did this kit allow kids to learn more about science, but they also had a blast putting all the pieces together to create their kit.

“This was an excellently designed toy,” Frame said. “It has a lot in it, and putting everything together was a part of the learning experience. We get requests all the time to use photographs from the collection for books and even PowerPoint presentations, and this is for sure one of the most frequently requested items when it comes to photographs.”

  1. Atomic Toy Guns


There are a few toy guns in ORAU’s Museum of Radiation and Radioactivity. While they are slightly different in size and structure, the one unifying characteristic is they are all tagged and identified as “atomic.” One of the gems of this portion of the collection is the Atomic Disintegrator. This cast-metal pistol was manufactured in the 1950s by the Hubley Manufacturing Company. Because of the material, this toy gun is fairly heavy, and it sold for anywhere between $0.50 and $0.75. This would compare to roughly seven dollars today. Perhaps the most interesting elements of these atomic toy guns are that when the triggers are pulled, sparks appear in a window on the barrel, which in the 1950s was a big selling point for the kids.

  1. Radiation Ranger


Radiation Ranger was an action-figure bad guy back in the early 1990s. He had the true villain look, with glowing gamma eyes and his trusty purple radiation rifle. This toy was produced by Playmates in the 1990s and was a member of the Toxic Crusaders line of action figures. The other members of the crusade included Toxie, Major Disaster, Nozone, Junkyard, and Headbanger. During this timeframe, there were many “radiation” themed toys that capitalized on the public’s fear of atomic energy, especially following nuclear power plants disasters such as the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents in the late 1970s and late 1980s.

“At that time, they would have attached the word atomic or radiation to it to make it fit in the dystopian world that toy manufactures were trying to create,” Frame said. “The funny thing is with any toy that has small parts, you can choke on it and that is far more real in terms of a hazard than anything presented by the radioactive component.”

  1. Nestle’s Nuclear Chocolate Bar


The Nuclear Chocolate bar produced by Nestle was used to promote the 1998 movie “Armageddon.” This yummy treat was made with milk chocolate with crisped rice and popping candy particles. The popping candy that exploded inside your mouth was supposed to replicate the sound made when Bruce Willis’s character used an atomic bomb to destroy the asteroid on a collision course with the Earth. However, this candy was not popular with everyone. In fact, Grandmothers for Peace International urged a national boycott of all Nestle products after the creation of the Nuclear Chocolate Bar.

  1. Simpsons Nuclear Waste Truck

 Another piece of pop culture is The Simpsons Nuclear Waste Truck. This toy was made by Mattel Hot Wheels, and it features none other than Homer Simpson himself in the driver’s seat. When you look through the lens on the back end of the truck, you see one of three scenes from the television series that are all related to radiation and atomic energy.

“I believe that was one of the earliest toys I got for the collection,” Frame said. “I was a huge Simpsons fan at the time, and one of the students in the training program donated that item to me for the collection. With Homer Simpson working at a nuclear power plant, many of the episodes would show him at the plant either sleeping or eating donuts while he was at the controls.”

For more information about the other toys that are a part of ORAU’s Museum of Radiation and Radioactivity, be sure to visit the atomic toys portion of the online collection.

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About ORAU

ORAU, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, provides science, health, and workforce solutions that address national priorities and serve the public interest. Through our specialized teams of experts and access to a consortium of more than 150 major Ph.D.-granting institutions, ORAU works with federal, state, local, and commercial customers to provide innovative scientific and technical solutions and help advance their missions. ORAU manages the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

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