Atomic Power and Other Nuclear Matters
Italian toy maker Brumm normally makes miniature models of fancy sports cars (Ferraris, Alfa Romeos, etc.). But in 2006, the company decided to release models of the "Fat Man" and "Little Boy" atomic bombs
dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They sold, at the time, for around $10 — but now go for around $36
, if you can find any in stock.
When the company debuted them at the International Toy Fair in Nuremberg
, the bomb models generated a lot of controversy
. The media described them as "Atomic bombs for the children's bedroom," and critics said they were in poor taste.
The company defended itself, insisting that its intent was to "provide a small historical contribution so as not to forget what generated the worst catastrophe of the twentieth century” and that the bomb models were actually a protest "against the insanity of nuclear war."
Of course, these weren't the first atomic-weapon toys ever produced. See this earlier post: Make nuclear war in your own home
Designed by Lee Pauwels of Los Angeles to protect his six-year-old son from harmful atomic rays given off by a nuclear explosion. He noted that the suit wouldn't protect his son from the concussion of the blast, "But authorities believe a person could survive the blast at much closer range if he were lying down and wearing the suit. Afterward he'd be able to leave the area that had become contaminated by harmful rays."
I wonder if this suit still survives somewhere, stored in someone's attic. Well, it must be around if even atomic rays couldn't harm it. This is the kind of thing that should be on display in the Smithsonian (if I were running it).
The Eugene Guard - Jan 1, 1952
Traverse City Record-Eagle - Dec 26, 1951
via USC Digital Library
via USC Digital Library
Tuck your kids into bed with the "Atom Blanket" and you know they'll be safe from surprise nuclear attacks!
Atom Blanket: An American blanket manufacturer is widely publicizing this lead-lined model ($49.50), said to shield wearers from atomic radiation, fire, and shock 10 miles from blast center. Civil-defense experts have not changed their view that basement shelters are more effective.
- Apr 26, 1954
Note: Although Newsweek claimed this blanket was widely publicized, I haven't been able to find any references to it in papers and magazines from the 1950s -- beyond the reference in Newsweek itself. Perhaps it was advertised in trade publications that have never been scanned and placed online.
In 1959, Walter C. Gregory of North Carolina State College introduced "atomic" peanuts to the world. Despite the name, they weren't radioactive peanuts.
He had exposed peanut seeds to huge amounts of radiation to create mutant strains. Then he had selected the mutant strains with the qualities (size) he liked. And in this way created jumbo-sized peanuts.
As this article at Atlas Obscura
notes, what Gregory was doing was "mutation breeding," and it's the way many of the varieties of fruit and veggies we eat nowadays are created. We no longer call it "atomic" food, though it is.
Since the 1950s and 60s, mutation breeding has created around 3,000 commercially available varieties of plant—durum wheat, rice, soybeans, barley, chickpeas, white beans, peaches, bananas, papayas, tomatoes, sunflowers, and more. Almost any grapefruit you've bought was probably a mutant.
Man and woman eating "atomic" peanuts
Kansas City Times - Jan 12, 1959
An ad placed in Time
magazine (April 26, 1948) by the "Federation for Railway Progress" boasted about their investment in atomic research, and urged railroads to join the federation to benefit from all the great advances that atomic research would soon bring to the transportation industry:
Will your railroad have a place at the atomic research table?
No industry stands to benefit more from atomic "vitamins" in its diet than the undernourished railroads...
A new, lighter and stronger metal—which could be applied to the construction of light-weight freight and passenger cars—may well come out of atomic research.
There is also the promise of new and more efficient lighting and heating systems, and other possibilities which only properly directed research could uncover.
Almost 70 years later, is it possible to say if U.S. railroads actually did benefit in any way from atomic research? I've never thought of railroads and atomic research as being in any way related.
Briefly in the 1950s it became popular to sit in mildly radioactive dirt as a panacea for many ills.
The house above in Rotan, TX, was one such establishment.
LIFE magazine article here.
Following up on my post last week about Dr. Willard Libby and his "nuclear detergent,"
here's Dr. Libby again, in 1961, promoting his "Poor Man's Fallout Shelter," which could also have been described as the "If you're stuck in this, you're screwed" shelter. Note that it was obligatory to wear a white tuxedo and bowtie while in the Poor Man's shelter.
The Herald (Jasper, Indiana) - Oct 5, 1961
is best known as the winner of the 1960 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, awarded for his role in developing radiocarbon dating. But throughout the 1950s and 60s he was also a tireless promoter of nuclear energy, assuring the public that fears about radioactivity and nuclear fallout were greatly overblown. One of his ideas for a beneficial use of radiation was to radiate laundry detergent. As far as I know, no detergent maker ever got behind this idea.
- Jan 13, 1964
Did this actually have radium inside it? How many cancers did this cause, carried about in Dennis the Menace's pockets?
Unfortunately, I've lost the source of this ad. Can anyone help?
All original content in posts is Copyright © 2008 by the author of the post, either Alex Boese ("Alex"), Paul Di Filippo ("Paul"), or Chuck Shepherd ("Chuck"). All rights reserved. The banner illustration at the top of this page is Copyright © 2008 by Rick Altergott.