8 Dangerous Items That Used to Be Allowed in Kids' Chemistry Kits


Although children’s chemistry kits were first manufactured in the 18th century, it wasn’t until around the time of the Great Depression that they became a popular toy. The marketing was simple: chemistry kits paved the way for kids to have a career in science.

As Rosie Cook of the Chemical Heritage Foundation told Smithsonian magazine: “Coming out of the Depression, that was a message that would resonate with a lot of parents who wanted their children to not only have a job that would make them money but to have a career that was stable. And if they could make the world a better place along the way, then even better."

That's all fine and good, but unfortunately, as early versions of these chemistry kits were bolstering a child's career prospects, they were also posing a serious threat to their health. Many sets contained items that would horrify modern consumers, and it wasn't until the Federal Hazardous Substances Act of 1960 that the ingredients in chemistry kits started to become closely regulated. To celebration National Chemistry Week, we're looking back at a few of the shocking inclusions. 


There are an infinite number of reasons why a blowtorch in the hands of a child is a bad idea, but early chemistry kits included them so kids could produce flames for their experiments. This illustration from a chemistry manual shows one such example. The budding chemist ignites sodium bisulfate with blowtorch of the literal variety—powered through a mouth-blown tube. If that’s not scary enough, there was an entire kit devoted to glass-blowing, because mom and dad definitely want you to be doing that at home.


Iodine solution was originally included in these kits because it can be used to test for starch, but chemicals can multitask, and this one can also help make methamphetamine. On top of its potential for the unlawful, if more than 2g of pure iodine are ingested, it can be lethal.


If the "cyanide" in the name doesn’t give it away, this was not a safe chemical. That's not to say it isn't useful—it can create Prussian blue dye—but it’s no longer in chemistry kits because it’s slightly toxic in high enough levels … and it has a scary name.


Uranium dust was often included in "nuclear" and "atomic energy" kits common in the 1950s. It was intended for use with a spinthariscope, a device through which a young chemist could see radioactive disintegration. "By today's standards, they're terribly dangerous but they're fascinating nonetheless,” Cook told the BBC.


Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab came with radioactive sources that emitted alpha, beta and gamma radiation. Young scientists could watch the alpha particles travel thanks to the cloud chamber that was also included in the kit, and while it might not have been Marie Curie-levels of exposure, but it certainly could not have been good. 


Some kits even allowed young scientists to deviate from the curriculum and create smoke bombs. A key ingredient in the mix is potassium nitrate, which is also found in gunpowder, fireworks and some older solid fuel rockets.


Copper sulfate can be used to deposit a thin layer of metallic copper on metal surfaces, which might look nice but comes at a price—the stuff is poisonous if ingested, though immediate vomiting usually helps combat its toxicity. 


Calcium hypochlorite is an oxidizer that can create chlorine gas which can be toxic and can irritate the respiratory system. Not exactly the sort of fresh air you want the kids to be getting during their playtime.

This article originally ran in 2015.

Amazon's Under-the-Radar Coupon Page Features Deals on Home Goods, Electronics, and Groceries

Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Stock Catalog, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Now that Prime Day is over, and with Black Friday and Cyber Monday still a few weeks away, online deals may seem harder to come by. And while it can be a hassle to scour the internet for promo codes, buy-one-get-one deals, and flash sales, Amazon actually has an extensive coupon page you might not know about that features deals to look through every day.

As pointed out by People, the coupon page breaks deals down by categories, like electronics, home & kitchen, and groceries (the coupons even work with SNAP benefits). Since most of the deals revolve around the essentials, it's easy to stock up on items like Cottonelle toilet paper, Tide Pods, Cascade dishwasher detergent, and a 50 pack of surgical masks whenever you're running low.

But the low prices don't just stop at necessities. If you’re looking for the best deal on headphones, all you have to do is go to the electronics coupon page and it will bring up a deal on these COWIN E7 PRO noise-canceling headphones, which are now $80, thanks to a $10 coupon you could have missed.

Alternatively, if you are looking for deals on specific brands, you can search for their coupons from the page. So if you've had your eye on the Homall S-Racer gaming chair, you’ll find there's currently a coupon that saves you 5 percent, thanks to a simple search.

To discover all the deals you have been missing out on, head over to the Amazon Coupons page.

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The Northern Lights Storms Are Getting Names—and You Can Offer Up Your Suggestions

A nameless northern lights show in Ylläs, Finland.
A nameless northern lights show in Ylläs, Finland.
Heikki Holstila, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

While all northern lights are spectacular, they’re not all spectacular in the same way. Aurora borealis, or “northern dawn,” occurs when electrons in the magnetic field surrounding Earth transfer energy to oxygen and nitrogen molecules in the atmosphere. The molecules then emit the excess energy as light particles, which create scintillating displays whose colors and shapes depend on many known and unknown factors [PDF]—type of molecule, amount of energy transferred, location in the magnetosphere, etc.

Though the “storms” are extremely distinct from each other, they haven’t been named in the past the way hurricanes and other storms are christened. That’s now changing, courtesy of a tourism organization called Visit Arctic Europe. As Travel + Leisure reports, the organization will now christen the strongest storms with Nordic names to make it easier to keep track of them.

“There are so many northern lights visible in Arctic Europe from autumn to early spring that we started giving them names the same way other storms are named. This way, they get their own identities and it’s easier to communicate about them,” Visit Arctic Europe’s program director Rauno Posio explained in a statement.

Scientists will be able to reference the names in their studies, much like they do with hurricanes. And if you’re a tourist hoping to check out other people’s footage of the specific sky show you just witnessed, searching by name on social media will likely turn up better results than a broad “#auroraborealis.”

Visit Arctic Europe has already given names to recent northern lights storms, including Freya, after the Norse goddess of love, beauty, and fertility, and Sampo, after “the miracle machine and magic mill in the Finnish national epic poem, ‘Kalevala.’” A few other monikers pay tribute to some of the organization’s resident “aurora hunters.”

But you don’t have to be a goddess or an aurora hunter in order to get in on the action. Anybody can submit a name (along with an optional explanation for your suggestion) through the “Naming Auroras” page here. It’s probably safe to assume that submissions related to Nordic history or culture have a better chance of being chosen, but there’s technically nothing to stop you from asking Visit Arctic Europe to name a northern lights show after your dog.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]