Fact Check

1950s 'Atomic Energy Lab' Kit for Kids Used Real Radioactive Materials?

Four small jars of uranium were reportedly included in the kit.

Published April 10, 2024

Image courtesy of Screengrab/Reddit
A genuine “Atomic Energy Lab” was sold for kids in the 1950s that contained radioactive materials.

Dubbed one of the "10 most dangerous toys of all time," a miniature atomic energy lab is said to have been a widely sought-after children's toy in the 1950s – and it reportedly included four small jars of real uranium.

On Dec. 23, 2022, a post on Reddit (archive) claimed to show the "Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab," a toy made for kids. 

The Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab toy for children, introduced in 1950, was initially sold containing real uranium. Info in comment.
byu/butterflypoo69 inDamnthatsinteresting

A reverse-image search using Google Lens (archived) revealed that the photograph has circulated on social media channels and online publications (archived) since at least 2014 (archived). 

As incredible – and dangerous – as it may seem, the A.C. Gilbert Company's "Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab" was indeed a real toy sold in the U.S. from 1950 to 1951. This claim is "True." 

At a price tag of $50, roughly $650 in 2024, the Museum of Radiation and Radioactivity (ORAU) reports that the set included four types of uranium ore, among a number of other laboratory items, which we have listed at the bottom of this article. 

An article published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers writes that when the lab hit the market in 1950, it was "one of the most elaborate science kits available." There were just 5,000 kids produced at the time, notes the Department of Energy Office of Legacy Management. The kits were "marketed to parents as a way to direct their children toward a potential career in science and engineering." 

Users were advised not to break the sample jars' seals because "they tend to flake and crumble, and you would run the risk of having radioactive ore spread out in your laboratory," the agency notes. 

Atlas Obscura published a video on YouTube on April 16, 2019, that highlighted the kit's many features:


The Gilbert Company's kits weren't the only ones available on the market then, either.  Porter Chemical Company sold two competing sets but for a more affordable price, at $10 and $25 (roughly $100 and $300 in 2024), respectively. And yes, both also contained uranium and included "atomic energy items," according to ORAU

Gilbert's rendition of the kit reportedly appeared for sale in newspaper advertisements until 1953, but this was said to be a "matter of various stores unloading old stock at discount prices." It was ultimately replaced by the No. 11 Gilbert Chemistry Atomic Energy Set, which according to the ORAU blog: 

… didn't amount to much: some uranium ore, a spinthariscope and a copy of "Atomic Energy." In essence it was the same as what Porter Chemical Company had done in 1947 with their Chemcraft Chemistry kit No. 25.

In the 21st century, though, the toy kit comes with a much higher price tag: One lab kit was listed on Sotheby's auction house website for $4,800. 

According to the Department of Energy, the A.C. Gilbert Company's "Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab" was created by Alfred Carlton Gilbert, an "American athlete, magician, toymaker, businessman, and inventor of the Erector Set." The kit contained the following items: 

  • Battery-powered Geiger–Müller counter
  • Electroscope
  • Spinthariscope
  • Wilson cloud chamber with short-lived alpha source (Po-210) in the form of a wire
  • Four glass jars containing natural uranium-bearing (U-238) ore samples (autunite, torbernite, uraninite, and carnotite from the "Colorado Plateau region")
  • Low-level radiation sources:
  • beta-alpha (Pb-210)
  • pure beta (possibly Ru-106)
  • gamma (Zn-65)
  • "Nuclear spheres" for making a model of an alpha particle
  • Gilbert Atomic Energy Manual — a 60-page instruction book written by Dr. Ralph E. Lapp
  • Learn How Dagwood Split the Atom — comic book introduction to radioactivity, written with the help of Gen. Leslie Groves (director of the Manhattan Project) and John R. Dunning (a physicist who verified fission of the uranium atom)
  • Prospecting for Uranium — a 1949 book published jointly by the Atomic Energy Commission and the United States Geological Survey
  • Three C batteries
  • Gilbert Toys catalog


A.C. Gilbert Company Vintage Atomic Energy Lab U-238 Available For Immediate Sale At Sotheby's. https://www.sothebys.com/en/buy/_ac-gilbert-atomic-energy-lab-u-238-the-most-dangerous-toy-in-history-844b. Accessed 5 Apr. 2024.

Family, Parenting, Pet and Lifestyle Tips That Bring Us Closer Together | LittleThings.Com. https://littlethings.com/lifestyle/banned-toys#google_vignette. Accessed 5 Apr. 2024.

"Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab (1950-1951)." Museum of Radiation and Radioactivity, https://www.orau.gov/health-physics-museum/collection/toys/gilbert-u-238-atomic-energy-lab.html. Accessed 5 Apr. 2024.

Google Lens. https://lens.google.com/search?ep=cnts&re=df&s=4&p=AbrfA8rcjB-ZdD0DhIO-TvJRuFfTOSK0f9i9psDFFYd7eW9xDQiyzSvbmwlFoG9Zg9P0srmRc7ZGIAfAy7NqPa3-U-qIuUlPTwpLTzWMwBXEHRYGJjqoMZ3ZnuWcmdJ3ZTDP5TIqSQXb9MRaZqLFOnecpoHf4cstBGrLSi1brbbIgZ8eNP4je50KzuVgIV727jWyYt1TRO9AlAnXDvsfcQ32GvXSvmfaxMtCPwpL-Ych-kiAJ5mvjAEskpS9PqCMFm_j1kLxJc5pxw%3D%3D#lns=W251bGwsbnVsbCxudWxsLG51bGwsbnVsbCxudWxsLG51bGwsIkVrY0tKRFkyT0RaalkyWTJMV1F3WkRrdE5HSTBZeTA0Wmpoa0xUQXlaREpsWXpSaVpqSXlNUklmT0RKb1JHZGhiWEJ3WTI5alZVTm1hVWxtYTFwaVJFUTVkakpETFRab1p3PT0iXQ==. Accessed 5 Apr. 2024.

"Holiday Toy Shopping During the 1950s Looked a Bit Different than During the 2020s." Energy.Gov, https://www.energy.gov/lm/articles/holiday-toy-shopping-during-1950s-looked-bit-different-during-2020s. Accessed 5 Apr. 2024.

Log in or Sign up to View. https://www.facebook.com/login/. Accessed 5 Apr. 2024.

McRae, Mike. "Here's The Important Reason We Don't Get Mad Chemistry Kits For Christmas Any More." ScienceAlert, 19 Dec. 2017, https://www.sciencealert.com/chemistry-kits-history-risks-benefits-education.

"Porter Atomic Energy Kit (Late 1940s, 1950s)." Museum of Radiation and Radioactivity, https://www.orau.gov/health-physics-museum/collection/toys/porter-atomic-energy-kit.html. Accessed 5 Apr. 2024.

Radioactive Atomic Energy Lab Kit with Uranium (1950) | World's Most Dangerous Toy - Atlas Obscura. www.youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zeyoJGqKbOQ. Accessed 5 Apr. 2024.

What Is $50 in 1950 Worth in 2024? https://www.amortization.org/inflation/amount.php?year=1950&amount=50. Accessed 5 Apr. 2024.

"World's Most Dangerous Toy? Radioactive Atomic Energy Lab Kit with Uranium (1950)." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, https://thebulletin.org/virtual-tour/worlds-most-dangerous-toy-radioactive-atomic-energy-lab-kit-with-uranium-1950/. Accessed 5 Apr. 2024.

Madison Dapcevich is a freelance contributor for Snopes.