12 Messed-Up Products We Can't Believe Were Actually Sold In Stores

List Rules
Vote up the most problematic products of years past.

Retail history is full of some really bad ideas. Just think of lead paint that could send children into convulsions, or the original Coca-Cola made primarily with caffeine and cocaine. And of course, there's the Furby - maybe not dangerous, but it certainly gave plenty of children (and parents) nightmares. 

Some of the most dangerous products from history were also some of the most popular at the time. Diet pills and fads frequently turn out to be historically bad ideas; likewise, so are most children's toys that include radioactive or explosive materials. Reading this list might make you wonder what everyday product you're currently enjoying will turn out to be shocking and horrifying to future generations. 


  • Glow-In-The-Dark Radium Products Were All The Rage - Until Factory Workers Started Dying
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
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    753 VOTES

    Glow-In-The-Dark Radium Products Were All The Rage - Until Factory Workers Started Dying

    In the early 20th century, radium became wildly popular in the US and much of the world. With claims it could cure asthma, hysteria, and even blindness, radium was added to everything from lingerie to playing cards. Watches, of course, were one of the most popular items that included the radioactive metal. Some watch factory workers would intentionally paint their teeth with radium, or wear their best clothes to work so that they would still glow in the dark when they went out later. 

    In 1925, The New York Times uncovered a story of five women dying of radium necrosis. They had all worked at the United States Radium Corporation, painting watches and military equipment with the dangerous element, often putting some of the instruments in their mouths to complete the intricate work. Radium necrosis caused chronic gum bleeding, jawbone destruction, and bone tumors.

    Their passings, along with a lawsuit by some surviving "Radium Girls," would forever (fortunately) tarnish the reputation of radium. In 1938, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act made it illegal to market radium-branded products. 

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    682 VOTES

    Fake Snow Was Made From Asbestos

    In the 21st century, most people are aware that asbestos is dangerous stuff, and can lead to mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive type of cancer. But in the 1930s, nobody knew the risks asbestos held, and because of that it was used in a variety of materials.

    One of the items made of asbestos was fake snow - the kind you would see on movie sets, or decorating display windows in malls. It seemed to fit the bill perfectly because of its naturally white, fluffy appearance. Because of its fire retardant characteristics, it was also used in many tablecloths and Christmas tree skirts.

    Asbestos use shifted away from Christmas ornaments and decorations in World War II, when it became necessary in the war effort (particularly on naval ships to prevent fires). It wasn't until the 1970s that people began to realize the dangers of asbestos. While the carcinogen is no longer present in Christmas decorations today, you might want to be careful if your grandma insists on giving you her old ornaments. 

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    643 VOTES

    Companies Sold 'Tapeworm Diet Pills'

    Using a tapeworm to lose weight might seem like a morbid joke, but the reality is that some people actually have ingested the parasitic flatworms intentionally. In fact, during the 20th century, ads for tapeworm-based diet pills were not an uncommon sight. Some female celebrities during the mid-century were even said to be on a "tapeworm diet."

    The pills usually claimed to contain tapeworm eggs, allowing the parasites to then mature in the intestine. The dieter could continue eating to his or her content, all while the tapeworm consumed more and more calories. Once dieters reached their ideal weight, they could take medicine to kill the tapeworm, which was then excreted.

    While many vintage ads claim they sold "tapeworm pills," how widespread the practice actually was - as well as how true the claims were - is oft debated.

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    636 VOTES

    Department Stores Marketed Drug Kits As Gifts For World War I Soldiers

    During the Civil War, proud patriots happily grew their own poppies and harvested homegrown opium to treat the pain of soldiers. Medicine at the time offered fewer cures and had a bigger focus on pain relief. Many soldiers learned how to dose themselves with morphine, and syringes and morphine were both available for purchase via catalog and over the counter.

    As morphine addiction began to take hold, both politicians and doctors began to seek alternatives for managing pain. That's when heroin entered the scene, marketed as less addictive than morphine, yet much stronger in terms of pain management.

    By the early 1900s, Americans were purchasing from Sears, Roebuck & Co. one heck of a deal: a syringe, two needles, and two vials of Bayer's heroin, all for just $1.50. When World War I came around, department stores marketed similar drug kits - containing either heroin or cocaine - as the ideal present for loved ones on the front lines.

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    535 VOTES

    Electric Worm-Getting Rods Were Meant To Shock Worms, But Ended Up Shocking The People Using Them

    Manufactured by Handy Marketing Company in the 1980s and '90s, the "Worm Getter" was meant to be a fisherman's friend: simply place the electric rod into the soil, and worms will be shocked to the surface. The shocker rang up somewhere between $11 and $28.

    Unfortunately, worm probes similar to this one resulted in the deaths of more than 30 people after they were electrocuted by the probe's exposed metal shafts. Others were shocked after touching the ground where the probe was used. Sold at sporting goods stores all over the country, the product was recalled in June of 1993.

  • The Cabbage Patch Snacktime Doll Snacked On Children's Hair
    Photo: Amazon
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    586 VOTES

    The Cabbage Patch Snacktime Doll Snacked On Children's Hair

    For the Christmas of 1996, thousands of young girls woke up to find the much-desired Cabbage Patch Snacktime Kid under their trees. Before the year ended, however, some of these shrieks of delight would turn to screams of terror.

    The doll, it turned out, not only mimicked eating, but also actually ate hair. By New Year's Eve, at least three reports existed of girls getting their hair caught in the mouth of the munching doll. One was left partially bald after the doll pulled so hard that it ripped the hair off her scalp. Another doll chewed a girl's hair all the way up to her scalp until a family member helped her take it apart. While the doll was meant to munch on plastic foods, it turned out to have an appetite for more.