In 2019, in the before-times of the pandemic, we put together a daily listing that we called the Atomic Advent. It featured toys, games, and activity sets created as a result of the new atomic bomb and Cold War. These range from uranium mining games, to GI Joe uranium set, to the atomic chemistry sets, to Homer Simpson’s atomic van, and more.
We’ve turned these posts into a fun, interactive Advent Calendar to help with your countdown for the holiday season. Check back each day from December 1 to 24, for a different door to open to your wildest atomic childhood toys.
In the 1950s, Louis Marx and Company produced the Linemar Atomic Reactor through its Linemar line of tin toys manufactured in Japan. This operating steam engine is complete with water tank and boiler (the reactor dome with safety valve), fuel to heat the water (Esbit tablets), and battery (for the lighted cooling tower). The cylinder oscillates with an oiler on the steam chest. To keep things safe, a guard rail surrounds the engine.
Selling for approximately $19.95 in the mid 1950s (about $193 in 2019 dollars), this was an investment for lots of continuing fun. You can find this in collector’s markets today from between $300 to $700. Or you can just have as much fun watching modern collectors display their wares online:
In the 1960s, Wilesco (Wilhelm Schröder GmbH & Co KG), from Germany, manufactured the Wilesco R200 Nuclear Power Plant Steam Engine which added the convenience of using an electric heater for the reactor dome rather than Esbit tablets. This version changed the look to a more modern cooling tower along with a more reliable engine.
Unfortunately, the R200 Nuclear Power Plant was not their biggest seller among their several lines of steam engines because most people were wary of the safety of anything labeled “atomic” or “nuclear” — even in a small toy. (Remember all the warnings of “completely safe” with all the other atomic toys?) The R200 had a 16mm stroke, 9mm diameter, and 70mm flywheel. Because of the quality of the German design and the limited number of production, the collector’s market price for the Wilesco R200 is around $1200.
Created in 1945, this dexterity puzzle game is one of the earliest toys and games with an atomic theme. The boxed problem puzzle set includes printed litho cards with such games as Ring a Tail, Radio Tube Trick, Hungry Pup, Trap a Sap, Topsy Turvy Rivets, and Atomic Bomb.
A later version licensed under the Fred-Alan Novelty Company explains the game:
The puzzle game made its debut shortly after the use of the atomic bombs after World War II. It’s hard to imagine a toy such as this being produced today and is an interesting snapshot of history.