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date: 31 May 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter uses the example of the child’s chemistry set to explore the way that American children’s material culture has shaped, and been shaped by, changing perceptions of acceptable risk in the home environment in the twentieth century. Chemistry sets, first sold in the United States in the 1910s, changed over the twentieth century, as companies worried about lawsuits have excluded potentially dangerous elements and presumed less initiative on the part of the child chemist, while calling for enhanced parental supervision. These alterations were first welcomed by parents in the 1960s and 1970s; now, for some, the defanged chemistry set embodies the undesirable unexpected consequences of the quest for new levels of safety in children’s material environments. This chapter follows the potent symbol of the chemistry set through the century to ask how the American movement to keep children safe in the home came about and to identify key cultural explanations for the early-twenty-first-century backlash against these efforts.

Keywords: Keywords material culture, science and technology, children’s material culture, childhood studies, safety, the body

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