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3 Famous Recalls From Years Past

The exploding Samsung phones. The exploding hoverboards. The Volkswagen diesel buyback. The FCA fine and SUV recall. The Takata air bags. It seems like we’ve seen one major, high-profile recall after another over the past two years, and it can be hard to tell whether this all means that we’re becoming safer as a country or whether we’ve become less safe up until recently. That’s why it can help to get a little perspective and look back through the years to see what recalls made the news in previous decades.

1. The Pinto

Once car crashes became a major feature in movies and up until quite recently, Hollywood maintained a tradition of having cars explode as soon as they hit something. Sometimes it was because people like to see giant fireballs capping off an extended car chase or a great big fall off a cliff, but at times it got to be so excessive that a minor fender-bender would be enough to cause a car to blow up.

The Ford Pinto was infamous for the way it brought Hollywood’s exaggerations to life. Ford had placed the Pinto’s gas tank too far to the rear, and while a small bump wouldn’t be enough to cause a problem, a serious rear-end collision could easily smash the tank and lead to a major fire. In 1978, Ford recalled 1.5 million Pintos and abandoned the name instead of creating a new generation.

2. Extra-Strength Tylenol

In 1982, seven Chicago residents died of cyanide poisoning after taking a dose of Extra-Strength Tylenol. This was no accident: cyanide and acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) have nothing to do with each other, and the only reason the cyanide ended up there is because someone tampered with the pill bottles somewhere between the factory and the checkout counter.

Tylenol’s parent company, Johnson & Johnson, responded to this situation by recalling all the Tylenol bottles in America, estimated to be a total of 31 bottles. They then reissued a new Tylenol supply in special tamperproof bottles (bottles that quickly went on to become a federal standard). For a company to go this far in recalling its products was unheard of back in the day, but thanks to Johnson & Johnson’s quick thinking, Tylenol’s reputation would completely rebound within a year.

3. Easy-Bake Oven

Easy-Bake Ovens have been around since the 1960s. They let kids create actual baked goods in a toy oven, and although the original versions used a very hot incandescent light bulb, the designs you can get today use real heating elements instead. Of course, real heating elements can really burn kids who aren’t careful, which is why Easy-Bake Ovens are supposed to use designs that won’t hurt a child in the toy’s suggested age range.

Unfortunately, something went very wrong with the design in 2007. The opening in the oven turned out to be big enough for kids to trap their hands inside and (in some cases) experience some painful burns. Once people found out, Hasbro recalled over 1 million ovens.

As the Tylenol example demonstrates, the fact that companies are conducting voluntary recalls to pull unsafe products off the market is in itself a major step towards making America a safer place to live. Before then, other companies and government agencies would have to step in to do something about the problem. And despite the obvious costs and concerns of a voluntary recall, the benefits of appearing proactive and reducing the company’s exposure to personal injury lawsuits usually make a recall the cheapest and most helpful option in the long run.