Radioactive Gag Gift Packaging

RadiationCan The last chapter of Jerry Jankowski’s book, Shelf Space (modern package design, 1945-1960), is about “gag gifts.” These are usually conceptual affairs, in the sense that—(although the gag may be sort of dumb)—as a product, it’s little more than an idea contained in the package. One product featured in this “canned laughter” section of Jankowski’s book is a can of “Genuine Los Angeles Smog.” (See photos below)

From The Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) Health Physics Historical Instrumentation Museum Collection, this can of “Original Canned Radiation” is obviously the same basic concept. Selling an empty can of air as a sort of rueful attempt at finding humor in the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident.

“Canned Radiation” from Three Mile Island produced  by Brenster Enterprises of Etters Pennsylvania.

This was probably the most popular souvenir associated with the accident at Three Mile Island.

The six suggested uses indicated on the label were:

1. Remove label and tell your enemy its laughing gas.
2. Energy free night light (illuminates in darkness).
3. Mix with cold cream for that radiant beauty.
4. Instant male sterilization (sniff twice daily).
5. Use as a room air freshener.
6. Toothpaste recipe: mix 3 to 1 ratio with basking soda, for ever glowing smile.


The funny thing is, several of those bulleted points above are ideas that have actually been tried in the past for serious, non-gag products. (See: Radioactive Packaging)

Nice smog can from eBay, circa 1968 (“Buy It Now” price : $49.95)

(A different label design for “Genuine Los Angeles Smog,” after the fold…)


Another eBay smog can—this one circa 1958 (“Buy It Now” price : $399.00)

Randy Ludacer
Beach Packaging Design

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