Fads are almost never a good thing, but rarely are they ever truly harmful. We dump a few hundred bucks into Tamagotchis, Beanie Babies, or Rubik's Cubes, and then the craze is over and we put all that crap in a shoebox to confuse our future grandchildren. However, some fads have poisoned thousands, started wars, and enslaved entire nations, all for the sake of some dumbass thing people wanted to ride, wear, or eat.
#6. France's Radium Craze Makes Paris Radioactive
In 1898, Marie and Pierre Curie discovered radium, which (as its name suggests) is an intensely radioactive element that will poison the nuclear titfarts out of any living thing that comes into prolonged contact with it. Radium would eventually become the basis for the development of radiotherapy as a cancer treatment, but back then, people didn't have any idea what it did. So, because it glowed in the dark and was discovered at a time when science was considered to be magic, people began putting radium in every goddamn thing they could think of (Marie Curie herself kept radioactive salts by her bedside, and Pierre carried a piece of it around in his jacket like a bone-jellying pocket watch).
Right next to his radium condoms for his other toxic bone-jelly.
And thus began a radioactive craze that hit Paris (and to a lesser extent, the rest of the world). For instance, radium became a trendy cure-all additive, because for some inexplicable reason people decided that it was an invigorating life tonic ("It HAS to do something! It glows!"). It found its way into everything from cough medicine to toothpaste, as well as topical ointments, chocolate bars, and anal suppositories intended to improve your sexual prowess (and while we cannot agree that it would improve your libido, we concede that shoving the blazing fury of an eternal atomic sun into your asshole would certainly do something to your underbelt region).
We're guess something like Taco Bell, but in reverse.
They even sold radium water, which is exactly what it sounds like -- radioactive vitamin water peddled with the most hilariously inaccurate slogan ever: "A cure for the living dead."
But Parisians were equally enamored with radium's DayGlo properties and used it to make luminescent paint for watch faces and instrument panels. It was even used in face creams, lipstick, and other types of makeup, because apparently having your face glow like the death angel at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark was a look that people appreciated in the early 20th century.
"Cancer? No, I'm a Leo."
It was all good fun, really. Except that ANDRA, the organization in charge of monitoring and handling France's radioactive waste, has identified 130 areas that still have enough trace radiation to be considered possible health risks. Most of these sites were tracked down using old advertising posters, which is the type of anthropological scavenger hunt we assumed would be left to aliens a few hundred years in the future.
Currently, ANDRA spends 4 million euros a year on decontamination, all because a few excitable Parisians got their hands on the most dangerous force in creation and smeared it all over everything like toddlers with finger paint.
#5. The Victorian Craze for Green Dye Poisons Thousands
In the mid-1800s, Victorian England was hip-deep in a craze for Scheele's Green, a popular dye that stained everything the color of a Ninja Turtle's rippling bicep. Scheele's Green was used on everything -- clothing, accessories, toys, candles, curtains, and wallpaper were all considered in vogue if they carried the dark-green hue of a forest of Christmas trees. However, the primary ingredient in the dye is arsenic, which as some of you may be aware is a potent poison. People were literally coating their clothes, toys, and walls with an organ-liquefying metalloid.
"My ... kidneys ..."
"It's fine, just drink some radium water."
The worst part is, people knew damn well it was poisonous. The murderous properties of arsenic were well-known at that point, and its presence in Scheele's Green wasn't a secret. But for some inexplicable reason, that didn't stop anyone from using it to dye their furniture and drapery. It was even used in freaking food coloring. But the most rampant cause of accidental arsenic poisoning was the damned wallpaper -- toxic gas released by moisture compounding on the walls literally killed thousands of families, the end result of a series of decisions that quite possibly stand as the dumbest way anyone has ever died in the history of civilization.
"Paint the walls? Why, we'll just soak them all in poison! I literally see no downside to this."
See, the puffs of arsenic dust weren't something anyone had considered -- they all figured that, so long as nobody was licking the wallpaper, things would be fine. Unfortunately, even after the danger was revealed and many people, including Queen Victoria herself, tore out their green wallpaper, there's still plenty of it around. That's because the removal process itself is insanely dangerous.
Remember, moisture causes the wallpaper to release its deadly arsenic fartcloud, and the only way to remove wallpaper without burning down the house that contains it is to douse it with fluid and scrape it off, thereby releasing arsine gas. So now, over a hundred years later, people are still struggling with the aftereffects of the Scheele's Green fad, because every old-timey building shlocked in green wallpaper is essentially a giant gas chamber.
Although honestly, most old people's homes would smell like that regardless.
#4. The British Tea Craze Floods China With Opium, Starts a War
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Everyone knows that English people drink lots of tea. However, back in the 19th century, the majority of the British were crushing infinitely more booze, more so than at any other point in the nation's history.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
And this was with only eight legal Churchill drinking years.
That's because gin was cheap and tea was ludicrously expensive. The tea had to be imported from China, and the Chinese ransomed every last ounce of it, refusing to trade it for anything less than silver. But when the temperance movement swept through England, the demand for tea blew up like Timothy Dalton at the end of The Rocketeer. Unfortunately, tea was still more expensive than a diamond-encrusted table lamp made of Pegasus bones, so how could British traders make tea more affordable to support the exploding trend? By swapping it for chests of opium, of course.
You see, opium was illegal in China, but there was still a powerful demand for it. And the British were harvesting huge quantities of pure Bengali Junk from India. So, millions of pounds of tea flooded into Britain, and in return China was awash in a sea of dazzling white lights.
Soon, just about everyone in China was addicted to opium -- almost 90 percent of all men under the age of 40 living along the coast were more or less perpetually high. The impacts were devastating, with addicts selling everything they owned to get their fix and the nation's economy grinding to a screeching halt.
"I could go to work today, but ... but I just don't care."
In 1839, the Chinese emperor decided to crack down on the illegal drug trade that was poisoning his country and raided several British traders, seizing thousands of chests of opium. The tea craze, which by this point had spread to every man, woman, and child on the British Isles, was suddenly cut off from its most viable means of supply. In response, England sent the fucking Royal Navy.
Sixteen British warships spent the next two years blasting their way up the Chinese coast to Shanghai, massacring somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 Chinese soldiers and losing only 69 men in the process (these staggering figures were due, in large part, to the fact that half of China was addicted to opium). The Chinese were forced to sign a treaty granting control of Hong Kong Island to the British and opening five ports for the continuation of the opium trade, as well as paying England for the cost of the war and the loss of income caused by the emperor's drug raids, all because English people wanted their goddamn tea.
Pictured: A perfectly reasonable response.