After news leaked that they would be recalling up to 29 million chests and drawers in the wake of the third child death in three years, Ikea USA president Lars Petersson described the recall as "unprecedented" in the company's history. But the massive recall wasn't just unprecedented for Ikea: It marks the largest furniture safety recall in American history, according to data provided to Co.Design by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC).
In fact, looking at the top five furniture recalls in American history, it's not even close. The Ikea recall is three times bigger than the second largest recall in the CSPC's archives—and that recall was spread across an entire industry. Yet a look at the largest furniture recalls in U.S. history reveals that the last two decades have seen plenty of other large-scale recalls, if not quite as huge as Ikea's. Trigger alert: This list is likely to give new parents panic attacks.
No doubt about it: Ikea's recall is the largest in U.S. history. Thanks to lightweight construction and low stability ratings, Ikea's dressers have killed at least six children since 1989, starting with a 20-month year old girl from Mt. Vernon, Virginia, who died after an unanchored Gute 4-drawer chest tipped over and pinned her against the footboard. 2014 was the deadliest year for Ikea-related deaths, when two kids were killed by Malm chests within a span of just four months, prompting Ikea to start distributing free anchoring kits. After the third child in two years was killed by a Malm dresser back in February, though, Ikea agreed to a " full recall, offering either full or partial refunds for every single three-plus drawer dresser or chest they have ever sold in America.
This is the grand poombah of non-IKEA recalls. In 1995, 10 million beanbag chairs sold by nine separate companies dating all the way back to 1971 were recalled by the CSPC. At least five children died after unzipping these beanbag chairs and inhaling or ingesting the small pellets of foam filling, choking them to death. Twenty-seven other children were injured or hospitalized for similar incidents. At least this recall had a permanent market effect, though. These days, beanbag seats are either sold completely sealed, or with locked childproof zippers.
2005 was a bad year for furniture recalls. In May, 2.1 million children's folding chairs distributed by Summit Marketing International were recalled after the CSPC noticed that the safety lock tended to fail, catching children's fingers in the hinges. The chairs—which were sold nationwide between September 2002 and May 2005—ended up amputating the finger tips of four children, as well as a string of lacerations and bruises. By the time the CSPC recalled the chairs, though, Summit Marketing International had disappeared, leading the agency to recommend that anyone unlucky enough to have bought one to "discard or destroy" it.
Another line of folding chairs for children, another series of ghastly finger amputations. In April 2005, the CSPC recalled 1.5 million children's folding chairs distributed by Atico International. A design flaw in the safety locking mechanism had a tendency to catastrophically fail, lopping off or mutilating the fingers of the children unfortunate enough to get them caught when the chair snapped shut. The chairs were sold in hardware, toy, grocery, and department stores before the CSPC finally got wind of the problem, at which point 11 children had been maimed by the chairs. Like Summit Marketing, though, Atico International had gone out of business by that time, leading the CSPC to recommend anyone who had such a chair to destroy it.
Noticing a pattern yet? This line of folding chairs for children, manufactured in China and distributed by Idea Nuova out of New York, were sold at discount department stores nationwide from September 2004 through June 2005, with many colorful designs, including Spider-Man and Disney Princess varieties. Unfortunately, the chair's safety lock was prone to failure, resulting in two kids losing their finger tips, and one child breaking their finger when the chair spontaneously snapped shut on it. In late July 2005, 1.1 million of these chairs were ultimately recalled.
What effect did these tragedies have on furniture design regulations? In the case of beanbag chairs, the CSPC issued a revised set of safety regulations a year after the recall, stating that any beanbag chair capable of being refilled must only be opened with a special tool. But the safety standards for collapsible children's chairs, while proposed, are still being debated.
But the Ikea recall might be too big to ignore. Senator Robert P. Casey Jr. (D., Pennsylvania) is calling for dresser manufacturers to meet mandatory stability requirements going forward, instead of the current voluntary standards that Ikea ignored to the peril of both the company and its customers' children.