A look back: Vintage chemistry sets and science kits from the 70s
Story by Jon C. Halter & Photographs by David Attie – Boys’ Life (November 1975)
What is science? It’s microscopes, telescopes, wires and test tubes; frogs and fossils, rockets and skeletons. Open one of these and you’re on your way to an adventure in learning.
Look through a telescope and marvel at how brilliantly the sun is reflected on the surface of the moon. Examine the intricate inner workings of a frog. Discover if there’s any pollution in a nearby lake.
These are just a few of the activities in the exciting world of science. Scientists want to know what makes things happen. They study the stars and the seas, the earth and sky, the human body and the habits of wild animals, electricity and the nature of light. They study just about everything.
To help you savor the different worlds of science, and sample all sorts of career possibilities, a great many kits are available. Those designed for beginners will help you learn the basics of a field of science through interesting and challenging projects and experiments. In others — more advanced (and more expensive) — you carry out complicated experiments, some on the level of a high-school or college course.
Visit your local hobby shop, a large toy store, an electronics store, or leaf through the catalog of a mail-order company that specializes in science kits. They’re like a science supermarket!
Take Astronomy, the study of celestial bodies. You can get a ready-to-use 40x (makes things appear 40 times larger) refractor telescope by Gabriel (No. 31600) that will help to bring the moon’s craters and “seas” up close.
If you want to know how a telescope works, you can make a 30x one that mounts on a tripod from a kit by Senior Play Labs (No. 2940.5) or a 15x snap-together hand-held model from Logix Kosmos (No. 9250). The latter comes with a constellation finder, which will help you locate famous star formations at night, and a moon map to explain the face of Earth’s only satellite.
If you want to make a more advanced telescope, Edmund Scientific Co. (a mail-order house) has a 3-in. Space Conqueror model (No. 85,050) that magnifies up to 180 times. If your interests tend toward the wild blue yonder, you’ll enjoy Aeronautics. A good selection of nine beginners flying models are made by Scientific Models.
If you’re somewhat more advanced in model-building skill, you can try the Sky Master (No. 160) which has a three-foot wingspan and flies up to one mile with its rubber-band-powered propeller. To study or demonstrate the insides of a plane, Monogram’s Phantom Mustang (No. 6866) features a see-through plastic body that enables you to view the internal parts of the plane.
Logix Kosmos has an Aeronautics Kit (No. 3500) that lets you dabble in all aspects of flight with 100 aviation experiments. These range from building a basic glider and rubber-powered plane to launching helium balloons and model rockets.
Model Rocketry is in itself an exciting hobby. It’s growing in popularity around the country and is now an official part of the Cub Scout program. Companies like Estes and Centuri feature a seemingly endless line of rocket kits in all styles and shapes imaginable. All are easy to build with a few basic tools and can be launched from standard model-rocket launchers.
Estes has the exciting Camroc (No. 1466) and Cineroc (No. 1413) which take still and motion pictures respectively from 1,000 feet up. Estes also has flying versions of the Starship Enterprise (No. 1275) and Klingon Battle Cruiser (No. 1274) from the television series Star Trek.
Centuri’s line includes the Quasar space ship (No. KC-7) which resembles a science-fiction craft, and a 31/2-foot-tall model of the Apollo Saturn 5 (No. KS-12), the rocket that sent U.S. astronauts to the moon.
While each model-rocket kit is marked for its degree of difficulty, none is very hard to build. Launching them is fun and safe, using the model-rocket engines available at hobby shops. All come equipped with a parachute recovery system and are attractive enough to use just for display.
If you’re interested in rocks and minerals, you’ll like Geology. Skil-Craft’s Senior Geology Lab (No. 965) supplies 20 rock and ore specimens to experiment with, along with a balance for measuring specific gravity, a geologist’s pick for collecting your own samples, and an alcohol lamp for tests. Gabriel’s Tri Lab Pak (No. 30901) gives you material for geologic study, plus the basics for biology and chemistry as well — including a 75x microscope that is useful in all three sciences.
For human anatomy and the study of medicine — or just to learn more about the body for first aid — plastic kits are helpful. Renwall, Life-Like, and Lindberg all have a wide variety of anatomical models to choose from.
Renwall offers a model human skeleton (No. 803) — anatomically correct and containing all of the body’s bones — as well as a human skull (No. 821) and a Visible Head (No. 805) that shows the location of muscles, bones, eyes, and brain.
Life-Like has a Human Eye (No. 09371) that opens to reveal the inner structure of the eyeball. Lindberg has a series of working models that includes Breathing Man (No. 1305) and the visible Pumping Heart (No. 1307).
Renwall (No. 800) and Lindberg (No. 1302) have versions of a visible man that include the basic skeleton and all organs inside a clear plastic outer body.
The building of plastic models is also a way to study Nature. Revell’s Endangered Species series is a good way to learn about the habits of rare animals. The snap-together kits include the African White Rhino (No. H-700), Komodo Dragon (H-701), California Condor (H-702), Mountain Gorilla (H-703), Polar Bear (H-704), and Black Panther (H-705).
Electronics is a science that is both fascinating to study and extremely practical in our modern transistorized times. Knowing how the insides of a radio or toaster work and how to repair them can make you appear to be a virtual magician in the eyes of your friends and parents.
Although soldering is a skill that all electricians should acquire, it’s not needed for any of the basic kits described here, a factor that makes them especially attractive. Senior Play Labs has a D.C. Electric Motor (No. 2938.9) that is a good beginner’s project. It runs on a small battery.
Logix Kosmos has two kits that contain a treasure chest of learning experiments. Electronics (No. 7100) and Super Electronics (No. 7500) include such projects as a transistor radio, a siren, a flashing light, a lie detector, and many others. Electrics (No. 7600) has 140 experiments in electricity, magnetism, and telecommunications. You can build, among other items, a motor generator, burglar alarm, microphone, speaker, and telephone system.
Logix Kosmos has smaller kits that involve only a few of the basic projects that the larger kits include. 10-1 Electronics (No. 9750) uses snap-fit circuits to build several projects, while with Motor Generator (No. 9760), you assemble a powerful reversible motor which doubles as an electric generator. Heath (a mail-order company) has a Heathkit Jr. Electronic Workshop 35 (No. JK-18A) that includes similar projects.
Goodwin’s Young World kits include a 150-experiment advanced model (No. 91-130). Radio Technology is another aspect of the electronic world. Senior Play Labs has an easily-put-together Diode Radio (No. 2941.3) that uses no electricity, and Mini Labs has a Crystal Radio Kit.
The Goodwin Young World kits offer two easily-built projects: a Crystal AM Radio Kit (No. 91-101) and an Aircraft Band Radio Kit (No. 91-103). All are snap fit and require no prior knowledge of electronics. For more advanced students, Logix Kosmos Radio Technology Kit (No. 7800) has a six transistor AM-short wave radio that includes many learning experiments.
Most people enjoy Photography, and Logix Kosmos Optics Kit (No. 2000) offers 135 experiments that will teach you all about the working of light, lenses, and cameras. It includes materials to make a microscope, periscope, telescope, and even a working 35mm single-lens reflex camera with interchangeable lenses. Senior Play Labs offers a much simpler camera you can make (No. 29317) as well as a Pocket Microscope (No. 29330).
Once you’ve taken pictures you can develop them with a Beginner’s Developing Kit (No. 1113) and make enlargements with a Developing and Enlarging Kit (No. 1111), both by CV Products Inc.
For the study of living organisms, try Biology. Skil-Craft’s Senior Biology Lab (No. 868) provides a way to examine the lives of animals, fishes, and insects. It comes with basic dissecting tools and three specimens.
Perfect Parts Co. sells individual specimens in odorless preservatives in sealed jars, as well as a complete dissecting kit (No. 815). Using the detailed instruction book, you can examine the internal organs and nervous systems of a fish, frog, crayfish, earthworm, starfish, clam, and giant grasshopper.
Examine them with Skil-craft’s Senior Microscope Lab (No. 466) — the microscope enlarges as much as 400 times. The lab comes with sample slides and blanks for making your own slides.
Chemistry is a science you encounter every day, from various types of pollution in air and water to the additives in your food and the recipes you prepare for cooking. It’s the study of the composition of substances and the way they change and react to other substances.
The Chemcraft 500 Lab (No. 35204) by Gabriel has chemicals and equipment for 500 projects, in which you learn about food ingredients, identify chemical elements, and also perform chemical tricks which will entertain and mystify your friends.
Skil-Craft also has chemistry kits, ranging from an introductory lab (No. 500) to a deluxe Career Chemistry Lab (No. 524) that includes 23 chemicals in unbreakable bottles with safety-lock caps.
If you like the idea of the chemist as a detective, then you’ll enjoy TRI Manufacturing’s Pollution Test Kit (No. 1000). You can do up to 40 tests that indicate pollution in air and water.
Mini Labs has a Fingerprint Kit (No. FPK-1) which includes all the materials the police lab uses to pick up prints at the scene of a crime. It has a handy carrying bag. Study the inner workings and outward actions of plants — that’s Botany.
Gabriel’s Botanical Garden (No. 35900) is a controlled environment under a plastic dome, where you conduct up to 30 experiments involving variations in light, soil, humidity, nutrients, and temperature. Mini-Lab’s Plant and Animal Life Kit (No. PAK-1) lets you observe the growth of five different types of plants without soil.
See butterflies turn monster, fingerprints become maps and a waterdrop reveal a universe. (1972)
Sears Golden Science Series includes 3 chemistry laboratories, a biology laboratory and a geology laboratory, too.
See a million things you’ve never seen before with a Sears Golden Science Microscope Laboratory. The microscope has a turret to magnify 45x, 90x and 180x. You can watch a flatworm change into two worms before your eyes. You can study fingerprints and handwriting; see clues in dust as they do in crime labs. You can even see the corpuscles in your own blood.
With your microscope, you get a hardcover, color-illustrated manual full of interesting experiments. You get test tubes, a magnifying glass, laboratory equipment, blank slides and a prepared slide. Everything you need to have fun and learn more about the world around you is in the Sears Golden Science Microscope Laboratory. See it now at most Sears, Roebuck and Co. larger stores or in the Sears Christmas catalog.
Vintage Mr Wizard science kits & chemistry sets from 1972
OPENS AN EXCITING, NEW WORLD! World-famous Kimble and TV’s “Mr. Wizard” now make science products with you in mind. Enjoy hours of fascinating experiments with performance-proven, full-size professional labware.
A. Mr. Wizard’s Experiments in Chemistry in Starter ($9.00), Junior ($15.00) and Master ($22.50) sizes contains quality materials and labware. You will want the sets that make the “Magical Rainbow,” explore the “Problem of Hidden Sweets,” and solve the case of the “Mystery Powder.” Sets also contain an 88-page manual. Over 1,000 experiments possible.
B. Mr. Wizard’s Experiments in Crystal Growing lets you create colorful, sparkling shapes and designs… even jewelry, using materials furnished and common household products. Includes 32-page manual. ($25.00)
C. Now, you can join the environmental crusade with Mr. Wizard’s Experiments in Ecology. Explore the mysteries of the world of micro-organisms. Make your very own discoveries. Complete with 36-page manual. ($23.95)
D. With Mr. Wizard’s Experiments in Electronics you use “see-thru” transistorized blocks that connect magnetically to work experiments you can see and hear. No wiring, no tools, no soldering. Absolutely safe, this set contains an easy-to-follow manual. ($12.00)
A look back: Science kits for junior geniuses from the ’60s
Everyone’s talking about “competitive societies” and the “balance of scientific achievements” — but who’s doing anything about it? The toymakers of the country — that’s who.
The need for engineers, scientists, and technologists is lamented, and many wonder how a less-than-perfect educational system can fill the gap with the fresh, eager, young pioneer minds we will need. Well, your own bright-eyed youngster might have his intellect sparked this year with a kit he finds under the Christmas tree. And it won’t be by accident.
The companies making these kits are deeply concerned with our country’s future — and your child’s part in it. Not completely altruistic, some are also wondering where their own next wave of scientists is coming from.
This, along with the hope of selling the kits like hot cakes, has encouraged them to combine their skills and resources to introduce a new type of educational kit that will start young people on the adventure of learning through play.
In so doing, they have made an investment in America’s youth. You can make this investment pay off, because you are the one best able to spot and develop your child’s interests. You can put into his hands the tools to develop his special talents. What you will give him far surpasses the play value of most “toys.”
Seven science kit picks from the ’60s
We feel that the kits shown here, and others like them in the stores, are bound to turn many a bump of curiosity into a mountain of knowledge. But most important of all, the kids, not to mention their dads, are going to love them.
Transistor radio kit
One of a line of seven assembly kits that might prove to be a breakthrough into the subject of transistor electronics for a teenager, this kit teaches the basic principles of radio transmission.
The child learns by building a 3-transistor radio transmitter with a microphone and whip antenna. With it, he can talk through his own nearby radio. As with many other kits, the neat packaging becomes and integral part of the project. $19.95. General Electric Co.
A whole workshop of materials for studying electronics is provided by an Advanced Electronics Lab. Its owner will be able to construct a transformer, seven types of radio receivers, two types of transmitters, a public address system, electronic relay, rain detector, and a daylight alarm. Over 50 experiments can be performed. None of this company’s kits require soldering. All necessary tools, but no batteries, are provided. It is $39.95. General Electric Co.
Building and operating his own Weather Station can give a youngster a wealth of information about meteorology while he develops his weather eye. With this equipment and its easy-to-follow Weather Manual, he can make all computations necessary to predict the weather. $9.95. The Lionel Corp.
Science book labs
Short courses in a variety of subjects that might be intriguing young inquiring minds are given in these Science Book Labs. In each colorful package, an easy-to-read, well-illustrated, hard-cover book is provided along with equipment and supplies for simple instructive experiments.
The series covers: Jets, Rockets, Seeds, Magnets and Air Experiments. They are all geared for children in the early primary grades. Each kit is $3.95. Science Materials Center, Inc.
Internal combustion engines
Motor-minded mechanics will learn what makes an internal combustion engine tick with this 1/4 scale working model of a Chrysler Slant Six automobile engine.
It comes in more than 200 precisely detailed parts to be assembled and cemented together, after which it will perform realistically. A breakaway section is removable so that the operation can be observed. Just like a real engine, it can be built up and taken down as often as desired. The kit, $12.95. Revell, Inc.
Plastic engineering kit
The world of plastics unfolds before the eyes of the youngster experimenting with this Plastics Engineering set. He learns the different fabricating techniques by actually creating various types of plastic products.
He makes such things as a small chess set by injection molding, a motor boat by foam casting, a Mercury Capsule by rotational casting, and a globe by blow molding. He is able to perform a wide range of experiments demonstrating properties and behavior of different kinds of plastics. The Lionel Corp.
Famous inventor & invention replicas
Famous inventors will be discovered along with their inventions as a result of this series of kits. Each includes a handsome bronze-colored bust of the inventor and a brief history of his life, as well as an easy-to-assemble working replica of his famous invention and significant information concerning it.
To cover a range of interests: Printing Press by Gutenberg, Electric Light by Edison, Steam Turbine by Hero, Telescope by Galileo, Telegraph by Morse, and Telephone by Bell. The Lionel Corp.
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I got one of the Weather Stations for Christmas in 1961. I had a blast with it. My dad was to go to England in January 1962. I didn’t have any luck for his help in getting the anemometer working right. I did lean a lot about clouds with the manual that came with it. Thanks for the memories!
Wow! I’ve been searching for pictures of the Weather Station and Plastics Lab for years, and here they are together!
They were both 10th. birthday presents, and my dad installed the outdoors portion of the weather station outside my bedroom window. The birds and squirrels made quick work of most of it, but the anemometer survived a few months.
“Baking” the Mercury capsule and speedboat (P.T. 109, maybe?) was fun, but burning the numerous (probably toxic) “test samples” in order to create heavy soot and awful smells was heaven for a kid. I can still hear my mother’s voice from the bottom of the stairs, “What are you burning up there!?”
Thank-you very so much for sharing these.
Hello, many years ago I was responsible for the redesign of the SCALEXTRIC system and during that time, two or three of the Lionel invention kits came my way. For some time I have been wanting to find out more about these interesting products.When I saw them they were packed in a clear plastic case no doubt intended for display. Have they made any more? Bill PS Like your site
Hopefully this message will find it’s way to you somehow. I am a Scalextric historian and would be delighted to have the opportunity to speak to you. I am well aware of your name and role in general in Minimodels history :)
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As a nerdy kid in the ’70s, I had a lot of these items. I had several transistor radio kits and microscopes, and really got into model rocketry as a teenager (everyone used to launch rockets in a nearby elementary school field — something you could never do today!). As for the chemistry sets, I was too ADD to use them properly, so I usually just mixed everything into one big goo, a lot like the way kids mix all their Play-Doh colors into one gray ball.