Look kids, it's a tour of the 1951 A.C. Gilbert Radioactive Atomic Energy Lab Kit, now with seven sources of radiation!

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/03/17/look-kids-its-a-tour-of-the.html


That one was certainly in the gray area regarding safety - as the narrator puts it, it’s not something I’d keep close to my body for long periods of time. I’d put this one in the “parental supervision” class of toys.

Even if they’ve become a special-order rarity, real chemistry sets like the ones from the 1970s and earlier can still be had.

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What, no Farnsworth Fusor??


It dates from a time when radioactivity was hot.

About ten years ago I found at a used book sale a late 1950s Fawcett publication about prospecting for uranium, which was a thing at the time (though I dont if any individual was successful.)

But there was another science kit that got a lot of advertising, maybe it was blogged about here. American Basic Science Club sold a series, which could be put together in different ways. And some were related to atomics. But while it seemed to be better advertised, less commentary abiut danger.

My Tasco microscope from about 1968 came with a complete kit, scalpel and slides and some chemicals (and brine shrimp eggs, aka seamonkeys). And I had two or three chemistry sets, I think it was the Giobert that had the chemicals in tye more modern bottles.

And this stuff I got, well my parents got, at the toy department of the big chain department store.

Edmund Scientific a few years later was mostly something to drool over.


Far more dangerous is the progressive dumbing down of scientific toys that has occurred in the past few decades and its impact on childhood curiosity and discovery.

This has driven me nuts ever since my oldest kids were at the chemistry set age. I had a mid-70’s set that had plenty of chemicals and instructions for lots of experiments, some of them that had the potential for limited risk. When I started looking for my kids (early 2000’s) bicarb of soda/vinegar was about it for “exciting” chemistry.

So naturally I took matters into my own hands, and with the help of the internetz taught my kids about the fun (and risks) of chemistry, especially exothermic chemistry. We made thermite; played with gallium and admired its effect on aluminium; and made tiny batches of nitrogen triiodide (the Teen still swears we “inadvertently” blew up a fly that landed on the filter paper, but I suspect it was him poking it when I wasn’t looking).

I’m almost certainly on a watch-list now, but it was worth it.


I don’t think it’s specific to “dangerous” chemicals. Fifty years ago, technical hobbies were generally things we pursued by ourselves. I suppose some got it from a father who was already into it. But these things were my interests, though my parents both had zoology degrees. Their participatiin was to buy things, as birthday or Christmas presents, and a general encouragement. When got interested in radio and electronics, it was completely me.

I started going to electronic parts stores when I was 11, and within a few months I was going by subway by myself. 1971.

When I got my ham license nse in 1972, I was moving into an adult world.

There generally seems a move against that in more recent times. But the whole “maker movement” seems about parents deciding “this is good for the kids” and being very hands on, rather than supporting the kid’s nterest. And then a certain fear, that soldering iron might not be safe.

Now there seems a move against kids going anywhere by themselves.

Technical hobbies were never popular, though a spike after Sputnik. But there was infrastructure, all those magazines and science kits, and we could read about ourselves in juvenile SF, and we found each other at school, creating an illusion of popularity. But it was never dense in most places.

I guess kids today don’t get beat up for their technical hobbies.


When I was a kid I built an Edmund Scientific cloud chamber kit that came with a little radium paint and a bag of uranium ore powder. And I turned out totally normal.


Plenty of other toys are more dangerous than this. Anyone for Lawn Darts?


I think it’s called BoingBoing. :smirk:

Another fun project to do is build your own cloud chamber…

Or spinthariscope…


Here’s a forum with resources if you want to build your own fusor…





Obviously it’s not open at the time of this posting, but the Gilbert Museum in Salem, Oregon is worth a visit. It’s a wonderful children’s museum and contains a display of other Gilbert products.


So far, anyways

Came here to note the same.
Guarantee lawn darts had a higher lethality rate than this.

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