Nifty experiments and mesmerizing clip art from vintage chemistry manuals


“The radioactive materials which are included are not harmful.”

Unlike, say, a spinthariscope included with boxes of Kix cereal which contained a sample of polonium that only had a half life of 138 days. Talk about something that could put your eye out!

As a young teenager I became intensely fascinated by radioactivity after reading Danny Dunn & The Fossil Cave. Alas I was born too late to get a chemistry set that included samples of radium and uranium.


I miss the old chemistry sets. Yes, you could easily injure yourself or others, but … The sets were bought and sold with the understanding that the person using them would have at least a smidgen of common sense. Despite many, many sessions with my set, I never once burned myself, spilled acid, set the house or neighborhood on fire, poisoned anyone, etc. It helped fuel my ongoing fascination with all things scientific, however. I fear that there’s now an entire generation of kids who will not go into chemistry or science because of fears of turning out chemistry hoodlums.

The Danny Dunn and Tom Swift books were awesome!

I never read the Tom Swift books (that’s an unfortunate gap in my education) but at least I can say that, yes, the Danny Dunn books were awesome. A few years ago I researched the background on them and ran across a funny comment by a critic, who said, “adults may wonder why the professor does not remove his laboratory and inventions from Danny’s vicinity.” Yes, Danny’s meddling often caused disaster, but it also resulted in some of Professor Bullfinch’s greatest inventions.

An interesting fact: Raymond Abrashkin, one of the co-authors of the series, suffered from ALS, and died in 1960. His partner Jay Williams kept writing Danny Dunn books until 1977, but, up until the end, Abrashkin was credited as co-author.

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You’re right - without Danny and his friends getting into mischief in the lab, the majority of the Professor’s discoveries and inventions wouldn’t have been made. One that pops into mind is the incredibly strong plastic that the kids made by accident, that allowed the Professor to create the deep-sea submersible.

That is interesting and actually very classy on the part of Mr. Williams. I wasn’t aware of that - thanks!

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Thanks for reminding me of Danny Dunn On The Ocean Floor–the first of the Danny Dunn books I read. I think it’s partly responsible for sparking my love of literature, since I was intrigued when the ship’s captain recited part of Ariel’s “Full fathom five” song from The Tempest.

Something else I forgot to mention previously is how cool it was that Danny’s friend Irene, who joined the series later, was at least as smart as Danny, and a lot more level-headed. She also had ambitions of becoming a scientist, which was very forward-thinking for the time.

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