Boomers and early Gen-Xers will recognize these toys that once appealed to young engineers. Like me, many of you probably owned all of them, and spent countless hours playing with them.
These are the toys that inspired budding engineers to try out sublime designs, create miniature structures, and experiment with bizarre contraptions using sets that could be torn down and reconstructed over and over.
While Mom was OK with the Erector Set and the Lincoln Logs, the pointy Tinkertoy sticks and the model rockets made her nervous. But it was the strange smells and smoke coming off the chemistry set that really gave her the willies. How many of you out there did the full chemistry set whirl of seeing what you could get if you mixed every single chemical together in one frothing stew?
Click on the Heathkit below to start the slideshow. Then, in the comments section, tell us which toys inspired you as a kid.
Heathkits are products of the Heath Company. Its products over the decades have included electronic test equipment, high-fidelity home audio equipment, television receivers, amateur radio equipment, electronic ignition conversion modules for early model cars with point-style ignitions, and the influential hobbyist computers, which were sold in kit form for assembly by the purchaser. (Source: Oldcomputers.net)
Nice post Rob. A lot of these toys made me nostalgic and brought back old memories. I played a lot with the chemistry set and did countless fun experiments, which helped in building my interest in chemistry as i grew up.
This set was the reason i came to know, that if you mix hydrogen peroxide with potassium iodide you can make white foam like substance. I used to ruin my room with it and my mom didn't like it one bit. Another cool thing i used to make was artificial snow by mixing sodium polyacrylate with water.
Thanks Daniyal_Ali. I did all the same things with my chemistry set. I ran through about three sets when I was a kid. My mom hated it, too. "What are you doing in there?" she kept asking as strange smells wafted from the bedroom.
My first mechanical toy wasn't even really a toy - my dad had coffee cans filled with nuts, bolts, hinges an dother bits that I would spill out onto a newspaper and assemble in to different things. After that was an Erector set, and then later those "100 in 1" electronic kits. Radio Shack also use to sell kits in plastic perfboard boxes that had to be soldered together. I built a ton of those.
Yeah, that woodburner had a wonderful smell! So did the big Weller soldering GUN that i used to solder (and tear apart) old electronics. But, sad, i missed out on Girder & Panel - i don't remember that one at all, even though i had Legos with gears, wheels, and little axle blocks that you'd stick the wheel pins into. Anybody remember the old Lego train set, where you had to build the track from individual toothed rails and ties?
What about foundry engineering? I had a toy with molds for lead soldiers, a ladle and an electric burner. I learned that touching the lead with your fingertip to see if it has cooled off enough to open the mold is not a good idea. Can you imagine someone today selling a children's toy that involves molten lead? The toy soldiers also had guns so that would promote violence and probably warp a young boy's mind. Mr. Machine was also a classic, complete with a wrench so it could be disassembled and reassembled.
A later toy using a mold was the Mold Master. Plastic was melted in a cylinder, a mold inserted below, then a plunger pushed to force the plastic into the mold. There were various sets. I had the road construction set, with a bulldozer, trucks, little men, etc. The plastic was reusable if the toy broke. Great fun in a sandbox. Another case of potential burns, but like the lead, we quickly learned how to handle it. Might have helped develop some common sense.
I was really hoping for 10 out of 10, but that Chemistry Set knocked me out of a perfect score. Well...my mom would't let me have one.
I noticed that there were no Lego sets on there. With all the gears, belts, and chain drives available, it was possible to make some quite ingenious toys! I even built one of my college engineering projects out of them.
Hi Corona, I debated whether to include the chemistry set, but then I figured those who has the mechnical engineering toys probably also had the chemistry set. I thought about Lego, but Lego didn't appear until after most of these toys and I was already planning to use Lego has a major player in the next set of engineering fun -- today's toys. That should be out next week.
I wish i had used the Heathkits too. I heard a lot of stories about it from my dad, but never had a chance to use it as they were discontinued in the 90s. But i did use a lot of electronics kits that resulted in boosting my interest in the field of engineering and later helped me pursue my career in electrical engineering. I feel happy for children of today's age as they have a lot of learning opportunities with devices like littleBits which make engineering fruitful as well as fun.
Daniyal, I see that in my sons. They are older now, but they could/would look up information all the time. I was lucky in that my father would bring home the various vendor books when new ones came in. This was every six months or so. I recall the GE Transistor book, as well as those from Motorola and Fairchild. When I was in elementary school I saw integral signs in one of these books. I asked him what mathematics that was and made sure I could get to calculus in high school. If course, he took calculus in 11th grade (in the 1930s). Our school systems are just catching up.
I too was both surprised and disappointed to not see LEGO included in this article.
As a kid I looked forward to every Christmas morning when I would gleefully open a parcel post package sent from my grandparents in Scotland and relatives in Canada to the "wee Yankee." The parcels contained a LEGO kit with standard red and white bricks, gray panels and a few "special" parts (windows, doors and wheels). This was years before LEGO was sold in the U.S. I have many found memories of my uncle (a brick mason) teaching me how to build LEGO houses the "correct way" (staggering or overlapping the seams between the bricks). This resulted in designs so strong you could stand on them; something I demonstrated frequently to mum, dad and anyone else that was around.
I also remember many afternoons spent repeatedly building (and then crash landing) a B-17 (inspired by the WWII TV series "12 O'clock High") out of standard (not the very customized parts available today) LEGO bricks and panels. Later, as I got older, the kits were more advanced and included gears and motors.
Years later while in college, I even found myself digging out my LEGOs (yes I saved them) to solve a 3D engineering graphics problem.
My LEGOs have since been handed down to my two daughters who use them along with the more recent addition of the girl targeted LEGO Friends pink and pastel colored kits.
So, I'd lobby for a revised list with LEGO at the TOP!
I did have most of those, or my brother or sister had them, except for the rocket set. I had other rocket sets, the Alpha-1 and a pump-up water powered one. I don't see any way that anything could be blown up with the chemicals from one of those chemistry sets, all of the chemicals werem"quite safe", at least at the time that my brother got his set, about 1962. I did find out how to make gunpowder and rocket fuels, but not from any part of that chemistry set.
And I suppose that those items did stimulate me to explore what else could be made, as the projects in the books were usually quite simple.
I built mostly Knight Kits and Eico kits, and one Heathkit, those were always interesting. Likewise the various projects of the "8-in-one electronics kit-lab, which included both receivers and a couple of low-power transmitters. But that package had voltages that would never be permitted in any hobby stuff for anybody now. There were warnung about the 150 volts power on the terminals, and I never got any shocks. But it seems that presently even the very stupid people must be protected. What a way to stifle experimentation.
I had the Kenner Girder & Panel and was in awe of the thin flexible window panels because they were so much more realistic than building with tinker-toy pegs & spools (,,,the toy that sat un-played-with; banished to the island of misfit toys!) I built many a skyline with Girder & Panel as a kid. Funny, never had the erector set, but knew friends that did. ( Can't believe LEGOs weren't included ! )
I used to cut up Christmas lights and rewire them to install lighting in them. No insulation on the splices, it's a wonder I didn't electrocute myself (I was 10 at the time) but I was careful and never had a mishap.
Oh I had a mishap or two – I remember rewiring a lamp socket that was still plugged in, and everything was going fine, until my idiot friend flipped-on the wall switch.I was about 10 at the time, and got that first 110V shock.Over the years there were several more to follow with varying degrees of humor.My wife still tells of the story of the Dryer-220 mishap ,,,,, that one actually blew me back, airborne for a little bit. Still funny.Dear God, thanks for saving the idiot that I (was/am).
I am not sure if this has been covered by DN, but what the heck :)
The people who now own the Heathkit brand are talking about bringing it back. Surprisingly enough, they also seem really clued in to what made old style Heathkits great and the new maker/hacker space movement. Check them out:
Bringing back Heathkit would be great. I needed a power supply for my analog computer class in college (yes, I am that old). I was only able to afford a Heathkit dual tracking power supply kit. I still have it and still use it!
As I got more parts for the Kenner Girder and Panel building set, I got roadway pieces so I could build bridges. That set included cross-members that you could snap on in place of panels so you could strengthen all the rectangles! I was able to build bridges for my Matchbox cars that were amazingly rigid.
I also enjoyed Grandpa's coffee can full of bolts and nuts (and coffee grounds and pipe ashes). There was also Grandma's coffee can full of buttons for a cleaner indoor alternative.
'Scuze me, there's something in my eye...
I'm kind of a tree-hugger and hated to throw out packing materials. Some were so interestingly shaped. 35mm film cannisters, pill bottles, caps, tubes... I put them into a box for my kids. They used them to supplement their Lego and K'nex creations.
I had most of these, but my favorites were the erector set and model airplanes. While in grade school I spent many hours building vehicles ao all sortes with theerector set. As I got older (and my uncle donated a few engines) I loved builing, flying, and repairing airplanes. I learned as much about structures from fixing the planes after crashes as from building them.
I agree with you. I believe I too bought the wooden airplane. I was amazed at how simple pieces of lighweight wood can be shaped to fly - early signs of becoming an engineer. I also had the slotted racing set, endless hours of fun.
The Vac-U-Form heated a sheet of plastic that you flipped over a form and then pressed a handle to generate a vacuum to suck the softened plastic over the form.
The Mold Master heated bits of plastic to a molten state that you'd inject into a mold by pressing on a plunger. Some molds were multi-part, adding side details to the top and bottom of the main mold.
I guess my question is, where are all these wonderful toys today?
I suppose they were eventually deemed too hazardous. The Vac-U-Form taught you not to touch certain parts unless you wanted a painful blister and the Mold Master could drip hot plastic on you if you were careless.
I'm not asking for the return of lawn darts, but these toys were no more hazerdous than a kitchen stove.
I think our children no longer have toys that can teach them industrial processes.
Not everything can be learned from toys made of Nerf.
I'm with you – our country has suffered under Sue-Happy 'victims' refusing to take their own responsibility. ( a million dollars for spilled hot coffee; give me a break.)
The "now-dangerous" toys from Kenner and Mattel were great; Remember Creepy-Crawlers-? They encouraged 5 year olds to pour a liquid polymer from a bottle into a lead mold cavity and bake it to solidification. Once we perfected that process, they next came out with Creepy crawlers you could actually EAT; Mattel's Incredible–Edibles. I had all those toys as my first entry in the world of mold-tooling.
Sometimes I think today's kids will suffer if they don't land a career that involves watching a screen of some kind ,,,, Looking forward to next weeks' posts, Rob -- Thanks!
I owned or played with almost all of those toys as a child. I had the Girder & Panel set, but it was red instead of blue. I had a chemistry set and I wanted an alcohol burner for it. I took a baby food jar, put a hole in the lid, put a shoestring in it and filled it full of gasoline. The thing exploded and filled our basement full of burning gasoline. We got the fire put out, but I decided that electricity was safer. That set me on a path to becoming an electrical engineer.
Laughing over here --- we would build the Revell Model Battleships and float them in a short trash bushel filled with water, but put a light skim of gasoline floating on top to re-enact burning battle scenes. Amazing how many kids in the 60's routinely played with gasoline! Shame on us!
A friend of mine and I used to fill syringes with denatured alcohol, set up a candle in front of a Creeple People troll doll or plastic army man and then flamethrower them by squirting the alcohol through the flame to ignite it.
It was safer than holding a match in front of the aerosol nozzle of bug spray. :-)
Fun with fire. But I used to take the garbage out to be burned on the farm as a kid, so when it came to campfires I was the go to guy to arrange the logs to make a roaring fire.
I owned all of them, built 5 or 6 Heathkits, made my own circuit boards and homebrew projects too. My Favorite toys though were my Erector sets. I collect them today and other Gilbert Science kits. Beyone the toys shown, I was also a fan of the Mattel Thingmaker and Cox Shrike and 049 powered airplanes. Built RC models aplenty, crashed a few. Lots of Estes rockets and was a NAR member for 6 years.
I'm a Scoutmaster today and used Ramsey kits to teach Electronics Merit Badge. Simple little noisemakers the kids soldered up and hooked up to my Oscilliscope. They were stunned, had no idea they could "Make" an electronic gadget. Taught them how to weld too. There is a huge deficit in city youth practical skills that shows up in newbie Engineers who do not know how to do much but calculate. The industry needs to drive the academics to fix this.
I agree that hands on experience is valuable. I grew up with tools so I don't remember not having something to fix wagons or tricycles with. I was a Plumbing Merit Badge Counselor for a number of years. I was shocked to learn that some of the scouts had never even used screwdriver. They were thrilled when they made steel shavings threading a pipe and when they got to solder copper pipe fittings.
My hands on experience has been valuable. People are sometimes shocked that I, as a physicist, am also a skilled electronics technician, electrical engineer and mechanical engineer. I am well past the standard retirement age and I'm still having so much fun that I have no intention of retiring.
As a "certified pre-Boomer" I had 8 of these; slot cars and the panel/girder stuff were missing. Slot cars came after I had moved on to focus on electronics and chemistry as did the Legos mentioned by so many others, and I was never exposed to Girders and Panels. I was much more into Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, and Erector sets in my pre-teen years. I had several Gilbert sets, and became so involved that my friends and I built a fully equipped chem lab in my basement. One of those friend's father worked for Bell Labs, and got us a huge amount of surplus lab gear from there, until we had a REAL chem lab (analytical balance and all!), and BUCKETS full of early transistors (rejects from the submarine cable repeater program). By the time I was 12, I had an open account with Central Scientific and split my allowance and lawn-mowing income between them and Radio Row in NYC. My initial exposure to the commercial Estes rocket stuff was when I was in college, and worked as the Electronics/Science counselor in a summer camp in Lake Placid. Before that, my friends and I would build our rockets from scratch, using many different propellants. I had Lionel 027 gauge model trains (also in the basement), with 2 engines: one exactly like the picture in the slide show, the other a CAST IRON steam engine from the mid-1930's that I inherited from one of my uncles.
On the electronic side, I built Heathkits, Eico, EF Johnson, and Dynaco stuff. I've been a ham since 1957 although presently inactive, and am a Life member of ARRL.
I finally chose electronics over chemistry once I figured out companies would pay me to design electronics, but blowing stuff up, not so much! Now a Life Member of IEEE (when I joined, it was the IRE).
Oh, I forgot to mention: I had (and STILL DO) my original wood-burning tool. Soon after, I realized that the same tool could use a differnt heating element (from the same Unger company still around today) and become a soldering iron! In fact, I have in my desk at work the second 776 handle I bought in 1972 with a 4045 heating element. I still use it on occasion (with 60/40 "banned" solder) for tinning wires, soldering connectors to cables, etc. when the tech is not available.
My first engineering toy was a metal "steam shovel" that I could work with strings and levers and dig in my sandbox. This was immediately after the end of WWII when metal toys were still in short supply. My favorite construction toys were Tinkertoys, Lincoln Logs, Erector Set and Heathkits, in that order as I grew up. I also remember a Lego knock-off that let one build simple brick houses. The problem with the Erector set was that I could never afford enough pieces to build the big projects I saw in the documents that accompanied the set. I did like working with all the parts and hardware to assemble something that looked like the pictures or something of my own design. Another favorite hobby of my youth was diassembling old radios and sorting out the components. It took me a couple of years to realize that there were better uses for the tubes than s targets for my BB gun, lthough they did make pretty good targets. Needless to say I pursued a career in electronics and physics.
The picture of the rocket kit is just a plastic model set - not launching rockets.
Another missing engineering toy is the Vac-u-form.
The Kenner architectural girder and panel set I had as a boy was one of my favorite all time "toys." The structural girders looked exactly like real I-beams and it was infinitely variable in what could be built. The pieces fit together precisely and allowed for huge and intricate designs to be created. I looked for it when my kids were small but sadley could not find it - such a shame.
I did pretty good on the list, but most importantly, I'm passing most of it down to my seven year old son. (His older sister doesn't seem to be interested....)
I still have my blue girder and panel set from the 1980's, and not too many pieces are broken. Additionally, they are being made again by a small company. Check out Bridge Street toys: http://bridgestreettoys.com/
My son and I play with model trains, legos, girder and panel, lincoln logs, erector sets, Geotrax (awesome play trains), matchbox cars and track, slotcars, etc. but I haven't gotten him into model rockets yet. One of the most played toys we have, are two sets of unit blocks. He and his older sister build things and accessorize their buildings with other toys to make imaginary kingdoms. Good stuff.
Importantly, I let him use hand tools as much as possible, including the powered screwdriver/drill under supervision. When he was six, he helped me assemble his own loft bed, which gave him a sense of pride. He's learning the important skills of force, to not strip screws and break things, and how tape and glue can only fix certain items.
I hope to introduce him to electronics shortly, and he does have a flashlight and battery fetish (like his dad), so I bought him a battery tester two years ago.
My wife and I try to limit screen time on electronic devices for our kids, as we feel it doesn't do much for their brains. We actually notice bad behavior from them after they play on the computer for too long.
I have a desire to re-own a few of these. I've checked the ebay stuff a couple times and will eventually buy from there I think. I'm waiting until I get a few bigger things settled first though. The second childhood starts in about 7 years...
One of my best memories of using any of these engineering toys was regularly staying at my aunt's as a 10-12 year old. She had an extensive Tinker Toy collection, and a small solid fuel steam engine.
I would build small amusement rides and power them with the engine. Most of those were disassembled by cranking up the RPMs until the whole thing flew apart.
Most of my other best building/designing experiences as a kid though came as a result of living in a rundown city with lots of junk lying around. We would drag all kinds of stuff to the lot behind the house and then decide what to make with it. You should have seen some of the mix and match bicycle/go-cart/shopping cart combinations! Wish I had pics of that stuff.
@Ralphyboy ...and a small solid fuel steam engine. I would build small amusement rides and power them with the engine.
Great blog, brings back so many fond memories!
I had one of those steam engines, copper boiler filled with water and real fire (lawsuit bait today). But never could power anything with it, the flywheel pully always got soaking wet from the steam exhaust and the rubber band drive belt slipped. Still, it was a fascinating toy.
Another neat toy was a see-through-plastic 4 cylinder gasoline engine which was operated by turning a removable crank on the front of the crankshaft. The spark plugs were miniature light bulbs which glowed to represent ignition, there was an operating camshaft, valves, and pistons. Best of all everything could be dis-assembled (even the connecting rods from the crankshaft) and then re-assembled. Spent many happy hours with that toy.
There was also a microscope - nothing fancy, but one could grow a 'hay infusion zoo' and see those little microbes swimming around. Toy telescopes, on the other hand, were too cumbersome to use. Best to wait until the child is old enought to appreciate a quality telescope.
One of my older sibs had a chemistry set with a scope like that. I helped use it up/wear it out.
I remember that see-through engine too. I think Edmunds Scientific carried it. Their store here in S. Jersey was a place of wonder... full of all kinds of stuff.
As a youngster I all but drooled over the micro and telescopes in that store and in their catalogue. Now I own a 17.5" reflector (among others), and I was just in the middle of using the Bausch & Lomb stereo zoom microscope on my desk at work to scavenge components from a scrap circuit board...
Looks like I'm still dragging junk into my work space and trying to make useful stuff out of it. But now I get paid to do it. Funny how that worked out...
With the multitudes of electronics learning kids out now, like Lil' Bits, kids born today have so much more. The next generations better be tech-masters! If they end up end-user plebians... all is lost.
Maybe it was only in available in Canada and UK. Mecano was very similar to Erector. I built many things over the years including prototypes of machines I would later fabricate from metal stock. (Dad's shop was a machinist's dream) One of the toys I built was a race car that I mounted my .049 gas airplane engine to via a gearbox from gears supplied with the kit. Played/worked and bought expansion kits for this until I was about 12 years old.
I played with 9 out of those 10 items though I may have owned only half of them. Good to have playmates whose parents had similar ambitions for their progeny. My dad came home one evening with a one transistor AM radio kit back when transistors were very new. It used a Raytheon CK722.
But my first engineering toy was a good set of wooden blocks! After I outgrew them I re-used the "lumber" for other projects. The famous uncle of one of my playmates bought him a monthly subscription to some sort of simple science project kits. Uncle Albert, knowing his brother was a bit stingy, made sure his nephew was not deprived of scientific toys. I recall the paper making kit was a lot of fun.
I also have fond memories of using trash bin components to build a telephone system with wires running to the bedrooms of several of my friends. We'd stay up late experimenting and talking to each other on our party line while buried under our blankets so our parents wouldn't hear our late night experimental chats.
Ok, maybe this came along a little later, but one of the the very best Christmas presents I ever got was the Radio Shack 100 in 1 electronic project kit I got in 1973. It was a shallow wooden box about 18" x 30", with a cardboard insert that held multiple capacitors, resistors, a few transistors, speaker, some coils, even a crystal detector. Fitted with small springs for tie-points (all numbered), it had a collection of pre cut, pre-stripped and tinned jumper wires, color-coded by length. The guide book had a physical sketch of the completed circuit, a schematic, and a table showing the point to point connection numbers and wire color for each experiment. There was a brief writeup explaining how the circuit worked. You could build radio transmitters, receivers, oscillators, amazing amount of stuff. I wore it out!
I also had a lot of these as a kid, my parents started buying them when I was about four years old, Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs and something not mentioned was called American Bricks, made out of wood. They looked like small bricks but had six 'nipples' on them to snap together, along with other parts, you could build all kinds of buildings. I still have two unopened boxes of Kenner Panel and Girder sets, I think they were expansion sets and are red. I think I started getting them in the late 50s. I also had Erector sets (still have one of the motors). I started getting electronic kits in the early 60s, starting with a Knightkit Star Romer radio (still have it). I also got Heathkit and Eico kits, built one of the big Heathkit 25" color TVs (still have it) while I was in college. Trains were also on my list and now I have HO, O and G scale trains that my kids are also fond of. I still have several Aurora racing car sets dating back to the 1960s, all in working order.
I used the Kenner sets and American Bricks to build towns and bridges for the HO racing car sets and trains.
Sadly, many of my older toys, like the Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs and Erector sets are no longer with me, my Mother gave most of them to my Brother's kids who did not share my interests and managed to break, maime or just threw away the toys in a short time.
Excellent post Rob. These really take me back. My comments are very much in line with the others. I don't know how many Heath Kit I assembles and was fascinated by each one. Then the Gilbert Chemistry set; then the Erector Set. In my early teenage years I started building "U" control model airplanes. We had several spectacular "dog fights" with those models. I certainly believe the kids today miss out tremendously by spending time on video games and other garbage. Hands-on is the way to go because it always is accompanied by instructions that must be read and digested to accomplish the task. Again, great post.
I had 7 of this list of 10 items. Initially I wanted to be a chemist, so my parents got my a Chemistry Set, A. C Gilbert, I think. Many of the neighborhood boys also got them, but were not really interested in them. So, by March of several years I was able to add to my set quite a bit by taking these unwanted sets off their hands.
Two inflential things that I think should be on this list are;
1. The Atomic Energy Set, also from A.C. Gilbert, I think. It contained a cloud chamber, a geiger counter, several radioactive samples (where was the government child protective services then?), and several other items that I don't remember.
2. The Allied/Radio Shack electronics experimental kit. This was a breadboard that included three vacuum tubes, a power supply, various electrical components, and a manual that illustrated 10 projects. This kit persuaded me to go from chemistry to electronics.
I also had a sizable collection of electric trains and accessories, most of which I still have and will go on eBay before too long. These were O guage and O27 guage trains from Amrican Flyer and Lionel.
I had a woodburning set that came with interchageable tips. One of the tips was for soldering.
My brother & I had plastic American blocks. They were not like legos that now come as expensive predesigned projects. We've bought several of those for the grandkids.
I used the old AC motors from my Erector sets for a lot of things. The more recent sets came with flimsy battery motors.
I recently inherited a Meccano #6 "Engineering for Boys" set. Sexism was OK in those days.
Still in the original box from about 1927. Looks like it wasn't used much, but the box is well-worn.
I still have a model stationary steam engine. I played with a lot. I fired it up once for my kids, but never gave it to them. It has an electrically heated boiler. The terminals are not well isolated, so it's a shock hazard with the dripping water. Not to mention the live steam. It was low pressure, but still hot. Electrical toys were not well-insulated. There was no double insulation, or grounding, or GFIs.
In 1953 there was no CPSC and no requirement for safety in kids' toys. A friend had a set for molding toy soldiers out of molten lead! Can you imagine giving that to a kid today?
I forgot to mention that perhaps my favorite was the Knight 10-in-1 kit from about 1953. It used a vacuum tube. I learned a lot from that kit, and other Knight & Heath kits, and went on to build a lot of projects from scratch using articles from "Popular Electronics" and "Electronics" magazines. Favorite projects included a Tesla Coil and a Theremin.
I also read experiment books from the library, and built things like a Jacob's ladder. I used a Model T spark coil, and a neon sign transformer for high voltage sources. My mother didn't know about these.
Yes we had trains too. I still have 8mm movies of my first birthday and Christmas, which we watched recently. At 2 or 3 years old I had a wind-up Marx train, which I took apart a few years later. Next, I had an electric Marx train, which i eventualy took apart. That was followed by an A.C. Gilbert American Flyer train set. My friend had a Lionel and we would argue about which one was most realistic. (The Lionel had 3 rails, and t's accessories were way out of scale.) My brother still has the American Flyer. I didn't disassemble it, but I opened up the tender once to see the reversing relay.
When my son was 10, we started to build an HO layout. It's still in our basement, but hasn't been run for 30 years.
My father's first TV was a 7" Halllicrafters. When it died, I disassebled it, and remade it as an oscilloscope, using parts of schematics from the Heath & Knight catalogs.
I still have the Tesla coil I wound on a lathe in H.S. But I don't have any drive circuitry for it, so it's just a curiosity now.
I am actually a pre-boomer, born in 1941. I remember the day in 1945, when the war ended, my uncle sent us a box of things that he had picked up from a Nazi training camp. One was a telephone magneto, which I still have. It generates about 120V @ 20Hz. I connected it to small lights or a telephone bell.
Thanks for the trip Rob. I just had my early life pass before my eyes. The memories of so many hours spent with these and other toys is a joy. I still have my Lionel train set in the basement with the Santa Fe and over 200 ft. of track. The Bulsa Wood windup plane, Lincoln Log and Erector Sets shown are the exact models I played with. Thanks for the memories.
I'm surprised by how many of these toys I played with as a kid, especially the aviation toys. I was forced to play "Mystery Date" on a few occasions as well. I was one of only two boys in the neighborhood, so it was "Mystery Date" or playing alone.
Look for Bill Mumy is in a few of the commercials.
Wow, Tekochip, I could spend a lot of time watching your commercial reel. Quite fun. Back then, commercials must have been cheap to run on TV. Also, looking at the production values, it were clearly cheap to make.
It's funny how the commercials would use camera angles that made the toys look larger or add accessories that weren't included with the toy. My sister had the toy dog Gaylord, but what they didn't show in the commercial was how noisy that toy was! All those motors whirring in a hollow plastic body sounded like being inside a rusting Winnebago in a hail storm.
Great artcile. I had 8/10 of these. No Heath and no Gider and Panel set. I had Lego ( a lot). I used to cite Lego as an example of one of the ways good software and processes could be built. I also had a microscope, a Radio Shack electronics project kit, and a plastic construction kit kind of like tinkertoys, only based on some kind of bug/insect - and as I recall, they tasted kind of funny; the name escapes me. My Erector set was my favorite toy along with balsa wood planes and Estes rockets. Those AFX sets were high on the list also, because we used to visit the local hobby stores and build custom cars from the ground up. One other mention - did anyone have a "Johnny Astro"?
I remember the Lionel train sets very well. In particular, I recall a Lionel steam engine that included a small package of pills, which could be dropped one-by-one into the locomotive's smoke stack to create smoke.
I don't remember the Lionel steam engine, Chuck, but I certainly spent hours playing with Lincoln Logs. I saw a set of them recently in a store and contemplated buying them for my daughter ... until I saw the price tag. So, contrary to this article, SOME things have changed.
i didn't mix everything into a stew; i tried to get it to catch fire; after all, if smoke is good, flames are better! i had to do a double-take when i saw the Heathkit; i built a paper-tape reader and punch that was in a box almost exactly like the one shown, and it actually worked. couldn't use it too much, though, because it was *really* loud (huge solenoids).
Frank Hornby patented the Meccano set in 1901. The Erector set was first sold in 1913. I got my first Meccano set in 1949 at age 5 from my uncle in the U.S. Meccano rather than Erector was popular in Canada. It was my favorite toy, until I discovered Heathkit at 13. Meccano and Heathkit were my main influences in entering engineering.
At University I started noticing pieces of Meccano sets in my classmates homes. So I did a survey of the popularity of Meccano in Engineering students, Science students and Arts students. In that era, every engineer had a Meccano set and loved it. In the Science faculty it was about 50%. If an Arts student had even heard of Meccano, he hated it. Meccano encouraged creativity within strict part boundaries, just like engineering.
In our Electrical Engineering graduating class, it was only the students who were into Heathkit that ended up in electronic design for their careers. Heathkit's clear documentation really helped one to get into electronics. I still have my over 30 Heathkits in working order.
I found out quickly enough when hiring engineers that it was the ones really into related hobbies that ended up the best designers, not the ones with the highest marks. These days Meccano, Heathkit and cars seem to have been replaced by robotics as the most influential hobbies.
About the same time I was playing with Lincoln Logs in the late 40s or early 50s I had a set of rubber bricks similaer to legos except narrower, they only had one row of prongs and holes. As I recall the bricks had two prongs and were redish brown (brick color) and there were longer gray blocks that could be used as foundations or to bridge openings in walls. Anyone remember what they were called?
1. A. C. Gilbert Atomic Energy set. I had several of their chemistry sets and about Feb. of several years I would collect others from kids that got them as Christmas presents and were tired of them already. Anyway, the Atomic Energy set included a cloud chamber, geiger counter, several low-level radiation sources, and several other related items. I did every experiment in the book and then abandoned it as it no longer offered a challange to me, like the multiple chemistry sets did.
2. Radio Shack produced an electronic experiment kit. It included 3 or 4 vacuum tubes, a transformer for a power supply and filament voltage, a buzzer, resistors and capacitors, an assortment of wires, and some other electronic components that I can no longer remember. This kit was my first interest in electronics and was directly responsible for me becoming and electrical engineer. It was a bit dangerous with the high voltage for the B+ and exposed AC line voltage and would not be allowed today because of the potential hazards.
I also had the other mentioned toys; Erector Set, Tinker Toys, electric trains, etc.
@TRCSr: That's amazing that you mention the Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab; I just finished writing an article about that kit, which DesignNews will be running in the next week or so. Very intetested to hear your perspective as one of the few kids who actually got to play with this rare toy (only produced for 2 years).
@Dave Palmer; I still had that set, and in working order, into the 70's and gave it to a high school student that was interested in the field and was overjoyed to get it. I hope that it was the start of a good carrer for her in nuclear energy. I wish I would have kept her name and followed her carrer.
I do remember that it was only made for a few years, but did not remember that it was only 2. I was really lucky that my parents could see the potential learning experience that it would provide. At the time I wanted to be a Chemical Engineer, but the Radio Shack electronics kit changed me to EE.
Samsung's Galaxy line of smartphones used to fare quite well in the repairability department, but last year's flagship S5 model took a tumble, scoring a meh-inducing 5/10. Will the newly redesigned S6 lead us back into star-studded territory, or will we sink further into the depths of a repairability black hole?
In 2003, the world contained just over 500 million Internet-connected devices. By 2010, this figure had risen to 12.5 billion connected objects, almost six devices per individual with access to the Internet. Now, as we move into 2015, the number of connected 'things' is expected to reach 25 billion, ultimately edging toward 50 billion by the end of the decade.
NASA engineer Brian Trease studied abroad in Japan as a high school student and used to fold fast-food wrappers into cranes using origami techniques he learned in library books. Inspired by this, he began to imagine that origami could be applied to building spacecraft components, particularly solar panels that could one day send solar power from space to be used on earth.
Biomedical engineering is one of the fastest growing engineering fields; from medical devices and pharmaceuticals to more cutting-edge areas like tissue, genetic, and neural engineering, US biomedical engineers (BMEs) boast salaries nearly double the annual mean wage and have faster than average job growth.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.