Chemistry Sets

60’s Skilcraft chemistry set

Man, the things our parents let us play with in the 60’s and 70’s. I haven’t looked at modern-day chemistry sets, but in a land where you can’t get authentic Kinder Eggs because of the fear that you may be stupid enough to give the hidden toys inside to a child of less than three years of age, I can’t imagine either of the two chemistry sets I once owned being offered for sale today.

More’s the pity, because a chemistry set, circa 1970, made you more mature. Read on for more details.

My first set was a Skilcraft my parents bought me in 1970. I was ten years old. The manual that came with it was divided into two sections: lightweight magic you could perform with chemicals, and more serious experiments that would teach you about chemistry.

Kay chemistry set, possibly 50’s vintage

The magic tricks consisted of stuff like preparing two test tubes of clear liquids (one contained phenolphthalein solution, I can’t recall the other needed chemical) which you could mix together to magically form “grape juice.”

You can see where this is heading. Today’s poor, stupid, coddled youngsters, upon being told that they could make chemical “grape juice,” would obviously gorge themselves on it, necessitating an emergency room visit, as well as lots of legal action.

At least that’s what our modern society would have you believe.

The more serious section of the Skilcraft manual taught you how acids and bases would interact, how you could use red and blue litmus paper to detect them, how you could mix two liquid chemicals to immediately form a solid precipitate, and how it happened at the molecular level, stuff like that.

As much as I ate that stuff up, I’m surprised that I never pursued a career in the field. In fact, I never even took chemistry in high school, despite the urgings of the teacher to do so. Don’t ask me why.

But I seriously loved messing with my chemistry set when I was ten. Eventually, it fell into disrepair and vanished. But when I was TWELVE, I got the most equipped Skilcraft set that they made!

I was in heaven. This incredible set even came with a balance beam, so you could compare the weights of chemicals! Cool stuff indeed.

Just think for a moment about what kids were given: Chemistry sets came with an alcohol lamp, which you filled with the flammable liquid, lit with a match, and used to provide intense heat for experimentation purposes. They also came with glass test tubes, which could shatter upon impact, or even from heating them too fast. They came with lots of chemicals, most of which were relatively harmless, but a few of which (e.g. cobalt chloride) had long, finely worded warnings printed on the back of the bottle warning of dire consequences in the unfortunate event you poured them into your eyes, or ingested them. And carelessly mixing benign ingredients without guidance could create harmful reactions, as well.

Ergo, a ten-year-old with a chemistry set instantly became a mature young man who knew how to safely handle fire (the enclosed manual stepped you through it), potentially dangerous chemicals, breakable glassware, and also knew enough not to venture too far in experimentation.

It’s a pity today’s ten-year-olds aren’t given the opportunity to do the same

3 thoughts on “Chemistry Sets”

  1. I would find Chemistry set at Goodwill and garage sales for cheap. I had 3 of them, and even made flash powder, which impressed my friends. I took chemistry in Jr high, loved it, would sneak beakers and Bunsen and burners home in my lunch box (my teacher caught me with a graduated cylinder, he let me keep it but told me not to say he let me have it) and used them to conduct all kinds of mad scientist experiments. I signed up for AP chemistry in the 9th grade, received conformation in the mail during the summer, but when I showed up the get my class schedule they had given my spot away. They put me in shop class where I was beaten daily by the other students, a nerd out of water. They didn’t offer regular chemistry classes in my high school, so I couldn’t take it cause I didn’t take it in the 9th. I did get trained in chemical properties in the AF Photography School, and later as a HAZMAT technician. I guess I used some of what I learned from the chemistry sets.

    1. Rob, your story is making me smile broadly because I too had a chemistry set – probably more like in the mid-60s – and I had a hoot mixing 2 clear liquids together in a test tube to make it turn bright pink. I used baking soda and white vinegar to launch a rocket (I stuck a needle into the tip of the rocket so it would stick into the ceiling of my bedroom.) I’m not a parent, but am acutely aware of the fear of disasters such as ingestion of something life threatening, something exploding and making me blind……. and I still wonder how parents have changed so much since mine bought me these things as birthday gifts. I loved them but never enjoyed Chemistry in school. NOW, though, I compare my profession as a Chef, who teaches adults to cook healthy home cooked food – mostly plant based – and I find myself using the science I learned from the chemistry sets as “reduce a sauce” (the steam evaporates the liquid and leaves a thicker, more concentrated flavor). Heating, Freezing, Thawing changes the texture based on what the moisture content, or the structure of the food item. A lot of fun as I now play in my own kitchen as if it’s a giant chemistry set all over again. But sadly I haven’t yet launched a rocket from my stovetop to my ceiling. Maybe that’s a good thing, but I’m seriously considering it! Maybe the exploding id of a pressure cooker would make an impression??

  2. The times have changed. So many rules and regulations leading to law suits and responsibility to manufacturing.. Like gun being produced.
    Homeland Security changed it all. I ventured into making fireworks. Ones that go Boom not bang. I got put on the terrist watch list . Gun colectir too so I guess they felt I was a threat. No I grew up in a time with bb guns and chemistry sets . Now that’s taboo,..

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