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The Ghosts of Christmas Presents Past: Atomic Bomb Kits

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Number two: Chemistry Sets and Atomic Bomb Kits

ONCE upon a time, kids didn’t only wear shorts, shirts and ties at school; they wore them at home too, and probably in bed. But then, in those days playing at home was a bit like being at school.

In fact it was a lot like being at school, especially if one’s “toy” was the ever-popular Merit Chemistry Outfit (tie not included). With this kit, a young boy (or girl, providing she hid her pigtails and wore shorts, short and tie) could experience the fun of a double-science lesson at any time in Room B (bedroom) or Room K (kitchen).

These sets were quite fancy by the standards of British toys of the day (lump of coal with a face drawn on it, old cork with whiskers and a string tail, etc). In America, however, things were fancier still. And fanciest of all was the A.C. Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab.

This Armageddon-in-a-box didn’t come cheap – it retailed at $49.50 in 1951 – but then it didn’t exactly stint on the equipment. Contents included a U-239 Geiger radiation counter, an electroscope, a

Spinthariscope, a Wilson Cloud Chamber, some nuclear spheres, four samples of Uranium-bearing ores,
and three “radioactive sources”.
Oh, and a booklet on how to split the atom, written by the director of the Manhattan Project.

The best you could do with a Merit set was make a few stink bombs and set fire to the curtains. The junior atomic lab, on the other hand, opened up previously undreamt of opportunities for homemade fun.

Fact: A.C. Gilbert was also the man behind the best-selling Erector Set. Relax, ladies, it was a kind of Meccano.

Ed Barrett

For more A.C. Gilbert:

www.americanmemorabilia.com

www.girdersandgears.com

  • Anorak you always make me giggle. Will you marry me?

  • annie1

    Well, what a coincidence!! Only this morning at breakfast my granddaughter asked me what Father Christmas brought for me when I was a kid – the only thing I have a really vivid memory of (and still have the test tubes) was my Chemistry set…… I did have a book about fairies which was 6ft by 3ft – sent by post from my gradparents and the postie had to deliver it on his way home because he couldnt carry it on his bike……..Oh happy days!!

  • June

    I did manage to set the rubbish bin alight in the science lab….

  • I had one of these ‘grow your own ants’ or some such, never did work so threw it away in the compost heap. Now my garden is one giant formicary.

  • peggy

    Given the drastic system failure, I’m not sure that the scientists responsible for the Hadron Collider’s failed maiden mission are any different or any more qualified to mess with global physics than my older brothers, who brought our house to a regular standstill with their electrical/chemical experiments in the early 70s.

  • T f smythe QJM

    Al quaeda and syrian ministers of doom and the like are scouring eBay for these as we speak. We are doomed I tell you…ddddoooommmed!

  • T f smythe QJM

    I was a merit chemistry set owner. I was disappointed then with the largely inert selection.

  • Anorak you always make me giggle. Will you marry me?

  • annie1

    Well, what a coincidence!! Only this morning at breakfast my granddaughter asked me what Father Christmas brought for me when I was a kid – the only thing I have a really vivid memory of (and still have the test tubes) was my Chemistry set…… I did have a book about fairies which was 6ft by 3ft – sent by post from my gradparents and the postie had to deliver it on his way home because he couldnt carry it on his bike……..Oh happy days!!

  • June

    I did manage to set the rubbish bin alight in the science lab….

  • I had one of these ‘grow your own ants’ or some such, never did work so threw it away in the compost heap. Now my garden is one giant formicary.

  • peggy

    Given the drastic system failure, I’m not sure that the scientists responsible for the Hadron Collider’s failed maiden mission are any different or any more qualified to mess with global physics than my older brothers, who brought our house to a regular standstill with their electrical/chemical experiments in the early 70s.

  • T f smythe QJM

    Al quaeda and syrian ministers of doom and the like are scouring eBay for these as we speak. We are doomed I tell you…ddddoooommmed!

  • T f smythe QJM

    I was a merit chemistry set owner. I was disappointed then with the largely inert selection.

  • Anorak you always make me giggle. Will you marry me?

  • annie1

    Well, what a coincidence!! Only this morning at breakfast my granddaughter asked me what Father Christmas brought for me when I was a kid – the only thing I have a really vivid memory of (and still have the test tubes) was my Chemistry set…… I did have a book about fairies which was 6ft by 3ft – sent by post from my gradparents and the postie had to deliver it on his way home because he couldnt carry it on his bike……..Oh happy days!!

  • June

    I did manage to set the rubbish bin alight in the science lab….

  • I had one of these ‘grow your own ants’ or some such, never did work so threw it away in the compost heap. Now my garden is one giant formicary.

  • peggy

    Given the drastic system failure, I’m not sure that the scientists responsible for the Hadron Collider’s failed maiden mission are any different or any more qualified to mess with global physics than my older brothers, who brought our house to a regular standstill with their electrical/chemical experiments in the early 70s.

  • T f smythe QJM

    Al quaeda and syrian ministers of doom and the like are scouring eBay for these as we speak. We are doomed I tell you…ddddoooommmed!

  • T f smythe QJM

    I was a merit chemistry set owner. I was disappointed then with the largely inert selection.

  • Anorak you always make me giggle. Will you marry me?

  • annie1

    Well, what a coincidence!! Only this morning at breakfast my granddaughter asked me what Father Christmas brought for me when I was a kid – the only thing I have a really vivid memory of (and still have the test tubes) was my Chemistry set…… I did have a book about fairies which was 6ft by 3ft – sent by post from my gradparents and the postie had to deliver it on his way home because he couldnt carry it on his bike……..Oh happy days!!

  • June

    I did manage to set the rubbish bin alight in the science lab….

  • I had one of these ‘grow your own ants’ or some such, never did work so threw it away in the compost heap. Now my garden is one giant formicary.

  • peggy

    Given the drastic system failure, I’m not sure that the scientists responsible for the Hadron Collider’s failed maiden mission are any different or any more qualified to mess with global physics than my older brothers, who brought our house to a regular standstill with their electrical/chemical experiments in the early 70s.

  • T f smythe QJM

    Al quaeda and syrian ministers of doom and the like are scouring eBay for these as we speak. We are doomed I tell you…ddddoooommmed!

  • T f smythe QJM

    I was a merit chemistry set owner. I was disappointed then with the largely inert selection.

  • Anorak you always make me giggle. Will you marry me?

  • annie1

    Well, what a coincidence!! Only this morning at breakfast my granddaughter asked me what Father Christmas brought for me when I was a kid – the only thing I have a really vivid memory of (and still have the test tubes) was my Chemistry set…… I did have a book about fairies which was 6ft by 3ft – sent by post from my gradparents and the postie had to deliver it on his way home because he couldnt carry it on his bike……..Oh happy days!!

  • June

    I did manage to set the rubbish bin alight in the science lab….

  • I had one of these ‘grow your own ants’ or some such, never did work so threw it away in the compost heap. Now my garden is one giant formicary.

  • peggy

    Given the drastic system failure, I’m not sure that the scientists responsible for the Hadron Collider’s failed maiden mission are any different or any more qualified to mess with global physics than my older brothers, who brought our house to a regular standstill with their electrical/chemical experiments in the early 70s.

  • T f smythe QJM

    Al quaeda and syrian ministers of doom and the like are scouring eBay for these as we speak. We are doomed I tell you…ddddoooommmed!

  • T f smythe QJM

    I was a merit chemistry set owner. I was disappointed then with the largely inert selection.

  • Anorak you always make me giggle. Will you marry me?

  • annie1

    Well, what a coincidence!! Only this morning at breakfast my granddaughter asked me what Father Christmas brought for me when I was a kid – the only thing I have a really vivid memory of (and still have the test tubes) was my Chemistry set…… I did have a book about fairies which was 6ft by 3ft – sent by post from my gradparents and the postie had to deliver it on his way home because he couldnt carry it on his bike……..Oh happy days!!

  • June

    I did manage to set the rubbish bin alight in the science lab….

  • I had one of these ‘grow your own ants’ or some such, never did work so threw it away in the compost heap. Now my garden is one giant formicary.

  • peggy

    Given the drastic system failure, I’m not sure that the scientists responsible for the Hadron Collider’s failed maiden mission are any different or any more qualified to mess with global physics than my older brothers, who brought our house to a regular standstill with their electrical/chemical experiments in the early 70s.

  • T f smythe QJM

    Al quaeda and syrian ministers of doom and the like are scouring eBay for these as we speak. We are doomed I tell you…ddddoooommmed!

  • T f smythe QJM

    I was a merit chemistry set owner. I was disappointed then with the largely inert selection.

  • Anorak you always make me giggle. Will you marry me?

  • annie1

    Well, what a coincidence!! Only this morning at breakfast my granddaughter asked me what Father Christmas brought for me when I was a kid – the only thing I have a really vivid memory of (and still have the test tubes) was my Chemistry set…… I did have a book about fairies which was 6ft by 3ft – sent by post from my gradparents and the postie had to deliver it on his way home because he couldnt carry it on his bike……..Oh happy days!!

  • June

    I did manage to set the rubbish bin alight in the science lab….

  • I had one of these ‘grow your own ants’ or some such, never did work so threw it away in the compost heap. Now my garden is one giant formicary.

  • peggy

    Given the drastic system failure, I’m not sure that the scientists responsible for the Hadron Collider’s failed maiden mission are any different or any more qualified to mess with global physics than my older brothers, who brought our house to a regular standstill with their electrical/chemical experiments in the early 70s.

  • T f smythe QJM

    Al quaeda and syrian ministers of doom and the like are scouring eBay for these as we speak. We are doomed I tell you…ddddoooommmed!

  • T f smythe QJM

    I was a merit chemistry set owner. I was disappointed then with the largely inert selection.

  • Anorak you always make me giggle. Will you marry me?

  • annie1

    Well, what a coincidence!! Only this morning at breakfast my granddaughter asked me what Father Christmas brought for me when I was a kid – the only thing I have a really vivid memory of (and still have the test tubes) was my Chemistry set…… I did have a book about fairies which was 6ft by 3ft – sent by post from my gradparents and the postie had to deliver it on his way home because he couldnt carry it on his bike……..Oh happy days!!

  • June

    I did manage to set the rubbish bin alight in the science lab….

  • I had one of these ‘grow your own ants’ or some such, never did work so threw it away in the compost heap. Now my garden is one giant formicary.

  • peggy

    Given the drastic system failure, I’m not sure that the scientists responsible for the Hadron Collider’s failed maiden mission are any different or any more qualified to mess with global physics than my older brothers, who brought our house to a regular standstill with their electrical/chemical experiments in the early 70s.

  • T f smythe QJM

    Al quaeda and syrian ministers of doom and the like are scouring eBay for these as we speak. We are doomed I tell you…ddddoooommmed!

  • T f smythe QJM

    I was a merit chemistry set owner. I was disappointed then with the largely inert selection.

  • Anorak you always make me giggle. Will you marry me?

  • annie1

    Well, what a coincidence!! Only this morning at breakfast my granddaughter asked me what Father Christmas brought for me when I was a kid – the only thing I have a really vivid memory of (and still have the test tubes) was my Chemistry set…… I did have a book about fairies which was 6ft by 3ft – sent by post from my gradparents and the postie had to deliver it on his way home because he couldnt carry it on his bike……..Oh happy days!!

  • June

    I did manage to set the rubbish bin alight in the science lab….

  • I had one of these ‘grow your own ants’ or some such, never did work so threw it away in the compost heap. Now my garden is one giant formicary.

  • peggy

    Given the drastic system failure, I’m not sure that the scientists responsible for the Hadron Collider’s failed maiden mission are any different or any more qualified to mess with global physics than my older brothers, who brought our house to a regular standstill with their electrical/chemical experiments in the early 70s.

  • T f smythe QJM

    Al quaeda and syrian ministers of doom and the like are scouring eBay for these as we speak. We are doomed I tell you…ddddoooommmed!

  • T f smythe QJM

    I was a merit chemistry set owner. I was disappointed then with the largely inert selection.

  • Anorak you always make me giggle. Will you marry me?

  • annie1

    Well, what a coincidence!! Only this morning at breakfast my granddaughter asked me what Father Christmas brought for me when I was a kid – the only thing I have a really vivid memory of (and still have the test tubes) was my Chemistry set…… I did have a book about fairies which was 6ft by 3ft – sent by post from my gradparents and the postie had to deliver it on his way home because he couldnt carry it on his bike……..Oh happy days!!

  • June

    I did manage to set the rubbish bin alight in the science lab….

  • I had one of these ‘grow your own ants’ or some such, never did work so threw it away in the compost heap. Now my garden is one giant formicary.

  • peggy

    Given the drastic system failure, I’m not sure that the scientists responsible for the Hadron Collider’s failed maiden mission are any different or any more qualified to mess with global physics than my older brothers, who brought our house to a regular standstill with their electrical/chemical experiments in the early 70s.

  • T f smythe QJM

    Al quaeda and syrian ministers of doom and the like are scouring eBay for these as we speak. We are doomed I tell you…ddddoooommmed!

  • T f smythe QJM

    I was a merit chemistry set owner. I was disappointed then with the largely inert selection.

  • Anorak you always make me giggle. Will you marry me?

  • annie1

    Well, what a coincidence!! Only this morning at breakfast my granddaughter asked me what Father Christmas brought for me when I was a kid – the only thing I have a really vivid memory of (and still have the test tubes) was my Chemistry set…… I did have a book about fairies which was 6ft by 3ft – sent by post from my gradparents and the postie had to deliver it on his way home because he couldnt carry it on his bike……..Oh happy days!!

  • June

    I did manage to set the rubbish bin alight in the science lab….

  • I had one of these ‘grow your own ants’ or some such, never did work so threw it away in the compost heap. Now my garden is one giant formicary.

  • peggy

    Given the drastic system failure, I’m not sure that the scientists responsible for the Hadron Collider’s failed maiden mission are any different or any more qualified to mess with global physics than my older brothers, who brought our house to a regular standstill with their electrical/chemical experiments in the early 70s.

  • T f smythe QJM

    Al quaeda and syrian ministers of doom and the like are scouring eBay for these as we speak. We are doomed I tell you…ddddoooommmed!

  • T f smythe QJM

    I was a merit chemistry set owner. I was disappointed then with the largely inert selection.

  • Anorak you always make me giggle. Will you marry me?

  • annie1

    Well, what a coincidence!! Only this morning at breakfast my granddaughter asked me what Father Christmas brought for me when I was a kid – the only thing I have a really vivid memory of (and still have the test tubes) was my Chemistry set…… I did have a book about fairies which was 6ft by 3ft – sent by post from my gradparents and the postie had to deliver it on his way home because he couldnt carry it on his bike……..Oh happy days!!

  • June

    I did manage to set the rubbish bin alight in the science lab….

  • I had one of these ‘grow your own ants’ or some such, never did work so threw it away in the compost heap. Now my garden is one giant formicary.

  • peggy

    Given the drastic system failure, I’m not sure that the scientists responsible for the Hadron Collider’s failed maiden mission are any different or any more qualified to mess with global physics than my older brothers, who brought our house to a regular standstill with their electrical/chemical experiments in the early 70s.

  • T f smythe QJM

    Al quaeda and syrian ministers of doom and the like are scouring eBay for these as we speak. We are doomed I tell you…ddddoooommmed!

  • T f smythe QJM

    I was a merit chemistry set owner. I was disappointed then with the largely inert selection.

  • Anorak you always make me giggle. Will you marry me?

  • annie1

    Well, what a coincidence!! Only this morning at breakfast my granddaughter asked me what Father Christmas brought for me when I was a kid – the only thing I have a really vivid memory of (and still have the test tubes) was my Chemistry set…… I did have a book about fairies which was 6ft by 3ft – sent by post from my gradparents and the postie had to deliver it on his way home because he couldnt carry it on his bike……..Oh happy days!!

  • June

    I did manage to set the rubbish bin alight in the science lab….

  • I had one of these ‘grow your own ants’ or some such, never did work so threw it away in the compost heap. Now my garden is one giant formicary.

  • peggy

    Given the drastic system failure, I’m not sure that the scientists responsible for the Hadron Collider’s failed maiden mission are any different or any more qualified to mess with global physics than my older brothers, who brought our house to a regular standstill with their electrical/chemical experiments in the early 70s.

  • T f smythe QJM

    Al quaeda and syrian ministers of doom and the like are scouring eBay for these as we speak. We are doomed I tell you…ddddoooommmed!

  • T f smythe QJM

    I was a merit chemistry set owner. I was disappointed then with the largely inert selection.

  • Anorak you always make me giggle. Will you marry me?

  • annie1

    Well, what a coincidence!! Only this morning at breakfast my granddaughter asked me what Father Christmas brought for me when I was a kid – the only thing I have a really vivid memory of (and still have the test tubes) was my Chemistry set…… I did have a book about fairies which was 6ft by 3ft – sent by post from my gradparents and the postie had to deliver it on his way home because he couldnt carry it on his bike……..Oh happy days!!

  • June

    I did manage to set the rubbish bin alight in the science lab….

  • I had one of these ‘grow your own ants’ or some such, never did work so threw it away in the compost heap. Now my garden is one giant formicary.

  • peggy

    Given the drastic system failure, I’m not sure that the scientists responsible for the Hadron Collider’s failed maiden mission are any different or any more qualified to mess with global physics than my older brothers, who brought our house to a regular standstill with their electrical/chemical experiments in the early 70s.

  • T f smythe QJM

    Al quaeda and syrian ministers of doom and the like are scouring eBay for these as we speak. We are doomed I tell you…ddddoooommmed!

  • T f smythe QJM

    I was a merit chemistry set owner. I was disappointed then with the largely inert selection.

  • Anorak you always make me giggle. Will you marry me?

  • annie1

    Well, what a coincidence!! Only this morning at breakfast my granddaughter asked me what Father Christmas brought for me when I was a kid – the only thing I have a really vivid memory of (and still have the test tubes) was my Chemistry set…… I did have a book about fairies which was 6ft by 3ft – sent by post from my gradparents and the postie had to deliver it on his way home because he couldnt carry it on his bike……..Oh happy days!!

  • June

    I did manage to set the rubbish bin alight in the science lab….

  • I had one of these ‘grow your own ants’ or some such, never did work so threw it away in the compost heap. Now my garden is one giant formicary.

  • peggy

    Given the drastic system failure, I’m not sure that the scientists responsible for the Hadron Collider’s failed maiden mission are any different or any more qualified to mess with global physics than my older brothers, who brought our house to a regular standstill with their electrical/chemical experiments in the early 70s.

  • T f smythe QJM

    Al quaeda and syrian ministers of doom and the like are scouring eBay for these as we speak. We are doomed I tell you…ddddoooommmed!

  • T f smythe QJM

    I was a merit chemistry set owner. I was disappointed then with the largely inert selection.

  • Anorak you always make me giggle. Will you marry me?

  • annie1

    Well, what a coincidence!! Only this morning at breakfast my granddaughter asked me what Father Christmas brought for me when I was a kid – the only thing I have a really vivid memory of (and still have the test tubes) was my Chemistry set…… I did have a book about fairies which was 6ft by 3ft – sent by post from my gradparents and the postie had to deliver it on his way home because he couldnt carry it on his bike……..Oh happy days!!

  • June

    I did manage to set the rubbish bin alight in the science lab….

  • I had one of these ‘grow your own ants’ or some such, never did work so threw it away in the compost heap. Now my garden is one giant formicary.

  • peggy

    Given the drastic system failure, I’m not sure that the scientists responsible for the Hadron Collider’s failed maiden mission are any different or any more qualified to mess with global physics than my older brothers, who brought our house to a regular standstill with their electrical/chemical experiments in the early 70s.

  • T f smythe QJM

    Al quaeda and syrian ministers of doom and the like are scouring eBay for these as we speak. We are doomed I tell you…ddddoooommmed!

  • T f smythe QJM

    I was a merit chemistry set owner. I was disappointed then with the largely inert selection.

  • Anorak you always make me giggle. Will you marry me?

  • annie1

    Well, what a coincidence!! Only this morning at breakfast my granddaughter asked me what Father Christmas brought for me when I was a kid – the only thing I have a really vivid memory of (and still have the test tubes) was my Chemistry set…… I did have a book about fairies which was 6ft by 3ft – sent by post from my gradparents and the postie had to deliver it on his way home because he couldnt carry it on his bike……..Oh happy days!!

  • June

    I did manage to set the rubbish bin alight in the science lab….

  • I had one of these ‘grow your own ants’ or some such, never did work so threw it away in the compost heap. Now my garden is one giant formicary.

  • peggy

    Given the drastic system failure, I’m not sure that the scientists responsible for the Hadron Collider’s failed maiden mission are any different or any more qualified to mess with global physics than my older brothers, who brought our house to a regular standstill with their electrical/chemical experiments in the early 70s.

  • T f smythe QJM

    Al quaeda and syrian ministers of doom and the like are scouring eBay for these as we speak. We are doomed I tell you…ddddoooommmed!

  • T f smythe QJM

    I was a merit chemistry set owner. I was disappointed then with the largely inert selection.