It was the chemistry set. There were three primary American producers, Chemcraft, Porter Science and Gilbert that built the kits baby boomers owned. The kits generally contained a balance, an alcohol lamp, helpful instructions and a collection of chemicals. They ranged in price, depending on their contents, and the chemistry sets were relatively inexpensive. Talk about celebrity endorsements … Superman actually endorsed the Gilbert chemistry set.
In researching this article, I was particularly amazed by the gender typing of these “toys.” Apparently, girls could be only lab technicians, but boys could make it all the way to “mad scientist.”
During the 1950s, while most of the chemicals were harmless, there were some items that should have been concerning, like sodium cyanide and the radioactive uranium ore that was in the “Atomic Energy Lab.” The same goes for the equipment in the kits, especially those kits that came with blowtorches.
In the 1960s, America became concerned with safety. Requirements for labeling quickly removed dangerous items. Toxic substances, acids, lead and alcohol lamps were prohibited, and chemistry sets became less popular. How much fun could you really have without hydrochloric acid, potassium nitrate and formaldehyde?
I’m guessing that owning a chemistry set today might invite surveillance and scrutiny from the Department of Homeland Security.