Edmund Scientific

Sears calls its Christmas catalog the Wish Book, but while it’s true that, as a kid, I spent a fair amount of time each year browsing through its pages of toys, there was another catalog I found even more interesting, not just at Christmas, but all through the year: my own personal “wish book,” the Edmund Scientific Catalog.

Edmund Scientific is a New Jersey company that sells professional optical equipment to laboratories, but it also has a consumer science division that sells scientific items to schools, hobbyists, and anyone else who might have a need for, say, a hand-held altimeter that tells you at all times what your personal elevation is (up to 15,000 feet).

The company offers a free catalog, and when I was about 10 or 11, I discovered that fact and made sure, for the next several years, that I always had the latest issue. I think the only thing I ever actually ordered from the company was some prepared slides to look at through my microscope, but I always figured that some day, I’d be able to buy some of the other cool stuff I saw there.

I’d forgotten about it until just a week or so ago, when I saw an Edmund Scientific ad in a copy of Science News, a weekly science magazine I subscribe to. The ad looked just the same as Edmund Scientific stuff has always looked–black and white, tiny print, little photos and drawings that look like they haven’t changed since 1957 (with one major exception: the company now has a website, www.edsci.com, where they feature more than 300 of their most popular items).

Overcome by a wave of nostalgia, I decided to take a look at what the company is offering now, and maybe in the process, offer up some gift ideas for Christmas. (Some of these items you might be able to get locally, in the Discovery Shop at the Saskatchewan Science Centre, for instance; I’d look there and in your other favorite toy stores first.)

Not surprisingly, since Edmund started out as an optics company, there are always lots of great telescopes, binoculars and microscopes for sale in its catalogs. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: these are the best gifts you can give a kid with a bent for exploring the natural world. Of all the Christmas presents I ever got, I enjoyed the microscope and binoculars best, I think. (I bought my own telescope by saving up my allowance.) The current Edmund catalog offers the Astroscan 2001 wide-field telescope, a 400X student microscope, and US Navy Specification 7X50 binoculars (although, if you prefer, you can also get “Authentic Russian KGB Micro Binoculars,” which are apparently companion pieces to the authentic Russian laser-pointer).

These are all very traditional scientific gifts, as are chemistry sets, something else you can get from Edmund Scientific…although the packaging has changed since my day. My chemistry set contained chemicals which (I know from personal experience) could be mixed in such a way that they would get so hot they’d actually make a test tube shatter. Now you can get a chemistry set, designed for the Smithsonian Institution by scientists at Princeton University, that encloses each chemical in a protected spillproof bottle, from which the contents are transferred to a spillproof experiment dish by special droppers. The chemicals are all diluted, too.

I’m sure that’s very reassuring for parents and has cut down on product-liability lawsuits against chemistry-set manufacturers, but it’s not very appealing to your average 10-year-old boy, who would probably much rather have the “Crash & Burn Chemistry Kit,” “a journey into basic chemical versus physical reactions.” More sensitive types might prefer “The Science of Scent,” a chemistry set that lets you make perfumes with fragrance oils such as jasmine, lily of the valley, heliotrope, apple and peppermint; but I’ll bet the “Slime Kit” (“An introduction to colloids…make pseudo putty, foam and slime, form a starch blob and create cornstarch goo!”) outsells it.

Outside the familiar world of telescopes and chemistry sets, thought, is where I always looked first in my Edmund Scientific catalog, because that’s where the really neat stuff was to be found. It was always stuff I had no conceivable use for, mind you, but that had nothing to do with its coolness quotient. And Edmund Scientific, I’m pleased to note, has maintained its coolness as the years have gone by (much like myself).

So, you can find things like “Sound Conditioners,” which issue “white sound” to block out street noise, television and stereos, snoring, and more; or, in another model designed for use in the nursery, issue a digital recording of an ultrasound scan of a pregnant woman (the theory being this will soothe baby back to sleep.)

There’s the high-intensity fluorescent lantern that requires no batteries because it’s powered by salt water…the battery operated electric-motor-powered plastic submarine, more than a foot long…the hand-held global positioning satellite navigation system that can tell you your position in latitude and longitude at the push of a button…the ES Mighty Magnet that can lift more than 200 pounds (which Edmund touts as being a “must” for a boat to pick up objects you’ve dropped overboard–just don’t get it near your watch or credit cards!)…and all sorts of five- or six- or 11-in-one tool systems that can, in one case, “cut through a penny!”, though they don’t explain exactly why you’d want to.

You can have your own home planetarium…get your own three-foot-tall plastic human skeleton, or a transparent man and woman…build a hot-air balloon that will ascend to 200 feet…own an authentic Australian boomerang…construct a solar-powered toy airplane (it doesn’t fly, but its propellor spins around).

The ever-popular “Amazing Drinking Bird” is still here–the one that, once its beak is dipped in a glass of water, keeps bobbing back and forth, periodically tipping over to take another “drink.” You can also get a Yo-Yo with a brain, which spins faster and longer than any other Yo-Yo, then automatically eturns to the user’s hand; “Moon Blob,” a form of deyhdrated palstic that, once water is added to it, acts alive and will actually crawl up and out of the container in which it’s placed; or one of my favorites, the “Giant Motion Activated Talking Frog,” which is exactly what it sounds like: a foot-long green frog that yells “Ribbet!…Ribbet!” when it detects movement within 12 feet of its mouth.

I could go on and on, but I won’t. You get the idea. The Edmund Scientific Catalog is a cornucopia of cool stuff, whether you’re a parent looking for the perfect gift for a science-interested kid or a gadget-oriented spouse…or a loyal reader looking for the perfect gift for your favorite science columnist.

I’ve always wanted a Giant Motion-Activated Talking Frog.

Permanent link to this article: https://edwardwillett.com/1997/12/edmund-scientific/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Easy AdSense Pro by Unreal