2010: The Golden Anniversary of the best year ever for DIY Books

1960 was a truly golden year in the annals of DIY history. Fifty years ago some of the most important how-to books in the history of making cool things came out.

I wrote in BB last June that 2010 marks the Golden Anniversary of the publication of Bertram Brinley's Rocket Making for Amateurs - that book was the bomb, (kind of literally I should add). Brinley was a US Army colonel and had the cool sounding title of official liaison between the US government and all civilian rocket enthusiasts. In the heyday of Sputnik, Explorer, Echo, and Pioneer, geeks and technophiles monkeyed with rocket fuels like micrograin and ammonium perchlorate instead of silicon and optical fiber.
The book's cover price reads 75 cents. Buying a copy today in a used bookstore will set you back about $200. But it's that good. I bought it when I was researching the roll-your-own rocket motor section in my book Absinthe and Flamethrowers.

Besides RMFA, it's the golden anniversary of another seminal book for people who love to make cool things: The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments. The rumor on this book is that it was banned by the government and removed from libraries because the projects were too dangerous for the intended audience of junior high school aged children. Well, maybe, as it does provide instruction in the production of chlorine gas from toilet cleaner and bleach, but still. . .
golden book chlorine.jpg
While you can't buy it new (and used copies on Amazon are really pricey) you can download a pdf on Anne Marie Helmenstine's excellent chemistry page at About.com.


  1. My dad actually blew himself up on the roof of his house at the age of 12, making a bomb out of household cleaners they had under the sink. He spent over a year in hospital, getting skin grafts and stuff.

    I never asked him how he learned how to make the bomb. His dad was a chemist, so I always figured that was the reason, but looking at these books (how to make chlorine gas from toilet cleaner and bleach), I wonder if such things were easily found in books like these.

  2. That’s fascinating to me, because making chlorine gas from toilet cleaner and bleach is integral to the plot of one of my favourite SF novels (beanie points to anyone that knows which one).

    I had always supposed that this was a bit of fudge, but perhaps the author read this book as a kid. He’d be around the right age.

  3. Making chlorine gas from household stuff is easy enough that teaching you how is really a safety tip, so you don’t do it by accident.

  4. If you want to get real up close and personal with the US police state, try getting hold of some ammonium perchlorate. Eat a lot of greasy food first to prepare yourself for the probin’.

  5. Heh. Had a housemate accidentally make chlorine gas once. After the basement was safe again, we called a plumber.

  6. RE: RMFA. If one does a bit of careful googling of the BoingBoing archives, one can turn up a few links for the PDF of the Rocket Manual.

    Have Fun, don’t blow yourselves up!

  7. good luck getting ahold of that potassium iodide. just about any chemical with iodine in it (except iodized salt) is tightly controlled by chemical distributors and the government, because of the use of iodine to make illegal drugs (meth’ maybe? I dunno). I don’t know how easy it is to fake the documentation, but you have to jump through all kinds of regulatory hoops and show you are a legitimate business and whatnot.

  8. I remember discovering that the local public library actually had a copy of “The Big Kerplop,” (the rare third Mad Scientists’ club book) before it was reprinted. I thought of telling the librarian that this would fetch more than $100 on abebooks, but instead I just returned it when I was done reading it.

  9. RE: potassium iodide

    good luck getting ahold of that potassium iodide. just about any chemical with iodine in it (except iodized salt) is tightly controlled by chemical distributors and the government, because of the use of iodine to make illegal drugs (meth’ maybe? I dunno).

    Never heard of United Nuclear, have you?

  10. Somehow I managed to get “The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments” when I was a kid in the 1980s. I never did the experiments but I loved looking at the pictures. The author of “The Radioactive Boy Scout” implies that David Hahn (who the book is about) loved “The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments” and carried out a lot of the deadly experiments in it.

  11. I had an extensive chemistry set as a kid (even some gorgeous glass condensers). I couldn’t resist the siren’s lure of black powder, chlorine and steel wool, burning magnesium, and potassium permanganate and glycerin fires. The best though was my accidental creation of nitrogen triiodide. I created a nice coating of it in the stone sink I used to dispose of experiments. When I went to scrub the purple stain off of it the next day I was rewarded with a series of cracks and pops from the tiny crystals exploding.

    For all you amateur chemists you can still buy your supplies without the government freaking out, just not in large amounts. If you are buying gallons of nitric acid for your home address I’d be suspicious too.

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