Koptor Playset

Playset. Koptor 1924. A striking example of an early educational toy set. Developed in England at the Taylor-Hobson Research Laboratories, it is designed to teach children ‘while they play.’ Condition: very good. Missing several pieces. Box has heavy edge wear and splits. Instructions have some stains, tears and holes but are presentable. $75 [ebay: 1.11 none found] - Dantiques “Toys, Antique, General”: - appears to be a microscope-building kit


Make A Clock

Kit includes all the pieces to build your own working clock including an instructional poster - 6+


Time Machine Rolling Ball Clock

[don’t know if this is educational, but at least in original form assembly from kit was a “daunting task”]

Every minute new marble interacts with the existing marbles to display the correct time using marble logic gates and produces marble read out of time.- - review with photos of item from Edmund Scientific's "Scientifics Online", who sell it for a pretty-much-on-par $US49.95, ex shipping. It's made (well, currently licensed, at least; Time Machines have been on sale since at least the late 1970s) by Can You Imagine (incidentally, they also make the Airzooka) [“the premier manufacturer of creative products”, they also have Timespan Clock, Virtual Clock] - other links on site


- - Stuart's Rolling Ball Clock Page, The Place to be for info on Arrow Handicraft Electric Ball Clocks. [site has details on inner workings, lots of detailed assembly photos, a gallery of his collection

// The Rolling Ball clock was the brainchild of Harley Mayenschein. He patented the design and founded Idle Tyme Corporation who manufactured these clocks before  the rights were sold to Arrow Handicraft. The Original Arrow Ball Clock box says "Can be assembled in an hour."  If you actually get a chance to assemble an original kit, expect more like 3 hours. It's a daunting task if you aren't good with assembly. Below are the assembly instructions. Click on the thumbnail to see full size.

assembly_01.jpg Arrow Clock Kit box. I have some complete never-assembled original Arrow Ball Clocks kit #675 still sealed in their original boxes. I also have some used original Arrow Ball Clock kits for sale that I have reconditioned.

// [new version from Can You Imagine] This new version of the Electric Ball Clock retains many of the qualities of the original with some changes.  Assembly is no longer required. Personally I enjoyed assembling the original version, but some people would be daunted by the number of pieces when opening the carton.

assembly_01.jpg Here's a really cool clock by Arrow that you do not see too often. It's called the Domino Clock Kit #677. It uses 3 metal balls and 3 rows of Dominos that rise and fall to represent the time.


- [CYI clock seen on eBay 4/15/05, BIN 41.50; 200+ returns for “ball clock”. 3 current listings for “arrow ball clock”. Completed: $66.50, 22GBP




Working Paper Clock & book



Warded Lock - Tarquin Paper Locksmith DIY book



Lego Action Contraptions book - Klutz



tinfoil needle DIY “phonograph”







Provenzo DIY p53. Also see Dover book on boomerangs


Boomerangs - Dover book




Provenzo DIY p169 - similar principle to airborne seed pods; Leonardo da Vinci outlined principles of the parachute - DIY made of two paper strips twisted together, with remaining ends splayed out as wings



Provenzo DIY p187, using cutout paper bag square


propeller toys

b/w scan: propeller toy of 1500s; Cayley’s propeller toy, 1792


Penaud’s planophore; French propeller toy

b/w scan: Penaud’s planophore, rubber-band powered plane; French propeller toy of 1800s


helicopter toy, 1878

b/w scan: helicopter toy from 1878 Scientific American


Paper airplanes



White Wings planes kit



Flite Rings kit



Comet Porterfield 65 kit - rubber band power, unbuilt



Top-Flite P-51D Mustang

remote control plane - PDF manual for current Top-Flite P-51D Mustang model plane, with pix of the die-cut patterns. This is a major RC hobbyist project, with a 60pp manual. The construction mostly uses 1/8” plywood, with some balsa, e.g. sheets for wing skins. 8.5 x 11 landscape format book, richly illus w/ b/w photos. “If any of the die-cut parts are difficult to punch out, do not force them! Instead, first cut around the parts with an X-acto knife.”



 Technokit - Hovercraft Kit - Everything required to build working electric hovercraft that really works. Emulate the great Sir Christopher Cockerill in the comfort of your own home. Ages 8-12, Ł9.95 (Technokits also Electric Buggy) - Dorset (UK) toy shop





Boy Mechanic projects

TW - engines, mechanical power, building go-karts, harnessing mechanical power sources


Stirling Engine

== need pic and description of what it is - American Stirling Company: beautiful Stirling engines and kits [ interesting, a shrunk-down “toy” version of something serious.

- From the FAQ: Robert Stirling was a minister of the Church of Scotland who was interested in the health of his parishioners bodies in addition to the well being of their souls. He invented the Stirling engine (he called it an “air engine”) because steam engines of his day would often explode killing and maiming those who were unlucky enough to be standing close by. The modern uses of Stirling engines are invisible to almost everyone. There have been many research engines built in recent years but there are only three areas where Stirling engines have made a dramatic impact. There are Stirling engines in Submarines, stirling machines used as cryocoolers, and Stirling engines in classrooms. Ford, GM, and American Motors Corp. spent millions of dollars developing Stirling engines for cars, back in the 1970’s. Ford even built a Stirling that could drive away from the curb (with relatively low power) twenty seconds after you turned the start key!

- You may always use the pictures of our engines on the web if you include a link to our home page . In print you may use our pictures if you print a photo credit which says, “Used by permission of” If you would like to re-publish our content in other ways, please call us or e-mail us.]

- MM-5 Coffee Cup Stirling Engine Kit Powered by hot coffee or ice cubes - Ready to assemble. Pleasant 2 or 3 evening kit. $99 - This kit includes all the parts to build our original transparent engine that sells ready to run for $139.00 Read our online instructions. [They also have one for $359 that runs on the heat of your hand, or sitting on a computer monitor]







homemade amateur spark transmitter

r_0170.jpg - This is a typical homemade amateur spark transmitter mounted on a piece of wood. The circuit is very simple but it works. -




Early Crystal Detector Radio Receiver

r_0250 - Early Crystal Detector Radio Receiver Circa 1920s: This receiver was built by a radio amateur and consists of a “cat’s whisker” crystal detector and an extremely unusual vertical loose coupler coil set. Turning the knob on the right causes the center coil to go up and down, varying the coupling between the inner and outer coils. -


Crystal set - dad and lad

may be a movie still, shows presumably a dad and lad with a crystal set - - Surfing the Aether - timeline of radio history


Heathkit CR-1 Crystal Radio

- Heathkit CR-1 Crystal Radio clone for sale. This lot includes the radio, a near mint set of 4000 ohm 1940’s vintage Trimm Professional Headphones and  a hand made clone of the famous Heathkit CR-1 crystal radio. The radio uses a dual tuned circuit system that has a 2 core coil wound with Litz wire and the same design and performance as the original radio. $129 - Scott’s Crystal Radios


Loop crystal radio

A loop crystal radio using computer ribbon cable -- “Perhaps my favourite design,” says low-tech guru Doug Edwards.


Rocket Radio

see linkbase XSS - Xtal Set Society

Remember playing “Spy” with your spy pen radio when you were a kid? This little Rocket Radio takes you back to those times too, digging through the Cheerios box hoping the radio was in there. Some brilliant marketer with gobs of mullah (not us, ha!) had these great remakes of the original 1950’s Rocket Radio made. It really works, but be realistic, you’re not going to get Radio Japan on it! Instead of the 1950’s look, these are packaged for “kids.” Get one for you and one for the kids!  Cat# XRR $12.00 -

- (eBay) rocketradio2.jpg, rocketradio3, rocketradio4, also rocketradio7-11 [OK to use per email, credit] sold for GBP26 ($51)

- (eBay) rocketradio5.jpg - This auction is for an authentic vintage ad from a 1952  Magazine.  This ad is from MARDO SALES of New York.  Ad features the LITTLE ROCKET RADIO.  This radio has no tubes or batteries and needs no electricity.  It is powered by a tiny Germanium Diode.  This is a black and white ad,  and measures approximately 1-5/8” x 2-3/4”.

- (eBay) rocketradio6.jpg - A1, made in Japan, no date given








XSS Little Wonder Crystal Radio Kit

The XSS Little Wonder Crystal Radio Kit - Our “Little Wonder” is a super starter kit for kids and beginning adult builders! It tunes the entire broadcast band. The extra large solder pads make it easy for beginning builders to have a successful first radio.  There are only a few solder joints, and the pads are spread out making it clean and simple to assemble.  The “Little Wonder” was designed especially for the XSS by our founder, Grampa Phil, W0XI.  We tried to combine everything we’ve learned about building radios with beginners and kids to create a radio that everyone can build the first time.   There is no coil to wind, a high resonant frequency molded choke have been used in place of the coil.  A nice photo diagram is included showing all the parts and their placement on the printed circuit board (PCB) .  This radio is perfect for parents and grandparents to build with kids.  It is also priced right for classroom use, and can be used to teach basic radio theory, soldering, and handling of electronic parts and PCB’s. Kit includes a high impedance crystal earplug.  A super performer and a great little kit; you’ve got to have one!               XS402  $14.95. [XSS]



Flights of Fancy Crystal Radio kit

$17.50 - see sci kits


Crystal Radio Kit

Only: $9.95 The crystal radio was discovered in 1901. It is still the basis of modern-day radio and communications equipment and lives on in a wide variety of radio systems. Go back in time, and learn how radio detection was first done! Without a battery or power supply, you will hear AM broadcasts with your Crystal Radio Set! Crystal radios don’t need a power supply - they’re powered by the radio station and are endlessly fascinating because of their simplicity and their complexity! They contain so few parts yet display so many concepts. The comprehensive 16 page manual covers everything from how it works, why it works, and illustrated assembly instructions. Assembly is easy with solderless connections, and no previous electronic experience is necessary. Relive history with a Crystal Set today! -

Ramsey Electronics - has lots of kits and PDF plan sets. Learning Kits include ($10-15) AM Radio, AM/FM Radio, Bell Action, Crystal Radio, Motor Action, and ($65) Ion Generator, Plasma Generator






[from blinkenlights: what was the first personal computer?] Edmund Berkeley first described Simon in his 1949 book, "Giant Brains, or Machines That Think" and went on to publish plans to build Simon in a series of Radio Electronics issues in 1950 and 1951.

Simon touched such pioneering computer scientists as Ivan Sutherland, who went on to influence development of interactive graphical personal computers.

By 1959, over 400 Simon plans were sold.




The company that got the distribution rights to Bell Labs educational products is ComSpace [ see Science Kits; blinkenlights sez “In 1969, a company called COMSPACE created a "professional" version of this computer [which?] called the Arkay CT-650.”]. The CARDIAC itself comes as a tri-folded piece of die-cut cardboard that unfolds to larger than 11"x17". 2/3 of it are the main body, the last 1/3 is the moving parts - slides for the accumulator, the op code and two address digits.


cardiac4.jpg the assembled computer, ready to be programmed.

cardiac5.jpg Close-up of the logic unit.

cardiac.pdf “Cardboard ‘Computer’ Helps Students” - One-page article from July 1969 Bell Laboratories Record - “cardboard illustrative aid to computation”


Update 5/13/02: If you'd like to play with a CARDIAC without ordering one, and you don't mind dealing with tar files, you might like to visit the cinc project, which is building an emulator for CARDIAC.


In addition to the CARDIAC, Comspace also has other educational aids and books that were an outgrowth of Bell Labs science educational programs.





Early toy computers

from VCF 3.0 Vintage Computer Exhibition (October 1999?):

VCF_3.0_Doug_Salot_Exhibit.jpg - Doug Salot and his "Early Toy Computers" - note Salot =


Heathkit Educational Robots

from VCF 3.0 Vintage Computer Exhibition (October 1999?):

VCF_3.0_Jim_Willing_and_Robots - Jim Willing and his "Heathkit Educational Robots"


Edmund Analog Computer

TW has 1962 Edmund catalog p 98 - $14.95 - “It operates on two flashlight batteries. Three potentiometers and an electric meter are mounted on the diecut box. Two potentiometers are rotated and set at appropriate numbers. The third is then rotated until dial reads 0. Position of that dial then indicates answer.”

- also G.E. Computer $29.95 - “Same accuracy and operational procedure as Edmund Computer, only difference is that the Edmund is made of cardboard and the G.E. is plastic... Memory panels and accurate audio indicator with 3-transistor amplifier.”


Tinkertoy computer

digicomp group, msg 635: the famous tinkertoy tic-tac-toe computer that Danny Hillis, inventor of the Connection Machine, and once CTO of Thinking Machines Corp., along with Brian Silverman, CTO of Logo Computer Systems Inc. (LCSI), built back in the '70's. One of the two prototypes, though no longer working, is on display in the lobby of the Boston Museum of Science.



JPG from


Turing Train Terminal

a calculating model train layout, in either HO or N gauge scale (hard to tell from the pictures). Rather elegantly arranged, too. - see digicomp.doc for description, calculating notes

- Turing Train Terminal presented at freiraum/Museumsquartier Wien 2003/04 - 12.01.04 - 07.03.04

Severin Hofmann

David Moises


- saved Chalcraft.pdf “Train Sets” by Adam Chalcraft and Michael Greene, 5p article from unattributed source

turing_pic09.jpg, turing_pic16, turing_pic15 - whole display, layout closeup, keyboard

turing_introeng - appears to be pictorial diagram



turing_pic09.jpg, turing_pic16, turing_pic15






difference engine

DIY - great high-res photo of Tim Robinson’s magnificent red/green difference engine built from Meccano, currently on display at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. - Tim Robinson’s Meccano Computing Machinery - see linkbase for print refs, other Meccano

- MeccanoDifferentialAnalyser.jpg from


[from digicomp group] Apparently, during the 30's about 6 differential analysers were constructed mostly out of Meccano parts, and used professionally. One of them (maybe the only remaining one) is part of an exhibition in a museum in New Zealand; you will find more details (as well as a picture) at the address: http:// 

since my previous message I found another page which gives more information on this differential analyser: 








(eBay) Before there were computers there were Geniacs. This kit is titled:” Geniacs: Simple Electric Brain Machines and How To Make Them.” This is from the1950’s. We slit the box open so we are pretty sure it is all there. There is a large wooden framework to assemble to hold the kits and there are parts and directions to build several (dozens) of electric brain machines. Some of the projects listed are:Intelligence Testing Machine; Combination Locks; Reasoning Machine; Secret Decoder, Coder; Translator from Binary to Decimal; Translator from Decimal to Binary; Binary Adding Machine; Binary Multiplying Machine; Machine for a Space Ship’s Airlock; The Fox, Hen, Corn, and Hired Hard: Farmer’s Machine; The Machine for the two jealous Wives; and many others. Practical things like burglar alarms and signalling machines can also be built. There are six envelopes filled with parts of various kinds.

11/29/04 - sold 218.00 1&ssPageName=WDVW - supposedly “double” set, starting at $495

Box shipped from Oliver Garfield, 126 Lexington Ave, NY - The 1958 Geniac ad says he “co-created” the kit, lists him as author of “Minds and Machines”, editor of the “Gifted Child Magazine” and the “Review of Technical Publications”.



Geniac kit, 1957

1957 model


Geniac console

good closeup of console -


Geniac ad

ad from Astounding Science Fiction (1958), “Build 125 Computers at Home with GENIAC”; “text prepared by Dr. Claude Shannon” -


Geniac ad

actual ad from July 1957 Analog Magazine (or per the page title, July 1957 Astounding Science Fiction) - waterstained but big print -



(eBay) For auction is the ORIGINAL first personal electrical computer ever designed and built in 1959 by Edmund C. Berkeley. This is possibly the most treasured item by any collector of computer items. BRAINIAC was an educational toy billed as a “computer” designed and marketed by Edmund C. Berkeley from 1959 through the sixties. The name stood for Brain-Imitating Almost-Automatic Computer. Widely advertised in science and electronics magazines, the BRAINIAC provided many youths with their first hands-on introduction to computer concepts and Boolean logic.

Priced at about $20 in 1959 BRAINIAC was far ahead of its time. It basically was a collection of configurable (“hard-wire programmable”) N-pole by N-throw rotary switches, which could be set up and cascaded to perform logical functions. The reason I say “N-pole” is that the switches were made of drilled masonite disks that you might wire as a many-pole two-throw, or single-pole multi-throw, depending on what logical function you were implementing. The kit came with a pretty good tutorial, which, as I look at it, is still useful today. The projects started with basic logic circuits and progressed to such things as a NIM machine and TIC-TAC-TOE machine. Back in 1959 the idea of making a machine that could play even the simple game of tic-tac-toe was just amazing. The “output” device was a set of lamps that would light in response to the “input data” (switch positions) and “program” (how they were wired). - ended BuyItNow at $300; 4 prev bids up to $50


This naming convention carried over into the field of small training machines for hobbyists. Most of these were marketed by Berkeley Enterprises in the 1950s. All were based on the Geniac (Genius Almost-Automatic Computer), an electromechanical contraption using odd rotary switches. This led to Tyniac, Weeniac, and finally to Berkeley’s notorious Brainiac (Brain-Imitating Almost-Automatic Computer). Brainiac didn’t have much, if any, real computing power, but it apparently had limitless semiotic power, permanently injecting into the mass consciousness the concept of a “Brainiac” for a walking computer (later a nerd or a propellerhead). Brainiac became the name of a TV character, and at least one very entertaining robot-rock band. - - see linkbase



Calculo Analog Computer

(eBay) 1959 - Science Materials Center - Basic intro to computer theory, math physics and mechanical drawing. Solves basic math, square roots, compound interest, powers, trig functions, range of projectile and more! - $306


Digi-Comp I

Digi-Comp II

See digicomp.doc for list of Digicomp/ESR resources, simulations, etc. - besides listed, more in DigiComp folder


Digi-Comp II

- per Yahoo group, DG2 sold 5/20/00 for $1525!!!

- eBay 2/05 digicomp2.jpg - appears a bit ratty, not quite the same as depicted on box front, but the first I’ve seen on eBay. Went for $214.50

- 5/23 $516








Wooden DigiComp

woodendc1-1, woodendc1-2.jpg from little but larger photos no longer there

BIG woodendc1-3.bmp from - built by Doug Coward of the Museum of Personal Computing Machinery, with plans supplied by Tom Stepleton at

in /DigiComp/

woodendc1-1, woodendc1-2.jpg


Digicomp Computer Kit (1963)

Digicomp Computer Kit (1963) -


Digicomp Computer Kit (1963)


saved DigiComp.gif and DigiComp1-closeup.gif from - Lexikon Services "History of Computing" - maybe already had them



more DigiComp pix

[now this is an amazing, eclectic site: software engineer for a company that makes industrial automation, testing and simulation machines, fixes watches, collects weird stuff. Check out the photo album/comment software Gallery v1.4-pl2 from


digi2box.jpg - DigiComp 2 box

digicomp2c.jpg - b/w but excellent oblique studio shot of DB2 setup

digicompII.jpg - color, shows top-on view of DB2 layout

Digicomp1_side.jpg - color studio shot, wish it were larger


digicompParts thumb.jpg - misc, shows tubes, printed cards, spring







digicompParts thumb.jpg

Mark 106 (Hasbro)

(eBay) This is a later version of the Think-A-Tron (which I also have on Ebay). By Hasbro dated 1968 It is rarer than the original – and that’s rare too! Electronic Q & A game.

11/21/04 - [item has rummage price $2 on front] sold 38.00



Minivac 601

Minivac 601, from Scientific Development Corporation. This was not a small car vacuum, but instead a rather remarkable breadboard assemblage, about the size of a mixing console, that could be hand-patched to implement various binary and boolean circuits. It used DPDT telephone relays, 6 of ‘em, and a single, motor-driven, rotary switch. Minivac did even less than Brainiac, but it was cheap and immortal, and the big, high-current relays made great control interfaces for things. I was given a used one at one point. It made a good Morse code sender, not that much unlike the “CQ wheels” used by commercial stations. - - see linkbase

Addendum: Minivac pictures


- Minivac wired up for tic-tac-toe


(eBay) none found






Fischertechnik Mobile Robots Kit

Fischertechnik Mobile Robots Kit The next generation of Fischertechnik robotic construction sets let you build intelligent robots. Plans present six mobile robots that exhibit edge and collision detection, light seeking, and line tracking capabilities, as well as other fixed models. Over 350 pieces including 2 motors, 6 touch sensors, 2 light sensors, a lamp, the battery power block and instruction manual. Requires six AA cells. Requires Lucky Logic Software and Intelligent Interface and Adapter (sold separately) [not found on the site]. Unleash your creativity with Mobile Robots! The Fischertechnik system was originally developed in Europe as a prototyping tool so engineers could rapidly create, modify and refine operating models of industrial equipment. It is far more than “Legos for adults”. The pieces lock together and stay there. Many components include metal for extra strength. The electronic systems include temperature sensors, LEDs, motors and more. The programming is fast and powerful.

Robot Store (Mondo-tronics Inc).  PMB-N, 4286 Redwood Highway, San Rafael, California, 94903, USA.  Tel: 415-491 4600; fax: 415-491 4696; email:; web: .  -see linkbase

Robot Kit categories include; Listening, Touching and Seeing Robots,  OctoBot Survivor Robot Kit,  RoboBRiX™,  Robot Arms,  Legged Robots,  Wheeled Platforms,  B.E.A.M. Robotics,  Programmable Robots,  Hackable Robot Kits,  LEGO Mindstorms Kits,  Fischertechnik Reconfigurable Robot Kits,  Animatronics. Other Categories incl. Robot Pets, Electronics, Mechanical



FischerTechnik PROFI kit



Lego Mindstorms



Muscle Wires®

“Muscle Wires® are thin, highly processed strands of a nickel–titanium alloy called Nitinol – a type of Shape Memory Alloy that can assume radically different forms or “phases” at distinct temperatures. At room temperature Muscle Wires are easily stretched by a small force. However, when conducting an electric current, the wire heats and changes to a much harder form that returns to the “unstretched” shape – the wire shortens in length with a usable amount of force.” Besides Muscle Wires® you can obtain Nitinol, NanoMuscle™, BioMetal - Robot Store


Home                       Descriptions/compilation ©2005 Tim Walker. Direct quotations and images cited under fair use remain the property of original copyright holders.