Not sure if this is precisely on-topic, but I'll risk some reputation and give it a try.

I got a chemistry set as a kid in the early 1970s, and the subject really captured my interest. I grabbed every chemistry book I could find from our libraries. They ranged from college textbooks to "Chemical Magic" collections of demonstrations. These latter tended toward pyrotechnics, and were pretty appalling safety-wise.

There were several favorites, but there was one book in particular that stuck with me, found in a rural Virginia county library around 1976 or so. It featured adolescents in coats and ties (and maybe one in blouse and skirt) demonstrating experiments, but the experiments were a couple of levels beyond what I found elsewhere.

The ones I definitely remember:

  • Removing stains by soaking clothes in potassium permanganate solution, then removing the manganese-dioxide residual stain with sodium bisulfite
  • Preparing white phosphorus by heating red phosphorus in a test tube, and condensing the vapors onto a cold test tube nested inside it
  • Preparing lithium metal by melting a lithium salt in a crucible and electrolyzing it
  • Synthesizing Bakelite from phenol and formaldehyde

There were probably a dozen or so others. I think one involved generating chlorine gas from an aqueous solution in the bottom of a beaker, then dropping in pellets of calcium carbide to watch the acetylene spontaneously combust.

I've searched using Google, but can't seem to get past The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments -- yes, that's another treasured memory from the time, but it's not the one I have in mind. (For one thing, the one I'm asking about had no color plates at all.)

Another near miss that's quite familiar to me is Leonard A. Ford's Chemical Magic (I remember the 1959 original). I don't have it in hand, but Google's preview let me read far enough to see familiar material -- including pyrotechnic mixes using potassium chlorate instead of perchlorate, which got me in no small amount of trouble some years later. The book I'm searching for was more oriented toward science, rather than showmanship.

If the book I've described sounds familiar, please post an answer with any additional information you find -- title and publisher would be great, but additional experiment descriptions would also be helpful. If you have a favorite book from that period that doesn't seem to match this description, I'd be interested in hearing about it as well.

Finally, if this is a bad question, I welcome guidance on turning it into a good one, or why it's not worth pursuing. Thanks!

  • $\begingroup$ The replacement to The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments is Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments (I think). $\endgroup$ Apr 30, 2020 at 18:00
  • $\begingroup$ I came across Morgan, A. P. Things a boy can do with electrochemistry. 1940 541.37 See also pages in the following books: Morgan, A. P. Things a boy can do with chemistry. Does this title match your memory? $\endgroup$
    – AChem
    May 1, 2020 at 21:25
  • $\begingroup$ I think you are talking about old series of Chem Craft book. Google has images of boys with a tie. $\endgroup$
    – AChem
    May 1, 2020 at 22:20
  • $\begingroup$ @M.Farooq The Chemcraft books are familiar to me, but the one I'm looking for is not from that series. (Chemcraft books usually have a prominent line on the cover about "no dangerous poisons or explosives", and that definitely rules out the experiments I'm remembering!) $\endgroup$
    – jeffB
    May 11, 2020 at 19:46

2 Answers 2


There are 2 books in German which inspired me to become Chemist. I had them in the late 70s. "Chemische Experiemnte, die gelingen" (Chemical experiments which succeed) and "Organische Chemie im Probierglas" (Organic chemistry in a test tube). Both published originally in 1939 by Hermann Römpp and Hermann Raaf. Kosmos Verlag (Kosmos Publishers). No idea if there ever were English translations, but you might still find them in antiquary bookshops.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, these both look interesting! I don't think I encountered them as a child; I don't see any evidence of English translations, and my high-school German classes were still a few years in the future. $\endgroup$
    – jeffB
    Apr 30, 2020 at 20:33

The book I sought, and a compilation of similar books

I've found the book! It is Chemical Magic, by Kenneth M. Swezey, McGraw-Hill, 1956. All the experiments I remember are there. There are quite a few others that I'd done, but forgotten finding in this particular book.

I found it listed in this brilliant compilation of home-chemistry and "chemical magic" books, compiled by William B. Jensen. He lists many other books that I remember from childhood.

Thanks to those who offered help, and I invite anyone interested to take a look through these books. I do miss the days when it was conceivable for a schoolchild to work with "dangerous materials" (never mind "drug precursors")...

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ William B. Jensen is an amazing chemistry historian and perhaps the most knowledgeable today. He published couple of my historical questions in the Journal of Chemical Education as well. Too bad that he discontinued his columns- Ask the Historian. $\endgroup$
    – AChem
    May 11, 2020 at 21:42

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.