Industry gives a laboratory to America’s young scientists… WE CAN DO IT AGAIN?

Industry gives a laboratory to America’s young scientists… WE CAN DO IT AGAIN?

Make Pt1265
Industry gives a laboratory to America’s young scientists… Popular Science 1941.

YOUTHFUL, IMAGINATION, an inexhaustible national resource, is being developed along scientific lines by the American Institute of the City of New-York. This organization, chartered in 1828 and devoted throughout its existence to the promulgation of science and the encouragement of American industry, established its junior branch in 1928 and recently has intensified its efforts in this direction through the American Institute Laboratory at 310 Fifth Avenue, New York.

Its aim is to direct and utilize the imaginative faculties of youth which, since the founding of the institute, have been turning more and more toward science and mechanics. Under its wing are more than 730 juvenile science clubs, scattered throughout the United States, its possessions, and foreign countries. Some meet in high schools, some in settlement houses, and some are spontaneous youthful organizations with cellar or attic laboratories and club rooms. In the aggregate there are more than 30,000 youthful club members.

They experiment with model airplanes, bacteria, telescopes, radio, tropical fish, light, sound, animal-breeding, and in numerous other fields. Their ambition is limited only by their own knowledge and the cost of equipment, and it was to obviate the latter difficulty to some degree that the American Institute Laboratory has been established with the cooperation of the International Business Machines Corporation, which gave the use of two floors of a New York City office building, and of the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company, which supplied the equipment.

This is (was) pretty cool, maybe we as in makers, society and a science hungry public can bring this back!

Here are the companies listed in the article…

“American Institute Laboratory” I can’t seem to find if it exists as it once did, anyone know? All the references on Google are from books from the early 1900’sthey coordinated science fairs at the time it seems. Science fairs go back to at least as far as 1928 when the American Institute of New York City first held one for city youth at the Museum of Natural History. In 1950, science fairs went under the auspices of Science Service, a non-profit organization. It became international in 1960.

International Business Machines Corporation (IBM). IBM is still around and they continue to support science for kids. IBM gave 2 floors in NYC, I wonder if they’d be willing to do this again? I’ve email our team who has worked with IBM before on the IBM IGNITE camp.

Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company. Westinghouse was founded in 1886, then it bought CBS in the 1995 and renamed itself the CBS corporation, in 1998 CBS creates a subsidiary called Westinghouse Electric Corporation. In 1999 CBS sells the nuclear assets to BNFL that operates as Westinghouse Electric Company, the business in then sold to Toshiba. CBS is then acquired by Viacom, Viacom calls itself CBS corporation and CBS retains ownership of Westinghouse Electric Company. Companies have licensed the Westinghouse name but they’re not sold by the original company.

So… It seems to me CBS or Toshiba might be the ones to ask about sponsoring this again? Anyone work at either place, email me.

We have a chemistry book (below) – I’d like to see that get out there to more folks and perhaps develop a “new” chemistry set for kids to go along with it. Imagine 2 floors of science learning in each major city, doing real chemistry experiments!

Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments
For students, DIY hobbyists, and science buffs, who can no longer get real chemistry sets, this one-of-a-kind guide explains how to set up and use a home chemistry lab, with step-by-step instructions for conducting experiments in basic chemistry. Learn how to smelt copper, purify alcohol, synthesize rayon, test for drugs and poisons, and much more. The book includes lessons on how to equip your home chemistry lab, master laboratory skills, and work safely in your lab, along with 17 hands-on chapters that include multiple laboratory sessions.

16 thoughts on “Industry gives a laboratory to America’s young scientists… WE CAN DO IT AGAIN?

  1. Jeff says:

    Hey Philip,

    You get two things mixed up in your post. First the initiative for these labs all over the country. Secondly you demand chemistry sets.

    To address the first point:
    It’s a nice idea, but a little naive. It’s not 1941 anymore, the way the world works has changed. Companies don’t care for kids’ awareness, or elementary education. I doubt any corporations have budgets for education, apart from courses for their own personnel, and perhaps scholarships. Heck, most engineers in the US aren’t even from the US, and companies know that. Why should they care for the education of their future employees if they can simply hire some Indian fellow who is cheaper and probably more productive.

    Grassroots initiatives already exist. Look at what NYCRESISTOR and others are doing. They are advertising the movement a little, but not much. If you want this to work, I suggest you set up a foundation to spearhead this movement. Find government grants first, for promoting education. That will give you a little starting capital. Maybe you can adopt some kind of franchise model for the little labs, who have to find their own funding (bigger high schools could start one, for instance, and fund it themselves). Then you get registered as a proper charity, so donations are tax deductible and you start writing a nice plan which illustrates the ROI for these companies. A solid plan works better than a simple plea. The fact that the original company did some program back in ancient history matters little for these conglomerates, except perhaps in marketing terms.

    I doubt this will work at all though, given the current financial climate, and the low educational budget, and little care that gets put in education country-wide.

    As far as the second point goes. I think the idea of ‘re-inventing’ the chemistry set is nice. It could be the upcoming season, and my fond memories of getting such a kit for Christmas a long time ago, but the idea makes me smile. But the article you posted earlier today talks about how hard it is for amateur chemists to do their experiments. They do it illegally, most of the time, sometimes not even aware of regulations, or so the article claims. And I can see the truth in that. Companies can’t do that, they have to obey every anti-terror, anti-drug, anti-pollution and all the lists of allowed chemicals.

    Also, how many patronizing parents would buy their kids a potentially dangerous kit (I’m not talking bombs, I’m talking swallowing toxins and stuff.) Maker parents might jump on this, but most probably won’t. Parents shelter their kids these days, and I doubt these kits have a place in a nice and sheltered environment.

    Furthermore, while you and I, and Bruce Thompson fondly remember out chem.kits, do you honestly think modern kids would turn their x-boxes off to mess with glassware and perform tame experiments? (yes tame, you think experiments with puffs of smoke or flames will pass regulations?)

    So, nice of you to think of the children. But I’m afraid your ideas are a bit more ideological than practical.

  2. DU says:

    We already have the infrastructure we need to do this kind of thing, we just need to decide to use it.

    I’ve documented the idea here. Basically, high schools, technical colleges and so forth have fully equipped shops (and labs). Not high-end usually, but definitely much more than any one person could afford.

  3. Phillip Torrone says:

    “But I’m afraid your ideas are a bit more ideological than practical.”

    @Jeff – everyone said MAKE and Maker Faire were more ideological than practical too. thank goodness we didn’t listen to them.

    thanks for your thoughtful note, i know a lot of things we as a nation did in the past with science, engineering and chemistry seems so distant and bizarre compared to today, but we are going to continue to try and make things better.

  4. SKR says:

    I think this is a great idea. This seems to make more sense than standardized tests as a way to get kids to excel in math and science. However, I think that current hysteria (drugs,terrorism,pollution,safety),which Jeff brought up, will make this a tough row to hoe. I just had a heck of a time finding pure NaOH for a chemical wood dye, because it is used to make meth. I mean really, lye needs to be restricted? It might go over better if you downplay the chemistry and stress the physics and genetics experiments that the article mentions. The best thing going for this idea is that the lab is in a controlled environment that can be monitored. This would seem like a way to satisfy the safety police.

    It is sad that you can’t get real chemistry sets anymore. I have fond memories of mine when I was a child.

  5. Patti Schiendelman says:

    I’m a pretty protective parent – but my kid happily turns off the video games to do something hands-on. Video games are definitely the path of least resistance for most kids, but I think the key is that I’m interested in doing stuff with him, and make the time to do it. Which is hard, I’m a stressed-out single mom! :)

  6. says:


    Damn straight! Don’t let the naysayers stop you guys. One commenter mentions technical schools and high schools having labs. I don’t think he has tried to take advantage of these resources. I have, many times. It is very difficult to gain access, because of insurance concerns.

    Most of the schools I have spoken to are concerned that, being neither a student nor an employee, I would not be covered by their insurance in case of a problem. A hundred years ago, people formed Mechanics Societies to create libraries and shared laboratories. It’s time we return to that.

  7. Jeff says:

    Really, it’s great that you want to pursue this goal and I wish you the best of luck.

    I’m just an old fart who sees too many obstacles on the road ahead.

  8. Rachel says:

    Here is an excellent article that acknowledges hard working scientists who receive negative results.

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