Celebrating the Classic Circuits of Forrest M. Mims III

Science Technology
Celebrating the Classic Circuits of Forrest M. Mims III

Many of us who became interested in electronics and hardware hacking in the 1980s have an immense nostalgic soft spot in our hearts for the books of Forrest M. Mims III. When RadioShack was our mecca, there among the flat file drawers full of components and the racks of tools and supplies, you could also buy Mims’ Getting Started in Electronics and his Engineer’s Notebooks series. At the time, there was a dearth of decent beginner electronics books. Publishers like TAB meant well, but they had production budgets too low to manage decent photography and illustration, respectable copy editing, and they had electrical engineers writing their books who should probably have just stuck with the soldering and circuit testing.

In this context, the Forrest M. Mims III books were like manna from electron heaven. For starters, the books were all gorgeously, meticulously hand-drawn on technical graph paper. This gave them a sense of scientific rigor, an “I can do this” hands-on allure, as well as a feeling of artfulness, creativity, and play that we’d never seen in a technical publication (I don’t remember really having that feeling again until I saw the first issue of Make:).


First released in 1983, Getting Started in Electronics has continued to be a big seller and to inspire new generations of electronics enthusiasts. One such maker is Star Simpson. She has a new project, called Circuit Classics, where she is recreating some of the iconic circuits from Forrest’s books and turning them into beautifully printed circuit boards. The boards not only reproduce the circuit, but also include Mims’ hand-drawn illustrations and text. Also printed on the board is the books and page references were the circuit came from. The boards even come with little ash wood stands for you to proudly display your handiwork in your Geekosphere.

Star was recently a guest on Adafruit’s “Ask an Engineer,” to talk about Circuit Classics. On the show, she gave a tour of the boards and demo’d each.

In this segment, she shows off the Dual LED Flasher board, one of the more memorable projects found in Getting Started in Electronics.

The Stepped Tone Generator, from one of the Engineer’s Mini-Notebooks, is one of the Mims’ circuits that took on a life of its own in the late aughts, re-billed as the Atari Punk Console circuit. It was beloved by “chiptune” enthusiasts for its 8-bit Atari console-like sound generation. This circuit also cleverly makes use of the 556 chip, two 555s on one 14-pin IC.

And last but not least, the Bargraph Voltage Indicator is a very basic voltmeter with a 4 LED voltage strength read-out, another circuit from Getting Started in Electronics.

You can see the entire episode of “Ask an Engineer” here:

YouTube player

Star is current running a Crowd Supply campaign to fund production of the first run of Circuit Classics. She’s already reached her goal for the campaign with plenty of time left over. More than setting some new monetary goal, she is more interested in creating a community of users of these boards and has set a goal of 500 backers (she current has 257) for the project.

Last week, Star wrote a piece for Make: about her inspirations for launching the Circuit Classics project and her tips for embarking on a lifetime of electronics experimentation. You can read that article here.

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at garstipsandtools.com.

View more articles by Gareth Branwyn