Retro STEM

The How and Why Wonder Book Of
Beginning Science

Okay all you budding science nerds! Filled with simple experiments and some retro illustrations, you can see these Stepford kids growing up to be kick ass scientists or possibly robots. Aside from the illustrations, my favorite page is on safety tips that really aren’t about working with dangerous materials or lab related safety. It’s an extra page to remind kids not to kill themselves by being stupid.  Who needs protective safety glasses when you might have to be using a penny to get your fuse box running.


Beginning Science back cover


safety rules

electricity - magic at your finger tips

steam power and automobile engines


  1. I do have to mention that for a book published in 1960 there are girls doing science on the cover! Wow…..and that all the “stupid” electricity things are being done by a man. Hmmmmm.

  2. After the giving the safety tips about electricity, I find it contradictory that the book includes the well-known Franklin lightning experiment without any warnings, at least in the included snippet, about the potentially fatal risks of trying to replicate it.

  3. I used to have a bunch of these How and Why Wonder Books when I was a kid in the 70’s. Definitely not appropriate for a 21st century children’s collection, but talk about nostalgia!

  4. I had this book as a child and loved it! It was an excellent introduction to all the branches of science. Yes, it’s too old for the children’s science section of a public library, but there’s nothing wrong with it other than the date. I get the feeling that you’re really reaching to try to find something snarky to say.

    The “safety tips” page has nothing to do with lab safety. It’s obviously from the electricity section, and discusses potential dangers of electricity. All perfectly sensible rules children need to be taught. Again, the “don’t fiddle the fuse box” rule is out of date now in this age of breaker switches, but you can’t argue with “don’t handle electrical things with wet hands” or “don’t stick things in the power socket”.

    PS — Note the before-its-time non-stereotypical cover illustration of the hardest physics experiment being performed by a girl.

  5. I had this book as a child! Then again, I’m going to be 54 next month.
    Never noticed quite how american-biased it was, either.

  6. The interior photos don’t do this book justice! Take a look at the projects on the cover… they are still fun and age appropriate, and worth doing! The book is too old to have a place in a library, a public or school library, but it would still get use in a home library. The entire series has simple to do, using simple materials. I actually had several of them for home schooling projects not that many years ago! At least pick the book up at a rummage sale and cut out the projects to do with your children! They aren’t going to get any of that hands-on stuff in the classroom.

  7. I loved books like this as a kid, when I wanted to be a doctor or scientist. That it had girls on the cover (if not so much inside), not just boys, would be an added bonus. (Of course nowadays they would be more ethnically mixed.) Plus, as noted, the safety tips are still good.

    As for fuse boxes: some older houses still may have them. But pennies nowadays are not made of copper so putting them in fuse boxes would be bad for different reasons; the alloy in new pennies would not serve the purpose as well.

    1. some older houses still may have them
      My building, dating from 1950, does. Paradoxically, in still-older buildings, fuses have probably been replaced with circuit breakers. My fuse box–located outside, on the rainy side of the building–scared me out of my wits, because I’d never met one before: which part is it safe to touch? Will I live to tell the tale? (I had to take the risk, because the utility company–this is really true–blew a fuse in the course of replacing a fixture.)
      Luckily, modern fuses are made with a part that temporarily disengages, like a miniature circuit breaker, so you don’t have to put in a new one every time something trips.

  8. I had lots of these books as a child, though the British editions – they really were good and the projects are ones I did with my own children when they were young. I’ll probably do some of the projects with my grandson once he’s a bit older

  9. This book was in our house…and amazingly i still have both eyes and all my fingers, toes, and limbs.

  10. I also remember these books from my childhood. They were really good for their time, but seriously out of date now. Time to bid a fond farewell.

  11. It’s just an old book, Mary Kelly. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with it. Sorry you didn’t have any when you were young.

  12. Hey, I moved into our new old house in 1979 to find that most of the fuse box was hot-wired with pennies. (And yes, there were breaker switches back then). Several of them were wheat-sheaf pennies, too.

    I do like that balloon-powered coffee-filter boat on the cover. (That is a bunch of coffee filters, isn’t it?)

    1. I think it’s an aluminum pie pan. But is the boy in the other picture really wearing a suit and tie? This book isn’t a reissue of an 1861 title, is it?

  13. Oh wow, I had the “Electricity” book when I was little, and I remember marvelling at the description of the Nike missile system (!) in the back.

    We lived in a house with plug fuses in the mid-1980s, and it was kind of a shock (pun not intended) since all the places we’d lived before and after that had circuit breakers. Even the ancient Victorian in the boonies we lived in later had circuit breakers!

  14. I would have loved this book when I was 10! Speaking of safety, I had a chemistry lab back then which was full of dangerous chemicals. Then we started mixing them with the stuff we found under the kitchen sink. Lucky to be alive.

  15. Don’t try the Franklin/Lightening/Kite/Key experiment at home. Hundreds of people have done since he managed it. He was the only survivor.

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