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Q: 1950 "Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab" toy ( No Answer,   7 Comments )
Subject: 1950 "Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab" toy
Category: Science
Asked by: dacary-ga
List Price: $200.00
Posted: 14 Aug 2002 08:24 PDT
Expires: 10 Sep 2002 14:36 PDT
Question ID: 54535
For about one year, 1950-51, the A.C. Gilbert Company of New Haven,
Connecticut (maker of the erector and chemistry sets for youngsters),
marketed a sophisticated toy, the "Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab."  The
lab came with "three radioactive sources, a Geiger counter, and cloud
chamber where atoms could be split," according to a Univ. of Wisconsin
site.   Although selling for the high price of $50 in the '50s,
production costs still outran its price tag, whereupon the atomic
energy lab was integrated into its chemistry sets for kids throughout
the '50s.  My question is:  Can you locate one of these labs, complete
with all components, that I could purchase?  I'm writing a book on
'50s toys/devices that had an atomic theme.  There's a picture of one
of these toys  at the Univ. of Wisconsin website:
Thank you and good luck.
David Cary

Request for Question Clarification by huntsman-ga on 14 Aug 2002 22:00 PDT
So you want to be the first kid on your block to glow in the dark! 

Of course, the materials used in Gilbert's "Atomic Energy Lab" had
very safe, very low levels of radiation. I suspect that many kids --
boys at least, big and small -- would still go for this Lab. Sadly,
such a product would never make it past the manufacturer's legal
department today.

I have not yet found an "Atomic Energy Lab" for sale, but felt I
should post this as a clarification request due to the timely nature
of some of the information.

Your question mentioned a description and pictures of the Atomic Lab:
the source page for that information can be found here:

   The State Historical Society of Wisconsin
   Living Under a Mushroom Cloud: Fear and Hope in the Atomic Age

Here is another page with a description, pictures, and a quote from
A.C. Gilbert about the development of the Atomic Lab:

   Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab 

I have noticed at least three names for the Lab:

   "Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab"
   "Gilbert Atomic Energy Laboratory"
   "Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab" (name printed on the box)

The Atomic Energy Lab was introduced by A.C. Gilbert in the spring of
1950 and sold for $42.50. Its components included:

   1. Three very low-level radioactive sources.
   2. Geiger-Mueller radiation counter.
   3. Wilson Cloud Chamber to see paths of alpha particles.
   4. Spinthariscope to see "live" radioactive disintegration.
   5. Electroscope to measure radioactivity of different substances.
   6. An "Atomic Energy Manual" 
   7. "Learn How Dagwood Splits the Atom" comic book (see References)

Does this sound like a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon, or
what? After cartoons and hyperactive cereal, of course...

Since it was produced in limited quantities over 50 years ago, an
Atomic Energy Lab is going to be difficult to locate. Using the BidXS
Meta-Auctions search tool (, I found
no current Web auctions for the Lab on dozens of auction sites.

I found a newsgroup reference to an Atomic Energy Lab that was sold
for at least $355.00 on eBay in January 1999:

   Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab

   "From: eBay (
   Subject: eBay Listings for Vintage:General [may be long] 
   View: Complete Thread (78 articles) | Original Format 
   Date: 1999/01/08 

   Vintage Gilbert  U-238 Atomic Energy Lab
   Bid at $355.00   Ends: 01/12, 08:52 PST
   Bids: 3"

Perhaps this is the Lab that Hansg-ga sold (see his Comment below this

I also found (and called) another individual -- Bob Rinaldi, if you
should see his name out in the Ether -- who sold an Atomic Energy Lab
on eBay a few years ago. He recalled there were two Labs for sale on
eBay at the time, but could not recall the name of his buyer.

Both of these Lab auctions have expired, and eBay's database archives
do not go back far enough to allow us to look up the names of the

Currently, there is a 1951 Gilbert *catalog* for sale on eBay which
contains a listing for the Atomic Energy Lab:

   American Flyer Train & Toy Catalog 1951

"A second beautiful color catalog for the American Flyer Trains and
Gilbert Toys, 1951. Includes price lists. Full line of model trains
and accessories plus Erector sets, microscopes and Chemistry sets,
Atomic Energy Lab, puzzles and magic sets. Measures 8 x 11.25; 48 pgs.
Form # D1640. MINT condition."

This catalog auction ends within the next day or so. Perhaps the
seller (or buyer, if you're too late) could give a copy of the catalog
page(s) describing the Atomic Lab. You can email the eBay seller at:

These particular auctions give you all the more reason to keep
checking eBay ( for an Atomic Lab.

One primary information source that you should contact is the A.C.
Gilbert Heritage Society. This is a national organization of Gilbert
toy collectors headquartered in Gilbert's home town:

   A.C. Gilbert Heritage Society
   1440 Whalley Ave., PMB 252
   New Haven, CT 06515

Membership in the ACGHS costs $20 per year
( Among other benefits, you
get a current membership list with email addresses. Their Year 2000
membership list can be seen online (

Members can also place classified ads in the quarterly printed ACGHS
newsletter, or online in their "Heritage Exchange" page
( To place an ad, you need to
contact the following individual:

   Klon Smith 

The founder of ACGHS is:

   William Harrison 

ACGHS holds an annual convention, and their 2002 meeting is this
coming weekend. If you know someone in the area, perhaps they could
attend the convention and make inquiries for you. For more
information, see:
   A.C. Gilbert Heritage Society 11th Annual Convention 
   August 16-18 (Fri-Sun), 2002
One ACGHS member and a prominent Gilbert collector/trader is Bill

   Bill Bean's Erector and AC Gilbert Website

His full contact information (from his Web site) is:

   William M. Bean
   439 Claxton Glen Court
   Dayton, Ohio 45429
   (937) 435-6196 

Surely some of these experts can put you on the right trail. The
details given here may also help other Google Answers researchers find
an Atomic Energy Lab for you.

Thank you,

Additional References - 

Here is a brief history of A.C. Gilbert:

   About.Com - Toy Collecting
   A.C. Gilbert - Olympic Gold and the Erector Set

The following PDF file mentions an April 1950 Life magazine article
with a description, photos, price, and introduction date for the
Atomic Energy Lab:

   Mapping the Body of the Fifties 

"In its April edition of 1950, Life magazine presented two ideas for
Christmas gifts, which, according to the journal, were the highlights
of the 47th annual toy fair in New York."
"The second gift idea seems even more spectacular: an Atomic Energy
Lab for children, which at $42.50 includes a genuine Geiger counter
[with earphones], spinthariscope and Wilson cloud chamber. The two
pictures inserted here depict a little boy apparently listening to the
sounds from a Geiger counter and measuring the radiation of
radioactive substances in an electroscope."

More details about the Dagwood comic book: imagine General Groves (the
military director of the Manhattan Project) reviewing it. If one
exists, the project memo would be priceless:

   "Learn How Dagwood Splits the Atom" 
   Published by King Features Syndicate, Inc., New York, New York,
   (upper left [black rectangle above red box]) 

"This instructional comic book was prepared with input from
Lieutenant-General Leslie R. Groves, the man who had supervised the
building of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan. This book was
sold separately and as part of the Gilbert Company's Atomic Energy
Lab. Courtesy of John Wickland."

A Sunset magazine article about A.C. Gilbert:

   Sunset Magazine, August 2000
   Genius in Toyland
   A.C. Gilbert, toy manufacturer and inventor

Here is a condensed version of an April 1999 Smithsonian magazine
article. It contains a wonderful (or perhaps terrible?) account of
Woodrow Wilson's war Cabinet playing with Gilbert toys. There are
several clickable photos, including one of Bill Bean and his Gilbert

   Hello Boys! Become an Erector Master Engineer!

Other Gilbert collector Web sites:

   Dr. Prune's Erector World 
   [John Cook - webmaster for the ACGHS site]

   Pandy's Collectibles

Another eBay item you may be interested in:

   ATOMIC Accessories inc. Nuclear lab catalog

"...a 49 page 8 1/2 x 11 soft cover catalog published in 1963. There
is also a separate soft cover price list. Atomic Accessories was a
subsidiary of baird-Atomic Inc. This catalog has everything you would
need to run a research facility dealing with Radioactive material.
Test devices, remote manipulation tools, glassware, just everything!
Profusely illustrated with B&W photos. A wonderful and rare item.
Condition is excellent."

Search Terms & Google Results - 

gilbert atomic energy lab
[standard Web search]

gilbert atomic energy lab 
[Google Groups search]

electroscope radiation

"geiger counter"


"wilson cloud chamber"

Clarification of Question by dacary-ga on 16 Aug 2002 20:34 PDT

Thank you so much for providing the valuable information you took time
to research.  You efforts are appreciated and given me additional
avenues to pursue.  Thank you again.

Request for Question Clarification by bobbie7-ga on 17 Aug 2002 20:53 PDT
Would you be interesdted in buying a Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab Set box only?

Request for Question Clarification by bobbie7-ga on 17 Aug 2002 21:05 PDT

As I said, I located the box from the Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab Set.
It is in very good condition for its age with only minor wear to the
outside edges. The inside lid picture is perfect.

Please let me know if that would be acceptable to post as an answer.

Thank you


Clarification of Question by dacary-ga on 18 Aug 2002 07:23 PDT
Dear  Bobbie7-ga,

Thank you for your email.  I'm sorry, but the Gilbert Atomic Energy
box alone wouldn't qualify as an answer (if fact, there's one being
offered on eBay at this time), as per my question I asked for a lab
that was "complete with all components," inclluding box, as this is
what I'm looking for.  But thank you for your interest and query.


Request for Question Clarification by silviares-ga on 03 Sep 2002 08:57 PDT
Hello dacary-ga 

I tried contacting some collectors and one of them included this line
in his

" ....
I have a nice one in my collection, but wasn't planning to sell it.
... " 

I would like to know if you want to pursue this lead and if so you
should tell me how much you are willing to offer. Unless you want to
take it from here, if this is the case I could give you the email
address of the collector.

Also the AC Gilbert Discovery Village has one but I don't think they are selling it.


Clarification of Question by dacary-ga on 03 Sep 2002 09:46 PDT
Dear Silviares-ga,

Thank you for your information.  Yes, please do pursue the lead you've
established and see what this person would be willing to sell his/her
lab for, as I feel this might be the best way to approach pricing.  I
look forward to hearing from you, and thank you again for your


Request for Question Clarification by silviares-ga on 03 Sep 2002 12:10 PDT
Hello again

one more answer from a different collector came in just now and
because I don't know the answer to the questions he's asking I'll post
it here as a request of clarification for you. Here it is:


How complete a set are you looking for? And how "stock" (meaning
original components) is it necessary for the set to be? And how nice a
The case by itself sells for $60 - $100.
An almost complete set recently sold for $900 on eBay.
Absolutely stock, complete and in great condition sets are worth about
$1500 - $2000+
Incomplete, but nice, sets sell for between $300 and $600.
I have some contacts, and two incomplete sets, so let's keep talking.

I can give you the email contact of this person if you are interested.


Clarification of Question by dacary-ga on 03 Sep 2002 12:59 PDT

Thanks for contacting me again.  Since I'm wanting to write a book on
1950s toys with an atomic age focus, and with pictures, I'd like to
focus first on finding as complete a set as possible.  I can always
work down, if I can't find a complete set.  I hope that answers your

Request for Question Clarification by silviares-ga on 03 Sep 2002 13:16 PDT
Hi Dave

First of all I followed your directions in the clarification to my
first request and sent a new email to the first collector trying to
find out if the person is really willing to sell and what the price
would be. I'm waiting for a reply.

Second, in regard to your last clarification, if all you need are
detailed pictures then one of the collectors I contacted suggested the
" ...
The other possibility that comes to mind is to take an extended series
of high resolution digital pictures of a complete set, documents, etc.
and compliment the pictures with some promotional literature from the

If that is the case you can probably contact the AC Gilbert Discovery
As I said they have one, they are probably not willing to sell it but
you should be able to get detailed pictures.


Clarification of Question by dacary-ga on 03 Sep 2002 14:30 PDT
Thank you for your suggestions about pictures; it may come to that. 
However, let's just try and see if there is a lab available first.  If
there is a complete one for sale (whether I purchase it or not), you
would be entitled to the $200.  Let's hope one can be found.  Thanks

Request for Question Clarification by silviares-ga on 03 Sep 2002 22:12 PDT
Hello again !!
I got a reply from my first lead and is not a positive one. I was
trying to understand if he was willing to sell and what the price
would have been and I got this reply

  The Atomic Energy Sets are not THAT scarce.  I really am expecting
to hang on to the one I have, though.  You might also contact ..... to
see if he knows of anyone with a spare set at the moment.  Generally
speaking, depending on condition, they seem to sell in the $500 to
$1000 range

I do not know if making an offer would make him change his mind ...

Also I can guarantee that in my search I have already contacted about
50 people and he is the only one which is optimistic about finding a
set. Everybody else's comments have been quite discouraging.

There is another collector here that replied to my request with the
following answer. I though I would copy it here. He sent 5 pictures
with his mail in a zip file that are quite good. If you are interested
let me know how I can forward the pictures to you. Also he seems to be
extremely helpful and kind so it could be a good contact if you decide
to go the picture way.
Here is the mail

Unfortunately I cannot direct you to a specific set but here are a few
of individuals who may be able to network you and your friend.
collecting bits and ieces years ago, parts were too hard to come by
and the
market didn'r justify the time and expense.

In the meantime I have attached several pictures of my two mint red
box U-238
sets, and a prototype (or something) green box set which was pictured
in the
1950 A.C.Gilbert toys catalog, and I'm not certain that it was ever
These are not for sale, they are my collection and are not duplicates.
pictures will come to you as a zipped file so if you can't open it and
it into the several individual pictures, let me know and I'll send

Meantime, let me knoe if i can be of any further assistance. Verty
little ids
known about these sets, and I know nothing other than what I've read
in a few
mweagre resources. The survivors of the Gilbert family have no
of how or why these came about, but there seems to be consensus that
introduction was met with claims of it being dangerous so, coupled
with the
high price tag of 50 bucks in 1951, noy many were sold and it is the
rare set which exists complete, let alond in mint condition.


Clarification of Question by dacary-ga on 04 Sep 2002 12:44 PDT
Silviares-ga has alrady been apprised of the response.
There is no answer at this time.

Subject: Re: 1950 "Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab" toy
From: journalist-ga on 14 Aug 2002 09:10 PDT
Greetings!  Other than locating the Meccano company which bought out
Gilbert, I could find no complete lab online for sale (and Meccano may
not have one but it never hurts to ask).  Have you contacted them for
details?  If not, here is their contact information (and thank you for
enlightening my knowledge on this unique product!):

92-98, boulevard Victor Hugo
92110 CLICHY - France
TÚl : (33) 1 41 40 98 60 Fax : (33) 1 41 40 98 79
Subject: Re: 1950 "Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab" toy
From: hansg-ga on 14 Aug 2002 15:10 PDT
Three years ago I sold one of these on eBay. Since then I have seen
them go by occasionally. Sorry, I have long since erased my buyer's
name. But check eBay occasionally; you WILL find one.
Subject: Re: 1950 "Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab" toy
From: huntsman-ga on 17 Aug 2002 16:13 PDT
BTW, there's also a 1950 Gilbert catalog on eBay:

   American Flyer Gilbert Toys Catalog 1950  
   Item # 1759078449
Subject: Re: 1950 "Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab" toy
From: maniac-ga on 17 Aug 2002 19:40 PDT
For reference, A.C. Gilbert's Discovery Village in Salem, Oregon has
one of the Atomic Energy Lab toys. The home page is at...

and "Imagination Station", one of the permanent exhibits described

includes this toy along with several others made by A.C. Gilbert. If
you are in Oregon and have young children or are interested in toys,
the village is a good place to spend an afternoon.
Subject: Re: 1950 "Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab" toy
From: robertskelton-ga on 19 Aug 2002 20:43 PDT
Also at eBay is a manual for it:
Subject: Re: 1950 "Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab" toy
From: letterrip-ga on 09 Sep 2002 15:27 PDT

I believe I have a lead that can find both the Gilbert lab, and the
Chemcraft item that has expired,

if you like I can post the contact information here (I can wait till
the item expires, since I don't wish to interfere with other
researchers and I'm not a googlnaut...)

Subject: Re: 1950 "Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab" toy
From: dacary-ga on 09 Sep 2002 16:05 PDT
Dear Letterrip,

Thank you for your email of 09/09.  Yes, I would appreciate receiivng
information on the Gilbert Lab and Chemcraft set--particularly the
Please feel free to post info and I'll post comment in response. 
Thanks again,

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