Forrest Mims, Radio Shack, and the Notebooks that Launched a Thousand Careers

There was a time when Radio Shack offered an incredible variety of supplies for the electronics hobbyist. In the back of each store, past the displays of Realistic 8-track players, Minimus-7 speakers, Patrolman scanners, and just beyond the battery bin where you could cash in your “Battery of the Month Club” card for a fresh, free 9-volt battery, lay the holy of holies — the parts. Perfboard panels on hinges held pegs with cards of resistors for 49 cents, blister packs of 2N2222 transistors and electrolytic capacitors, and everything else you needed to get your project going. It was a treasure trove to a budding hardware hobbyist.

But over on the side, invariably near the parts, was a rack of books for sale, mostly under the Archer brand. 12-year old me only had Christmas and birthday money to spend, and what I could beg from my parents, so I tended to buy books — I figured I needed to learn before I started blowing money on parts. And like many of that vintage, one of the first books I picked up was the Engineer’s Notebook by Forrest M. Mims III.

Wish I could find my original copy from 1979. This one is on Amazon.
Wish I could find my original copy from 1979. I just bought this one from Amazon.

Many years rolled by, and my trusty and shop-worn first edition of Mims’ book, with my marginal notes and more than one soldering iron burn scarring its pulp pages, has long since gone missing. I learned so much from that book, and as I used it to plan my Next Big Project I’d often wonder how the book came about. Those of you that have seen the book and any of its sequels, like the Mini-notebook Series, will no doubt remember the style of the book. Printed on subdued graph paper with simple line drawings and schematics, the accompanying text did not appear to be typeset, but rather hand lettered. Each page was a work of technical beauty that served as an inspiration as I filled my own graph-paper notebooks with page after page of circuits I would find neither the time nor money to build.

I always wondered about those books and how they came about. It was a pretty astute marketing decision by Radio Shack to publish them and feature them so prominently near the parts — sort of makes the string of poor business decisions that led to the greatly diminished “RadioShack” stores of today all the more puzzling. Luckily, Forrest Mims recently did an AMA on reddit, and he answered a lot of questions regarding how these books came about. The full AMA is worth a read, but here’s the short story of those classics of pulp non-fiction.

Like many of us, Mims had no formal education in the fields that were to become his stock in trade. A graduate of Texas A&M with a degree in government, Mims was largely self-educated in electronics. After a stint with Air Force intelligence in Vietnam and an engineering assignment to the Air Force Weapons Lab that required special dispensation because he lacked an engineering degree, Mims continued to teach himself electronics in the early 1970s in exactly the way his Engineer’s Notebook would later document — one small project at a time.

Forrest M. Mims III. Source: ForrestMims.org
Forrest M. Mims III. Source: ForrestMims.org

After co-founding MITS, the company that would later go on to produce the Altair 8800, Mims was gaining quite a reputation in hobby electronics and as a writer. With a monthly column in Popular Electronics magazine by 1975 and a couple of volumes of hobbyist books written for Howard Sams and Company, Radio Shack’s technical editor Dave Gunzel approached Mims about working for them. He knew of Mims’ notebook style and asked if it would be possible to develop a book using the same layouts.

Mims rose to the challenge, hand-inking each page painstakingly on Mylar sheets. He recounts that “a single error required redoing an entire page,” and that the effort “drew blood from the middle finger of my right hand.” The first pages of the book were “typeset” with a Selectric typewriter to ease the reader into the hand-drawn pages to come. Illustrations and schematics were likewise hand drawn, and all by Mims himself.

The later Mini-notebook series were produced using similar techniques, although this time mercifully with a mechanical pencil. Each volume took about three weeks to produce, including designing each circuit and building it four times to make sure it worked.

Mims’ first Engineer’s Notebook would eventually sell 650,000 copies, with the updated Engineer’s Notebook II and the Mini-notebook series would only add to that total. The numbers are a testament to not only the content and the style of the books, but to the way in which Mims presented the subject matter – simple building blocks, easily understood as units, and moreover, easily built on a breadboard. The books practically begged the reader to experiment, and there’s no doubt they helped Radio Shack’s sales of parts and tools.

Image Source: Mims' Mini-Notebook 555 Circuits scans viaArchive.org
Image Source: Mims’ Mini-Notebook 555 Circuits scans via Archive.org

But the most striking thing about Mims’ books is their staying power. First published long before most of the core demographic of reddit was even born, the AMA is a running stream of appreciation for the works and how they launched many careers in electronics.

I’m also inspired by how Mims has monetized his life — he takes his love of science and electronics and just goes for his goal with great vigor, and without regard to his lack of formal education in any of the fields he works in as a citizen scientist. There are valuable lessons there for the hacker community, far and above how to build a monostable multivibrator from a 555 chip.

[Featured and Thumbnail image source: Engineer’s Mini-Notebook Basic Semiconductor Circuits by Forrest M. Mims, III.  Scanned images from Archive.org]

137 thoughts on “Forrest Mims, Radio Shack, and the Notebooks that Launched a Thousand Careers

      1. Dad? o.O

        Haha likely not, but I remember reading my Dad’s “Getting Started in Electronics” book in my youth… and now design industrial controllers (and other bespoke widgets) for a large equipment manufacturer.

    1. That could say more about the tech school and/or your attitude while in attendance, that it does about the books of topic, although IMO they are excellent books. To be fair one can never be sure about the program they intend to attend and how good a fit it will be until one is actually there. I wouldn’t have bothered responding, but I’d hate for young impressionable minds to read your comment and use it to reject formal education and/or training because of it.

      1. Doug,

        Really?

        It was meant as a compliment.

        If a simple comment on this site, can alter the course of a persons career, then they weren’t supposed to go that route.

        Also every truly gifted engineer and true genuis I have met were self taught. Colledge and education have devolved into much less than they used to be. Technology and information are drivers of innovation not the universities.

        You have really missed the point of the entire article.

        Flame me if you wish.

        1. Nah my intent was not to flame, just using the comments to discuss. No I didn’t miss to point of the article, hard to miss because it’s a point that’s often made here on Hackaday. Thing is I don’t agree with that point, or do I agree with the fail and fail often is an educational path, a theme in the current issue of QST. In my experience many of those who are self taught never have never learned how to trouble shoot. To effectively trouble shoot or design a circuit that avoids failure requires doing the sometimes boring work to learn the basics. Working for another or self employed, in the world of commerce s person who can’t trouble shoot or avoid design a product that is prone to fail because the engineer doesn’t have a good grasp of the basics is a money looser not a money maker. I had hope I ended to comment of mine, with my intent clear. I also hoped to avoid using a broad brush in regard to educational institutions. Looks like I failed on both of those. his will be my last post on this particular thread because i’s the sort of thing than become circular and a waste of our time.

          1. I’m mostly self-taught. Part of my education was building projects from magazines, using parts pulled from broken electronics. Troubleshooting was required, as I never new for sure if the parts I had were working or not, or the correct part, or had the proper pinout.

            I’m pretty good at troubleshooting. I’ve fixed many piece of equipment that other techs had given up on. A few places snuck me their tough-dog repairs. I didn’t notice, I just fixed them.

            I have designed and built a far bit of test equipment of my own. In the early ’80s, I was building capacitance meters that could take readings stable down to 0.01pF (10fF).

            Some of the best techs/engineers I’ve known are self-taught. I have a friend who built experiments for NASA back in the ’70s that are still operating in satellites today. He started there without a college degree.

        2. I’ve met many engineers with degrees that really struggle with the most basic things… eg: why is the blue LED brighter than the red LED when I used the same resistor – I kid you not! (and this individual was being paid three times my salary).
          It seems many engineering courses teach “how to do well at exams”, and having an engineering degree doesn’t necessarily make you one.
          And the complement of course – there are many great engineers out there that soak up the goodness of formal education and can really apply it.

          Are you an engineer because you love it and breathe it, or did you do engineering because you couldn’t think of anything else to do?

    1. Because solar cells are photo diodes (and vice versa, technically). Did you know you can shine light into an LED and get a voltage? Red LEDs work better than the other colors.

        1. I mean, I know that solar cell are basically photo diodes, but they share the same technology does nto mean they are used the same way and have the same for factor, you are not going to use a photo diode to generate current for powering a device, nor use a solar cell to detect light.

          Yes of course you can, but that would not be really efficient, that’s also why they have different symbols

          1. The technology has changed over the years. The old solar cell was not like a modern silicon based solar cell. It was a Cadmium based photo voltaic cell that was so inefficient that it was more often used as a light detector rather than a power source.

      1. I’ve never tried this, but I’ve seen where people have used various colored LEDs as color detectors.

        I have most of the “Notebooks” and still use them to this day, even after more than 20 years as a professional technician. As the memory gets shorter, it’s nice to have such basic, easy-to-use reference books as a refresher.

      2. And that’s one of Forest Mims’ things. He was playing with LEDs early, and he uncovered that they could also be used light detectors. There was some battle with Bell or AT&T over this, he wrote about it years go. Being able to use them both ways made it easy to have two way communication when coupled to fiber optics.

        Michael

          1. Don’s biggest contribution was the TV typewriter. He was way ahead of his time with that project. As for using LEDs as photodiodes, that idea began in high school in 1962 when I discovered that CdS photoresistors can both detect and emit light (under high voltage). In 1966, I discovered that silicon solar cells can emit near-infrared. I described how LEDs can be used as detectors in “Light Emitting Diodes” (Howard Sams & Co., 1972, pp. 118-119). Since then I’ve written extensively about applications for LEDs as spectrally-selective photodiodes.

  1. Unfortunately Mimms can’t re-publish them as they were produced for RadioShack and they held the copyright on them, during the bankruptcy last year the rights were sold to General Wireless who now trades under the RadioShack name.

          1. The Amazon versions are identical to the RadioShack compilations of 4 Mini-Notebooks per volume in 4 total volumes. They are published by Master Publishing, which also sold books to RadioShack when it was Radio Shack. RadioShack still sells “Getting Started in Electronics.” That book has sold 1.3 million copies or more. From start to finish was 56 days, including the layouts, the hand-drawn pages and testing each circuit 4 times. The multiple testing was to avoid errors. Doing only 1 or 2 tests might have left an undetected error, since it was easy to rebuild most of the circuits from memory.

    1. They really are not copyrighted.
      If you check copyright law, simply reformatting known or public knowledge is not protected. Copyright requires a substantial new or original thought. The circuit diagrams was a simple collation of existing circuit diagrams!

      It could also be argued that since copyright law law does not cover “operating instructions”, the circuits where simply showing the operation of a component.
      see
      https://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ01.pdf
      “ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices,… information that is common property and containing no original authorship

  2. I have them all around here somewhere. Honestly they should be required materials for any EE program. Take a month and build every circuit no matter how overly simple and old they teach real fundamentals.

    1. I had the larger version (60-in-1?), and almost immediately got it taken away Christmas morning, because my eyes caught the page that noted the Siren circuit.

      My Dad did NOT appreciate getting woken up that way. I got it back, but there were ground rules applied.

  3. Not sure if I still have it, but I remember that first edition notebook back when integrated circuits were new and you could go down to radio shack and buy all kinds of cool stuff including tube amplifiers. The copy I had was bright yellow. Learned a lot from Forest Mims III notebooks. Glad to see he is getting some credit for all the inspiration his work created.

  4. I built my first code practice oscillator using the 555 circuit in the book and parts I bought at the local, now defunct in Canada, Radio Shack. I think it was 1976 when he generously began and long and and happy relationship with me. Thanks Forest.

  5. I got my 6 year old daughter snap circuits kits. They’re pretty cool for a 6 year old because you can do things without blowing anything up. I think I will look up some old copies of these books for after we’ve exhausted the things you can do with snap circuits.

  6. Chris Mitchell – (Good Penmanship With A 3D Printer) Please do a MimsFont complete with his hand-drawn schematic symbols! From here on out I propose we post all our schematics in MimsFont rather than Eagle :-)

          1. The XKCD font cited by TheRegnirpos below looks good. My hand-lettered font is all caps. I’ve been cautioned about allowing it to be used, since someone might publish something that none of us would want any connections with–as occurred when a con artist clipped circuits from the first “Engineer’s Notebook,” pasted them into his own notebook and persuaded investors to give him lots of money for a new “invention” he claimed would be very profitable. I learned about this scam when law enforcement people in California (I live in Texas) called and told me.

  7. I have all of Mim’s books. He is a genius. He also published a magazine called “Science Probe” with many projects. It only lasted a very short time. I have a few of them.

      1. Larry Steckler was the publisher of Science Probe! magazine. (I was editor.) The magazine failed when we couldn’t attract sufficient advertising–but I still get letters/emails about it. I asked Larry about posting all the issues online, and he said there were copyright problems. I’ll ask him again. I have many of the issues in storage, including first printings in original plastic wrappers.

    1. Lancaster’s TTL Cookbook, CMOS Cookbook, and Active Filter Cookbook are industry classics but they were not for beginners. As well there was bit of snake-oil about Don’s work in later years that I found a bit off-putting

  8. Harry Helms worked closely at Radio Shack with Forrest and helped produce the books. They became great friends. He told me how him and Forrest spend late evenings with those mylar sheets. Harry would later start a publishing company (LLH) and I was fortunate to be selected to write my first book for him “Programming the PIC Microcontroller with PICBASIC”. We lost Harry to cancer but he was a great friend of Forrest’s. I was able to share in a few conversations with Forrest through Harry and even mistakenly received one of his royalty checks instead of mine by mistake. Unfortunately I have never met him. His books are great and got me started in electronics. I still have my First Edition of the Engineer’s Notebook 2nd printing 1983. I also have my full set of the original mini-books. He inspired me to write my books.

    1. Chuck, thanks for remembering my best friend, Harry Helms. Harry came to Radio Shack from Texas Instruments. He was a new editor there when I drove to Fort Worth with the original India ink, Mylar pages of the first hand-lettered book, Engineer’s Notebook. Harry watched as I found an empty office and sprayed each page with a protective coating. Several years later, I recommended Harry to Harold Crawford at McGraw-Hill. Harold hired Harry, and that began Harry’s career in New York. Minnie and I visited Harry shortly before he passed away. As usual, he had good advice about publishing, especially how to survive in the Internet era. I’ll have more about Harry in a new memoir. Forrest

  9. Make your own modern notebooks with iPython Notebook. You can include text, graphs and charts and data and generate graphs from equations. You can even use a very cool “XKCD” plot. Latest version has a name change. Install Jupyter on Linux and check some tutorials. You can generate pages that go straight to blogs.

  10. when I was around 8-10 years old, I got my hands on my dad’s engineers notebooks and the getting started in electronics book. I guess I liked how they were drawn and written. I used to draw nonsensical schematics because I thought the symbols looked cool. Today I am only slightly better educated when it comes to electronics.

  11. Don’t forget, Radio Shack sold other books. Most or all existed elsewhere, they negotiated a deal, and Radio Shack would sell them in the store with a Radio Shack cover and a lower price.

    So in the seventies, you could get some National Semiconductor databooks and even application books, rather than make up some story to try to get them from National. Some of Don Lancaster’s books were available that way for a while. You could get books about shortwave listening and CB and building speakers that way.

    They’d generally be published by Howard Sams, which was the best publisher of hobby electronics. Some were perhaps truncated or modified, a have a thin book of speaker projects that looks like a Sams book, but is thin, and specifies parts from Radio Shack.

    One time at a hamfest, I got a Radio Shack Dictionary of Electronics, the guy had stacks of them. He was selling them for a dollar each. A previous edition or printing, but still useful today, nice and thick. I wouldn’t have bought the Sams version, too expensive when other books were calling.

    Michael

  12. I used to love read his books in high school. Had a really good electronics prof in high school too.

    I guess all it takes to fall in love with a subject is a couple of books and one decent teacher.

  13. Great post – very worthwhile to give Forrest some respect for these great books. I have a couple in storage somewhere, and much of the content is now in my bloodstream it seems.

    If you grew up with internet, it will be hard to imagine just what we did for information before it. If you were into electronics, you HAD to have several reference books around. Nowadays you can Google up a reference circuit for a 555 astable. But then? You either had the ratty dog-eared spec sheet somewhere… or you had the Mims book (or Lancaster book). And you can doodle or add notes in the margin – something we can’t yet do with the Internet, as far as i know.

    I always have a college-type lab notebook on my desk/workbench where I make notes, drawings, observations etc of all my current projects. Invaluable.

  14. Bought these when I was a kid, still have them. But they never made any sense to me. Lots of circuit diagrams, but no explanation whatsoever of what each circuit component did, why the values were chosen, etc. Just a little bit of general theory and a lot of diagrams. Absolutely zero information on how to design your own circuits.
    Everybody else seems to think they were the greatest thing since sliced bread. I did like the looks of the diagrams and hand lettering. But I guess you had to be a lot smarter than me to actually learn anything from them.

    1. They weren’t textbooks. Not meant to learn basic electricity with them. They were books of projects, practical uses and ideas.

      Radio Shack also sold some books on electricity and electronics that were from Texas Instruments. Those were the books that started with electrons and valence shells, and worked up through all the various laws (Kirchoff’s, Ohm’s, etc.) and into transistor operation.

  15. I guess I must be pretty dumb, but I got those books when I was a kid, still have them, and found them completely worthless for learning electronics. A little general theory (very basic and cartoonish with very few details), a whole bunch of hand-drawn circuit diagrams, but zero explanation of why the circuit components were chosen and placed where they were, zero information about how or why to choose particular component values, zero information on designing your own circuits. I keep re-reading them to see if I missed something, but to me they’re just nicely drawn cookbooks with no practical use beyond reproducing the simple circuits presented.
    For instance, he shows some oscillator circuits, and calls one a Hartley oscillator, but doesn’t even try to explain why it oscillates, or how it differs from other oscillators. He shows plenty of resistors and capacitors in the circuits, with values, but not a word of how he arrived at those values, or even in most cases why the components were in the circuit in the first place.
    Based on my experience with these books, which claimed to be an easy way to learn electronics, I decided electronics was actually the mysterious realm of people in the know, who had no interest in divulging their secrets. And I still feel that way. Like I said, I guess I must be stupid.

    1. They’re mostly example circuits that you can use if you want to do the exact function he intended, but no substitute for an introductory text. Some people think that learning electronics means being able to duplicate a circuit that someone else designed and maybe combine a few example circuits into something larger.

    2. Funny I had a similar but opposite impression of the Mimms books when I began teaching myself electronics back in the late 90s, right before the internet became useful for this sort of stuff.

      I found Ohms law and basic network analysis useless compared to 555 timer circuits, op-amp circuits with vastly simplified values tables, and so on.

      Really the best approach for me with Mimms books was using them to learn how things work by starting from his circuit and changing things while using a oscope.

      I have a real soft spot for Mimms books.

    3. No you aren’t stupid, and most likely not the lone Ranger in your experience. The circuits are great in proving the fundamentals you should have learned prior to building the circuit are valid. This as an example where “self education” falls short, and many of the self education never learn of the shortcomings of their education. As far as I’m concerned no education gained gained without expending effort. While the tech school program I attend wasn’t 100% perfect I found it’s instruction method worked well for me. The Mimms books that I seen didn’t go that far into details. As well learned the basics we where also bread boarding circuits that showed us the basics we where learning where valid. As time moved on we where bread bording simple circuits similar to those in the Mimms books, with the instructor quizzing use on why the circuit works and funtion the component in the circuit serve. when it come to educational institution YMMV as those institutions are always changing. I shouldn’t tell from your comment if you are still intersted in electronics or not. In the event you are go to archive . org and search for NEETS(Navy Electricity Electronic Training Series), also YouTube has many excellent old and modern training videos, both resources are a good adjunct to the Mimms books. Good luck in acquiring what it is you wish to acquire.

    4. Radio Shack didn’t want textbooks. We had meetings about the best approach for a hobbyist book, and their orders were to use as many of their products as possible in circuits that worked. Experimenters who wanted to learn more could then find more formal references or textbooks. Or they could do as I’ve always done: experiment with a basic circuit and use what work’s best. That’s what I still do. Occasionally a PhD EE will write to tell me why a circuit I’ve published shouldn’t work, including my eyeglass-mounted travel aid for the blind, a novel strobe flash, my ultra-sensitive twilight photometer, etc. What’s interesting is that none of them had actually built the circuit that they claimed would not work!

      1. This is the difference between a technician and an engineer. A Technician *knows* what works and what doesn’t work by having the hands-on experience… an Engineer uses pages of math, tables and diagrams to say “it is supposed to work”.

        1. It is funny that in many cases something “that works” comes by mostly by accident of hands-on work. Only THEN is math brought to bear on a problem, and complicates the matter to oblivion.

        2. This is not the difference between an engineer and a technician. It’s the difference between either of those and a HACK. Any technician who can’t do the math and doesn’t know what each component’s purpose is in almost any circuit, is a pretend technician.

      1. However these kits aren’t that much different than going out buying a bread board and the individual comments and assembling them. Nothing wrong with having a piece of “art” to be visible rather than stashing it way unseen in a storage tube where it will never arise curiosity in others. No one is recommending others purchase something they don’t want, nothing wrong with giving cred. to those trying to revive interest in DIY electronics

        1. Doug, has anyone ever suggested that you are functionally illiterate? I can’t make anything of any of your posts.

          I grew up with f.mims and many others; I was a sponge for information, I would get it wherever I could. I also agree with the comment about Don Lancaster and snake oil. Some of his projects were from another planet.

    1. Star’s Circuit Classics project has been fun to watch. These beautifully designed boards are for guys who want a reminder of their early days in hobby electronics. Star sent me the very first prototype boards, which I thought were great. But that was months before she finished the project and sent me the final boards, all neatly wrapped and accompanied by clever explanation cards. The new boards are beautiful. I’m going to build all three and place them on a book case next to the print books from which they came. Meanwhile, keep an eye on Star’s projects. She’s super creative and a first class engineer. She’s also a pilot.

  16. Mim’s books are requirement for the Physical Computing class i teach at Temple University. One of my students commented on the high quality of the ‘custom hand written font’, I suggested the book was written by hand originally, the students were stunned.

  17. I went to purchase secondhand copies of his “Transistor Projects”, volumes 1 and 2 for my preteen son to try out (like I did at his age). Extremely expensive if you manage to find copies, but still worth the cost…

    1. I recently got volume 1 off Amazon. Plan to get the others, as my first electronics project was out of these books (the FET touch switch). Three whole parts, but I was 14 and thought it was cool.

  18. closing my eyes, I still feel the paper under my fingers, and the smell of those pages stained by that old rosin flux and burns… that typical waxing those old radio circuits had which added to the book patina… more than 20 years ago, and still like yesterday

  19. The first thing I had to do with them is label the leads of a 3 terminal device and cross out the not-in-order numbers that were referenced in a disjointed table which the numbers were in order. When some loose ends were left hanging and things didn’t work I had to get out the other sources I had at the time, Radio Electronics and Popular Electronics. Solid State Topics was a very good monthly series in one of those zines that also included Mims.
    When one of those publications made it known that Forrest believed that Earth is flat and only 6k years old my copies which I still have didn’t get used much.

    1. I believe you mischaracterize Mr. Mims when you state that he believes that Earth is flat. He is an unabashed “creationist”, but “creationist” !~= flat-earther. For that matter, differences of opinion regarding origins make no difference in any of the regular sciences in which HAD would be involved, so I’m not sure how such things are germane to this discussion.

    2. Mimms is absolutely not a flat earther. He is definitely religious.

      I found a discouraging new item some years ago, in which a doomsday virus eugenics-promoting U-texas professor had a big public argument with Mimms over the topic of overpopulation, with Mimms basically getting browbeaten in front of a large technical audience for having the audacity to suggest overpopulation may be a myth, or dependent on a consumption-paradigm exploitative of resources and citizens.

      For the record I am not religious at all, but really despise overpopulation rhetoric, and reading that made me like Forrest even more, though I simply cannot relate to his religious beliefs.

      1. Noirwhal, I attended a lecture at the annual meeting of the Texas Academy of Science in which University of Texas professor Eric Pianka laughed about the four horsemen of the Apocalypse and his hope that most of the human population would be killed by disease. He specifically suggested Ebola. I reported this in “The Citizen Scientist” and was widely attacked. In response, a member of the Texas Academy of Science who was also present came to my defense at the risk of loosing the tenure status for which he was being considered. I’m glad to report that he did receive the tenure he so richly deserved.

  20. I had the Engineers Notebook when I was younger too. Gave me more than one idea for things I never did have the time or money to make. (including at least one project that would have featured a microprocessor back when the microprocessors listed in the catalogs were things like the Z80 rather than the easy-to-use/easy-to-program microcontrollers of today). Then I ended up shifting away from electronics to focus more on my computer programming hobby (more than anything else I think the fact that computer programming was a much cheaper hobby than electronics is probably why I ended up sticking with that)

    1. Same here – hacking code has a lower barrier to entry than hacking circuits. Plus I always seemed to be able to get a computer to do what I wanted, but often had to fight to get a circuit to behave.

  21. Thank you! Great flash back story. I know I had them all plus a yellow phone book sized catalog of circuits that probably came from RS also.
    Unfortunatly just this past summer it all went to the dump after finding the entire collection soaked from a roof leak.
    But the great memories or learning before the internet will always be with me!

  22. Before I started down the electronics path it was the Amateur Scientist section of Scientific American under C.L. Stong that got me hooked. My local library kept several years worth of issues from the 60’s on hand. The pen and ink illustrations is what drew me in.

  23. The first book I ever had was his reference manual bought from a obscured RS in a rural place while it was snowing and I was looking at the RISC IC they had that looked cool..

  24. First I agree Mimms books are great. Also I recognize they aren’t for everyone, but nothing wrong with hthat because one size fit’s all rarely happens. I as around age twelve I decided to spend my money on purchasing education books in topics of my interest. Not that I was some sort of brilliant twelve year old. After reading dad’s stash of PM, PS etc. books from the late 40s and early 50s that included a handful of electronics magazines, along with grandpa auto tech school text book from the 20s I developed the realization that being able to trouble shot was important, and that to be able to trouble shoot getting deep into the basics is important no matter what was being studied Right or wrong scans of the Mimms book are circulating on line. Also scan of old electronic magazines are available as well. Generally the electronics magazines give a decent detail of the project they feature. Where the closest Radio shack was 25 miles away I didn’t purse the books until after I was an adult with decent paying job and was free to travel wherever I want with my own car.

  25. Radio Shack’s customers didn’t leave Radioshack; Radio Shack left its customers. In the 1980s, Radio Shack had one of the best selling PC compatibles. It’s Color Computer series was a cheap way to get into computing. The Tandy 102 (made by Kycera) was one of the first laptop computers sold, and likely had the best keyboard ever put on a laptop computer.

    On a personal note, the TRS Model 1 was the first computer I ever touched, having failed to construct a COSMAC ELF in a timely manner.

    Even though we have Frys, Halted, and Weird Stuff in the bay area, I still went to Radio Shack now and then. Every time I went into a store, I was amazed how much there wasn’t in the store. There was plenty of room for products, but instead there was wasted space.

    1. So true. Every attempt I made to shop at radio shack resulted in a sales droid trying to sell me for a higher price a cell phone that I could buy cheaper elsewhere. They would be disappointed when I told them I was there for parts even when I often would spend more on parts than the price of the phone they were trying to push.

      Hey, see this samsung flip phone that verizon gives you for free when you sign a two year contract? If you sign a contract with me I’ll sell it to you for $49.99.

      Ohh, your buying $87 in parts, here let me slowly ring you out while I act annoyed the whole time because you wouldn’t give me $49.99 for a free cell phone.

  26. Engineer’s Notebook Last edition 1992? 30usd$ roughly on the amazoon. Steep. Yup been a fan for some time. Like a cookbook for ttl/cmos with some linear. Useful Bits and pieces of a meal but few full courses. Full courses more akin to burger n fries. Some of the recipes right from AN-application notes. The 80’s blue book with its pre punched three ring binder holes was a good idea though i had to split the binding so all my notes/mods would cram in. Most of which converted to pdf but the blue book still serves primarily as index in binder. Enjoyed and appreciated. Sadly The Shack has gone away mostly. Some minor glory still left in a small parts drawer cabinet in back of stores few still open. Prices too high so that didnt go away.

  27. Dan’s post and the comments bring back lots of memories from the three decades I spent writing books for Radio Shack. Some time ago I moved from electronics to science–where the electronics background has proved invaluable. On 4 February I will have completed 27 years of measuring the ozone layer, the water vapor layer, the atmosphere’s optical depth (haze), solar UV-B, etc., all thanks to basic opamp circuits from my books and using LEDs as spectrally-selective photodiodes. 32 of my science columns for MAKE Magazine have recently been published as a book by Makermedia (“Science Experiments”), two of which about twilight photometry are free (search ). This project uses an ultra-high gain opamp and various LEDs to detect aerosol layers (3-25 km), the stratospheric aerosol layer (15-30 km), the peak of the ozone layer (20-25 km) and even meteoric smoke (76-113 km). Recently a college professor wrote to explain why the circuit will not work due to the 10-40 gigohm feedback resistor it employs. I only wish he had tried the circuit first. And, yes, the surface of the resistor must be pristine, which is why it’s wiped with alcohol after construction, and a flying connection to the opamp input is employed to prevent dust on the circuit board from causing problems. All three of my children did highly successful science projects that scientists told them would not work. I’ll report the details in a new memoir. Forrest M. Mims III (http://www.forrestmims.org).

  28. I still have my engineer notebooks. I built many of the projects and learned how to build, debug and improve projects.
    also built ever one of those red “pbox” kits radios shack had for many years. The AM and later AM/FM radios, intercoms and lots of good fun.

  29. I also still have all my “first editions” from Radio Shack. I cherish them. I agree that Radio Shack decided to forget about its long pre-existing maker community at some point but let’s look at this realistically. They had a lot of reasons to give up on us besides trying to become a phone store (and failing). Originally, our sources of stuff (IN USA) were all mail order, scary surplus outlets, Digi-Key, Jameco (etc) and a handful of scattered one-off brick and mortar stores. ONLY Radio Shack had a dependable selection of hobbyist parts and supplies after Lafayette succumbed. Ham Radio became less about “building your own because nobody makes one” and just “buying what you need”. This also happened with Computers. There was a time when a 12 bit 32K computer cost $18,000 or more. (I still have more than one Color Computer)

    The sad fact is… what Radio Shack was selling us earned them less and less profit over time. I was thrilled when Radio Shack created “Super Radio Shacks” aka TechAmerica… but the truth is… by then… nobody came. All the stuff you could ever want in a retail store and it seemed like only a handful of people even knew they existed. This probably gave some folks at Tandy a black eye and they swore never again to have faith in makers keeping them afloat.

    At least that how it appeared to me based on their behavior when you would go in for parts. It wasn’t until Arduino became popular that Radio Shack started to embrace makers again… and by this time… everyone likely just gave up going there for things since we now have the Internet… our WALMART solution for “getting all your parts cheap, direct from China” So… Like Popular Electronics, Radio Electronics and countless other electronics hobbyist resources that dried up over the years… the Internet killed Radio Shack’s parts business. (Of course, this is just one loony’s opinion)

    1. Realistically I know there will never be a large store filled with all the components one might need at affordable prices in every town. The market will not support that.

      But.. I still wouldn’t stick up for Radio Shack.

      First.. getting into the phone business was a horrible idea. People talk about how the parts business was harmed by the internet and cheap imports from China but they somehow neglect the reality that cellphones are even worse. Who did they think they could compete with? On the higher end, people looking for a good quality phone are going to go straight to their cellphone provider. They already have their own shops. The only people going elsewhere are the ones looking for a cheap phone. You can get those at any grocery store, gas station, mall kiosk or even liquor store. This has been true for longer than cheap components from China have been available in hobbyist quantities on the internet. I think the Rat Shack executives just saw that everyone was buying cellphones, dreamed dollar signs and totally neglected to look at how over-served the market already was. If you aren’t the phone company then selling cellphones is like setting up sunglass kiosks at flea markets and craft shows.

      At least now the stores are really Sprint I guess… It’s too bad Sprint knocked down half their towers shortly before they bought Nextel and now their coverage sucks. Actually.. I can see how their self destructive decision making process and that of Radio Shack line up quite well!

      Second, why so many stores? Really I hate to argue for closing stores. It means fewer jobs. Plus I would love to have a real parts store on every corner but come on! Before the big downsizing and sale to Sprint, at least in what I consider my area (and it’s a big area, I drive a lot) there were Radio Shacks every couple of miles any direction in the cities and at least one it seemed wherever you went even in the country! I dream of a day when there actually are so many ‘makers’ we can support parts stores the way the general population supports McDonalds but come on! It was unrealistic to try to keep open so many locations. Each one is overhead! I suspect Radio Shack could have closed 2/3 of their stores and still covered 99% of the same customers.

      And that might partially explain my third point. The prices! Please understand I would never expect a brick and mortar store to compete with the internet on prices. Somebody has to pay for the building, the lights, the person behind the register, etc… But really? The price Radio Shack charges for components is just unreal. If each Radio Shack just stocked their own components bought of the internet in low quantity, pretty much exactly the way most of us buy components on the internet… they could still mark them up an order of magnitude and yet be significantly less expensive than what they sell today. It’s like Radio Shack made all it’s parts 30 years ago using more expensive 1980s processes, stocked up some huge warehouse and they are still trying to sell off that inventory today while recouping not only their initial investment but also 3 decades of warehouse rental. Is that what happened? Does anyone know because I am really wondering…

  30. How many Engineer’s Mini-Notebooks were made for Radio Shack? I have the following and I believe I bought all that the local RS was selling:
    Magnet and Magnet Sensor Projects
    Optoelectronic Circuits
    Digital Logic Circuits
    Sensor Projects
    Op Amp IC Circuits
    555 Timer IC Circuits
    Basic Semiconductor Circuits
    Environmental Projects
    Communications Projects
    Formulas, Tables and Basic Circuits

    I only got 1 year of electric engineering (went on to chemistry), but these have been great to supplement that knowledge and use electronics for a hobby.

    1. I’ll second that question.

      I have a bunch of the older variety (before they were combined into fewer, bigger books as they are sold now). Maybe I have them all? I can’t list what I have right now because I am at work. If anyone can list the old ones, the new ones and which old ones are contained within which new ones that would be awesome! Then I could ensure that my collection is complete!

      Thanks!

  31. I still have my books, bought the first of them with my paper route money in the mid ’70s I think. They led that small-town Illinois boy to a 36 year (so far) career in voice/data networking and the joy of much international travel in it’s pursuit. Many thanks, Mr. Mimms!

  32. Didn’t they put some of the more complex circuits in a partial kit form with a circuit board and parts list. I seem to recall building a reverb, or bucket brigade that was in the note book, and in kit form.

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