There Are 200 Electronic Kits In That Box

If you grew up in the latter part of the 20th century, you didn’t have the Internet we have today — or maybe not at all. What you did have, though, was Radio Shack within an hour’s drive. They sold consumer electronics, of course, but they also sold parts and kits. In addition to specific kits, they always had some versions of a universal kit where lots of components were mounted on a board and you could easily connect and disconnect them to build different things. [RetoSpector78] found a 200-in-1 kit at a thrift store that was exactly like the one he had as a kid and he shares it with us in the video below.

This was a particularly fancy model since it has a nice looking front panel with a few knobs and displays. The book shows you how to make the 200 different projects ranging from metronomes to rain detectors. The projects really fell into several categories. There were practical circuits like radio receivers, test equipment, and transmitters. Then there were games or circuits even the manual called “silly.” In addition, there were circuits to build simply to understand how they work, like flip flops or counters.

One selling point of these kits is they are solderless. Each component attaches to a spring. You bend the spring which leaves an opening between the coils. Stick a wire in the opening and release the spring to make a connection. Later, you can bend the spring again and pull the wire out. Super simple and easy to duplicate if you wanted to make your own. Each spring has a number and the projects call out which numbered terminals connect together.

One thing we didn’t like about the original manual is that it doesn’t show you the schematics for all the circuits. It shows you a pictorial of the device and a numbered netlist, at least, at first. Although the educational circuits are useful, the short write-ups that accompany them ought to be longer to better explain the operation to neophytes.

The old device had bad LEDs, so [RetroSpector78] did a repair and you get to see the insides of the device. Not that it isn’t what you’d expect. Lots of springs and wires with a few PC boards for the ICs and other components.

We were surprised to find you can still buy these new for about $80, to $90 but not from Radio Shack. The company that makes them — and other similar labs — appears to be Maxitronix.

We often refer to these kits as analogous to FPGAs — a bunch of uncommitted components you can wire up to make different things. Of course, that analogy only goes so far — FPGAs don’t have ferrite core antennas and transformers on them, at least not yet, anyway. The spring terminals are sort of a macro version of a common breadboard.

84 thoughts on “There Are 200 Electronic Kits In That Box

    1. +1 my parents got me this kit for Christmas, I dread to think how many days I spent working on it. lately Ive been on a bit of a nostalgia kick and thought about buying one just because.

      1. One night Mom and Dad sent me to my bedroom as punishment, and I was really pissed, so I brought out my 150-in-one electronics kit and built a VHF oscillator and tuned it to the TV channel I could hear them watching downstairs.

        That was in the days of rooftop antennas, and when the oscillator was tuned to the right frequency the TV downstairs got a ton of noise and became impossible to watch.

        They changed channels, and I could hear the different program, so I retuned the oscillator to the new channel and that one became unwatchable as well.

        On and on they kept trying to watch any channel and it would crap out after a minute or so. Eventually they gave up and went to bed. I never told them about it.

        My parents have since passed on, and I eventually confessed to my siblings. They thought it was hilarious.

    2. This is the exact kit I got as my second kit!

      Back in 1984, my Grandmother (on my mother’s side) got me a Commodore 128 for my 5th birthday. Of course, back then, the big selling point was buy your child a computer, they’ll learn… I played video games on it! XD

      Unfortunately, my family also had a farm and a mortgage, and rates back then were brutal. Because money was tight, we ended up selling the Commodore to the local library (my computer was their very first library computer!). It had to be done, to pay bills, but my parents held aside $50 for me. My 6th birthday was coming up, and they told me I could use it to get whatever I wanted…

      I chose a 50-in-one Electronics and magnetism kit. In all honestly, it was about as basic as these kits can get… I quickly outgrew it, but soon had an opportunity to get the 200-in-one. Those kits ultimately set the course for my life, and I’m incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from them.

      As time went on, the kits became redundant and unnecessary. I cannibalized them for parts in grander projects. The remains of those kits are long gone, save for a component here or there that might be in a project I kept around. Out of nostalgia, I found the exact types of kits I had on ebay, and bought them, so I could have a reminder of how I got started.

    3. for me it was this one: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/14/52/b3/1452b3716f968d4575d08020b3e09d63.jpg
      I don’t get the extended box, just the bottom half in that image, but soon started expanding it with parts harvested from old TV’s. This was pre-internet, ordering parts on-line wans’t an option. Schematics where based on electronics magazines from the local library. I managed to get most old copies every time the library cleared old magazines.

    4. I used to have one of those as a kid as well. Same 200-in-1 as in the article.
      Graduated from there to the Dick Smith Funway book series. (any Aussies on here who got into electronics in the right time period will probably remember those…) Started with the first book with the blue plastic breadboard thing you screwed screws into and then the second book with kits that had actual PCBs and soldering.
      Did a bit of electronics in high school as well (they offered it as a course in the school I was at) but then moved completly over to the world of computers (although I am actually thinking of getting back into electronics in the form of a microcontroller board to run some lights for a LEGO model I want to make)

    5. That was the second one I had. My first was the much more old-school “mykit system 7”. They’re definitely what set me on my course in life.

      My kids are still a bit young for that sort of a kit, but I often wonder what a modern equivalent would be be. I will get them an arduino with a parts assortment, but that doesn’t scratch the same itch. It’s basically plug in a couple of components and run some C++ code. Not even close to the old kits.

      I also don’t see any decent soldering kits beyond the blinking a few LEDs stage to get them when the time comes. As stupid as it sounds, in a lot of ways microcontrollers have created a dark age for hobby electronics.

  1. I know there have been complaints about some of the texts in these kits not doing a good job of explaining things. Maybe there needs to be an effort to “reboot” these manuals and kits.

    1. I picked up a late-model Radio Shack “Electronics Learning Lab” at a garage sale about 10 years ago. It had a nice selection of parts, protected LEDs, and my favorite is the multi-voltage breadboard with power rails for 1.5-9V at 1.5V increments (I see what you did there…). I didn’t need it, but I’d recently spawned two child processes into the world. The true selling point for me was the manual, hand-written by Forrest Mimms. Worth the price of admission right there as he gives you a more hands-on feel for electronics than anything else I’ve seen, short of the Art of Electronics. My daughter has picked it up now to get in shape for the Science Olympiad.

      1. I used his Transistor Projects series as my jumping off point. I never got one of the 100-in-1 labs, but my first circuit ever was his FET touch switch project. I was 14 at the time, and had to fund my adventures with paper route money.

    2. I recall the book that came with it but am not 100% sure. They seemed to always have 3 pages up front explaining the components and describing their basic af functions. The project pages gave a brief rundown on the function of the circuit you were to build and sometimes variations of resistors to wire in for different effects but really did not explain in a way that led to one devising their own circuits. The last few pages were always for project notes. I’ll have to go dig them out and check as I have the Audio Lab, 150 in 1, 200 in 1, and even the 500 in 1 that has a breadboard and keypad and such. I had a book called Kids America that had the toilet paper tube radio in it that really got me going. With the kits I just did the wiring numbers mostly. Later on when I got my first breadboard was when the actual design and building of circuits began and I kinda think I understand why as an adult. The RS kits were hard to really visualize how the components were interconnected under that spaghetti of wires and springs imho. The breadboard was much more logical. I guess if anything tho the RS kits let me lose fear about messing up while working on electronics.

      Tree of Knowledge (now Elenco) electronic kits were absolute garbage. I hope every one of those kits gets burned and fed to sharks to make them dumber and meaner lol.

  2. One of my prized possessions is a Philips Electronic Experiments Box from the 1970s. I think they were mostly popular in the Netherlands (where I come from) and Germany (where they were made).

    Instead of having the parts in a fixed place like the 200-in-1, you had plastic boards with holes in a grid pattern, and you would put paper with (basically) a life size version of the schematic on top, punch holes where the junctions were, insert weird-paperclip-like springs from the bottom and put somewhat-more-regular round springs over the top. Then you would mount parts and wires to match the schematic and you ended up with e.g. blinking lights, a siren, an amplifier or a radio.

    They even had a box with a cathode ray tube to make an oscilloscope or a black and white TV. A camera module was planned but never released.

    There are various websites and even some videos of the TV online. This is a good place to start:
    http://norbert.old.no/kits/ee2000/

    1. Ditto for me… in my case, it’s the EE2040 kit. Had it as a child and recently came across a sealed one for next to nothing. I must admit I never really liked the cumbersome and quite unstable spring system

  3. I had 50-in-1 instead. Some local clone probably. If I remember correct, brand name was Maestro kit or something (Just resisors, caps, switch BJTs, LEDs & diodes. May be a pot also. Boy I loved it (though the ease & re-usability spoiled me a lot :) )

      1. Interesting as I had in my box some other salvaged components that didn’t fit in the small drawers of my electronics components bins. I did wind up bringing those bins with me and now since investing in an LCR-T4 meter… I’m amazed that how many still work in spec. There were some other kits over the years like the crystal radio set and more wet chemistry even though I did do a little spectroscopy with a Probe magazine design. Then all hell broke loose… Zenith sold to Packard Bell I want to say and no more surplus Heath/Zenith so much components. I think that was the late 80’s or was that the early 90’s?

  4. Wow, brings back some memories there. Can say what you will about Radio Shack, but it’s hard to imagine any other brick and mortar store (or at least, chain) carrying something like this today. Feel like it’s depriving next generation of some of the hands on experience we had.

    Microcenter is awesome, but there’s just not enough of those to go around. Closest one to me is about an hour each way.

    1. Maybe 3 stores doesn’t count as a chain, but American Science & Surplus (Chicago, West Chicago, Milwaukee) does carry a similar 130-in-1 kit by Elenco (https://www.elenco.com/product/130-in-1-electronics-playground/).

      Wish I still had the 100-in-1 from my youth. I remember jumping right to the AM radio, one of the most complex projects, and the thrill of getting it working.

      With you on Micro Center, it’s a 1.5 hour drive each way for me.

      1. No trip to to the home of my formative years is ever complete without a trip to American Science and Surplus. I go with my wife now, usually taking my sisters kids with us on family trips. That and a stop at Leon’s (a Milwaukee institution) for ice cream.

        I wonder if anyone here remembers the old store before the one on Oklahoma… The earlier years, back when they were “American Science Center” were far more interesting… more electronica, less cheap novelty imported crap and such.

        1. Much farther down the South side of mke right? Wasn’t it on layton? Maybe one of those few weird angle streets unlike the usual Milwaukee NSEW grid. I do remember they had some huge laser tubes there in the 80’s. My art friends always dug up cool.stuff for sculptures there too.

  5. I had one of these as a kid, and I built circuit after circuit on it. Some of them wouldn’t work for me, but towards the end of the book I found circuits for testing the different components and discovered I had blown one of the transistors. I could substitute another on the board for circuits that didn’t require two of the same type, but for whatever reason I never thought as a kid to repair the broken with a replacement. I really did learn quite a lot about electronics that gave me insight when I got to college (and even after that).

    I bought a kit when my daughter was about the right age, but she never really embraced it. Looking back through the book, I realize that it’s pretty boring. It’s kind of a miracle that it captured my imagination back when I was a kid. But of course, the world had fewer distractions before the Internet.

  6. I was lucky enough to have one similar to this when I was a young teen, but prior to that I had an even cooler (to my young mind) set that came as a plastic base that allowed one to plug various small modules into. These modules were made from transparent green plastic and were in the shape of a cube, about 1″ per side. These all contained the same types of components that were in other kits, such as resistors, capacitors, and transistors. One advantage to this type of kit is that when one was done making a circuit, the printing on the modules made up a circuit diagram. I had a lot of fun playing with it and learning from it, and looking back I wish I had kept it.

  7. Ah, the memories. Where I lived in Amsterdam we had a Tandy just around the corner. And when I walked by, I stopped to look at the various electronic kits in the shop window. For my birthday I got a Solar Power lab kit with, I think, 25 projects. I was so happy and did spend a lot of time with it. Later I got a 75-in-1 Elektronic Project Kit. Much bigger and in a wooden box. Years later I studied electrical engineering. Even more years later I wanted to throw the box away, but my wife safed it and we still have it, except for the manual, so it’s a bit hard to make the circuits again :-|
    (And hello Jac Goudsmit)

  8. That brings back memories. I had the Science Fair 150 in 1 kit. Quite exciting at the time. The seven segment LED and IC chip made it stand out. More than just sound effects and radio circuits, actual logic circuits with output to display(unfortunately limited to single digit) could be built. The 200 in 1 kit was certainly slick looking, but I always though it would be better if it had more 7 segment displays.

  9. I had a (dozen+) multi-tap transformer I’d soldered springs to like these kits had. Was a wonderful benchtop power supply for years. if you find the right springs they’ll carry a surprising amount of power, they make pretty good heat sinks in and of themselves. not good for things that aren’t tolerant of the occasional “oopsie” short circuit tho.

  10. Our local community college used a variation on this as part of the labwork for its basic electronics classes – think of components like these, but with each mounted on its own board (still spring connectors, though). It was really useful for demonstrating Ohm’s Law, basic transistor operation, and such.

    Al’s comment about schematics is what bothers me about the use of such tools as Fritzing – I don’t know if that’s still a “thing”, but for a while I found myself frustrated when I’d find a potentially useful circuit illustrated that way instead of with real schematics.

  11. Duncan – adventures in electronics – was what really got me into it, but the precursor was a pcb based kit with components on preformed plastic holders that could be bolted on to form simple circuits. Was awesome. And I still have both the radios I built from “the Bedford radio exchange”…. Grew up in 80s.

  12. I had one with the analog meter, cadmium cell, solar cell and the clear plastic shelled relay.
    Sadly the kit spent a few years in utility shed and all the spring plating went “ashy” and every connection went high resistance or erratic.
    I shot a bit of de-oxidizer stuff and wiggled, but no joy.
    Ebay showed no value for it (even the box), so I eventually binned it. :(

  13. Ah… the 200-in-1 kit was one of my most beloved Christmas presents. I too destroyed the LED in the first 48-hours of owning it. I didn’t understand the need for resistors, and didn’t realize my mistake until I had blown out all but one of the LEDs.

    I bought a brand new 200-in-1 kit on Amazon for my son. He is not quite old enough yet, but I knew I would kick myself if the product was discontinued before he was ready.

  14. Radio Shack in the late 60’s, through my high school graduation was my “second home”. When my parents would go shopping, I’d have them drop me off at the RS in the same shopping center, and they’d pick me up when they were done.
    I had the 150 in 1 kit, and many of their P-Box kits. It was nice you could go in there and actually get GOOD answers to questions because a lot of them were amateur radio operators or electronic hobbyist as well.

  15. AC Gilbert Erec-tronic. Jumper wire on Clip to post stud modules that were spaced to fit on pegboard. Radio Kit had transistors and silicon diodes. Electric eye module. Woo. Before that Erector Electric set but thats more electric/ electro- mechanic than electronic.
    There’s a bunch of many in one kits made by Allied, Knight, Heath, and others but probably wouldnt get past liability scrutiny today. Solder together on standoff with tubes and resistive power cords. Vacuum Tubes mostly. Gilberts’ sets were easily safest with exception of a few chemistry sets that contained radioactive materials.
    Dagwood teaches Atomic age. Snicker. Send in coupon and they sent (yes through the mail) Uranium ore in little plastic bottle. Nice. Never got the cloud chamber kit tho. Damnit.
    Elenco has been around for a while but never seems to get mention hereabouts.
    150-in-1 kit best project was generation of electrical energy using relay and caps to get little electrical shock. Then bigger caps and and faster switching… Ahh fondness. Evul. Dads and gramps automotive coil in cigar box so sad in comparison.

  16. I had both the 22 and 3 transistor kits from Heathkit back in the early 60’s. I eventually combined them into a monster one on a 2 x 3 foot section of Masonite. Also, my 5th & 6th grade teacher had one from Allied Wlectronics – all the pasts were on the edges of a PCB with space in the middle for an index card that had the wiring diagram. on it – it used wires with tapered pins that you poked into eyelets that were around the perimeter of the card space.

    1. I spent countless hours with this exact set during endless summer rains in st.pete. It was great but it did not encourage creativity because making a functional circuit, or altering a working one, is a topological nightmare. All you could do is repeat the circuits from the manual. It was captivating anyway, the choice of the circuits was really nice too.

  17. And way back there was an electronics store in most towns, I grew up in a town of 25,000 and there was Inland Electronics, and I would take the simple parts lists from a library book (remember real books?) and get the parts and go home and with varying degrees of success make the circuit. Ended up going into the mechanical field, but kept an interest in electrical and later transitioned into industrial computers and factory automation

  18. While I could never afford the 200 in 1, I do have many fond memories listening endlessly to local air, fire, and police traffic with the Science Faire VHF Radio Kit from Radio Shack I saved up for as a kid.

    I found the kit in my parents’ basement a few years ago but unfortunately the springs were completely corroded. I couldn’t find replacement springs anywhere (Sparkfun had some similar ones for a while but they were discontinued) so I went to great lengths to have the original tapered springs recreated. I figured I probably wasn’t the only person in the world with this issue so I made them available for you too (plus there was a large MOQ.)

    Now you can pick them up here (https://makertradingpost.com/collections/components/products/spring-terminals-pack-of-25) or on eBay. For larger quantities just let me know!

  19. I started with something like this but it came with windows 95 software that walked you through the projects. I can’t for the life of me remember what it was called and my parents don’t remember getting it for me. Online searches haven’t turned up anything either

  20. Soon:

    Back in the days we didn’t have quantum computing and neural readers so we had to program our devices withe keybowrds and clumsy laptops. [Ed] found his arduino and thought it can still be usable…

    :)

    1. I started with this one or one very much like it. I couldn’t figure out what the red plastic clips were for at first…..then I was like….OOOOOhhhhhh….. (Funny, until I saw this picture I had forgotten I had this kit 45 years later)

      Later on, my folks got me the 150 in 1. I had a similar experience where I would try to figure out the connections I needed to make by looking at the picture. Later on I figured out lower down the page it had the list of connections as pairs of numbers and a dash (or something like that). 45-12 meant connect a wire from 45 to 12…….OOOOOOhhhhhhh……

      LOL!

      Oh, the fond memories of sitting there hour after hour placing wires in spring terminals and then trying to figure out why it didn’t work…..and then it did !

  21. My grade school had the 200-in-1 which was rarely used. I asked my science teacher if I could do some of the experiments in the flip book. She said, “Only if you document the experiments in your notebook.” The 200-in-1 was great. Later in life, I purchased one for my daughter. She still has the tone generator circuit wired (using the circa 2008 version with protoboard) and later added an LED to ive visual annunciation too. She decided to take a different path, but I still see that lil’ experimenter figuring out how things work and how to hack them to make them better.

  22. For me, it was the 65-in-1. The 200-in-1 had more experiments, but it also had integrated circuits, which were just black boxes. The 65-in-1 was just resistors, capacitors, diodes, transistors, a transformer, a speaker, a lamp, a ferrite tuning rod, a meter, a solar cell, a relay, and a CdS cell. Every experiment had a schematic and a “how it works” explanation.

    http://users.telenet.be/synthedmind/Framar_images/Tandy65.gif

    My older (by four years) brother got one one Christmas. I used it so much my parents got me one too, so our house had two of them!

  23. I had the 300-in-one kit (Dad has an EE degree and I think he was just as interested in the kit as I was), sadly by the time I reached college age the local community college axed it’s EE program so I did network administration instead but still tinker with electronics.
    Recently my brother was cleaning out the closet in what used to be my room and later became his when I moved out, and buried in the back corner was the 300 in one electronics kit, which is now chilling at my house. I think I built every single one of the projects in the book too.

    8 or 9 years ago when I was still working for Subaru, I was taking the electrical class for the Subaru factory technician training and the class had a bunch of the 50 in one kids to teach basic electrical theory with. Was pretty simple, they had us hook up a couple of light bulbs with switches and tested the voltage drop across stuff, to teach about troubleshooting open circuits and such. I did the sheet without building the circuit since I knew what the voltages would be just based on the diagram, and then built a radio mostly from my head (I remembered how to build the AM radio from my childhood with the 300 in one kit), the teacher noticed I was far ahead and he asked if I wanted to teach the rest of the class (he was joking) and I was like sure! So he was like awesome I’m going to go smoke, so he went outside and smoked half a pack of cigs and I spent the next hour teaching the class :-P

    1. I still have a 300-in-1! To get to 300, they MOSTLY gave up on the springy things (but not completely) and went for breadboard and a bunch of components. Mine might be SLIGHTLY cannibalised but MOSTLY still intact. I also seem to have a 10-in-1, and a few of the newer Snap Circuits sets that are better laid out in theory, but actually quite a lot less capable.

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