A Trip Down Electronic Toy Memory Lane

Like many of us, [MIKROWAVE1] had a lot of electronic toys growing up. In a video you can watch below, he asks the question: “Did electronic toys influence your path?” Certainly, for us, the answer was yes.

The CB “base station” looked familiar although ours was marked “General Electric.” Some of us certainly had things similar to the 150-in-one kit and versions of the REMCO broadcast system. There were many versions of crystal radio kits, although a kit for that always seemed a little like cheating.

Shortwave radios were fun in those days, too. We miss the days when you could find interesting stations on shortwave. We were also happy to see the P-box kits. If you weren’t interested in radio, there were also digital logic kits including a “computer” that was really a giant multi-pole switch that could create logic gates.

It made us wonder what toys are launching the next generation of engineers. We are not convinced that video games, Tik Tok, and ChatGPT are going to serve the same purpose these toys did for many of us. What do you think? What were your favorite toys and what do think will serve that purpose for the next generation?

46 thoughts on “A Trip Down Electronic Toy Memory Lane

  1. Oh WOW… I had that very 150-in-1 Radio Shack kit. I recall wiring up the relay to act as an oscillator/buzzer, and discovered that the inductive back EMF could give you a mild shock if you ran it off the 9V battery and put your fingers across the coil terminals.

    1. I still have this own. I received it when I was 12, and that was the spark that ignites my passion with electronics. In those times, no internet, we had only one or two monthly magazines to feed our interest…. Sweet memories!

      1. Not sure if “BE” in your name stands for Belgium, but if it does, maybe one of those magazine was “Electronique Pratique”. I remember pestering my parent to buy it for me every month :)

        1. I have severe color-blindness..can’t see any of those numbers hiding behind dots.

          Between that, flat-feet and a skipping heartbeat, I couldn’t fly, get into electronics or join the military.

          I hate my life

    2. Someone on the local Craigslist is asking $150 for a New-in-Box RadioShack 150 in One kit.
      (I have a used one that I think I paid $1 for at a garage sale)
      I once “babysat” a boy who had similar type of kit, we spent the evening assembling various circuits with it. (Early 1970s)

      1. When I was a kid, I had the the lowly 50-in-1 kit. It left a lasting impression. A lifetime later I can still draw the audio oscillator circuit from memory… 2SB-something transistor, mini output transformer with center-tapped primary, a cap, and a couple of resistors.

        Good times…

    3. I wish I still had my 50-in-ONE to share with my son. I recall taking it on family trips and driving my parents insane :) …but it sure made the trips go by fast! Such fun!

    1. I just searched “130 in 1 kit electronics” on amazon and nothing came up. 🤷‍♂️

      Having said that, I still have my original 130-in-1 as well as the 65-in-1, 100-in-1, the 160-in-1 and the 200-in-1 kits. Although I think my 160-in1 is missing all the components. I must have need them to build something else when I was a kid. I really should repopulate that :)

      1. that’s a hillarious fail on amazon’s part! if you type “130 in 1 electronics kit” on google then amazon is the first hit but if you type it on amazon it finds nothing! elenco is the trademark.

        anyways i was surprised and pleased to see it but then i was bummed thinking about the kids i know and how little they play with the good toys they have

  2. I had the exact kit of the lead photo. My favorite part in it was the meter. I wired that up to the headphone jack of my bed side clock radio and spent hours watching the meter wag.

  3. I had a few versions of these growing up and I can definitely say that while I might not have absorbed all of theory in them, I got bitten by the hardware bug and get absorbed building anything electronic.
    Auto mechanic in school, pcb design at work, troubleshooting in my career as a radio tech and tower tech…

    I doubt that I would have had nearly the interest were it not for the early exposure to these kits and just being able to make “anything”.

    Also, some kind soul has collected what seems like every possible version of these.

    1. My first robot
      Clockwork, bipedal, coloured gears in the chest
      It was one whole day before I took it apart to see how it worked, I was seven

      My first electronics kit, was a diode radio, absolute magic

  4. I still have my 50 in one and 200 in one kit from Radio Shack of the 80s and 90s. I’ve also picked up a few more electronic kits that turned up in Goodwill cheap.

  5. My first kit was a Philips EE30 but I particularly remember my Radionic x30. Radionic was also took up by Philips (Norelco in the US) and recently I’ve been buying up their bigger x40 kits on eBay with a view to refurbishing them and setting up a series of electronics classes for my local Night school. I’ll do a write-up for Hackaday when it come to fruition.

  6. This exact kit brings back memories indeed. It allowed easy access to electronics and influenced my path profoundly. It was a great way to get familiar with parts functions and characteristics. It was sold in the 80s by Tandy in the Netherlands with a ridiculous Flemish-Dutch translated manual. Which made it close to impossible to read and understand at a young age. Greatest achievement with this kit was the FM transmitter and receiving a tone on a Realistic CTR-65 radio.

  7. My first ‘XC-in 1’ kit was the 50-in-1 – came in a wooden case. I loved that kit.
    I still have a 200-in-1 which I plan to pass to my grandkids when they are old enough to appreciate it.

  8. I still have the wooden tray from my Radio Shack 150 in 1. I removed the guts long ago.

    I remember back a few years ago helping my son build an AM radio receiver – After some time trouble shooting I discovered it wasn’t working well because the AM band is almost empty (compared to when I was a kid) and there just wasnt a lot to receive.

    I think the majority of my childhood electronics training came from taking apart (and destroying) anything I could get my screwdriver into – If only I still had all the old phones in oak cases that I dissected (to get the magnets out of the hand crank generator) . I spent a lot of nights trolling my neighbors trash for old video games or anything electronic just to take apart to see what was inside. I once brought my older sister’s electric iron into school in third grade to take apart in front of the class for show-and-tell.

    It is amazing how much you can learn in the moments of panic when you reassemble something (you were not giving permission to take apart) and it doesn’t work anymore and now you need to troubleshoot it and get it working again….before my parents wake up.

  9. I had the 200-in-1 kit as a kid (long gone now), that was fun for sure.
    Someone should make (if it doesn’t already exist) a modern version of this that has an Arduino or other cheap/simple to program/low power microcontroller as part of it so you can combine the fun of the electronics with the fun of programming.

    1. “Someone should make (if it doesn’t already exist) a modern version of this that has an Arduino or other cheap/simple to program/low power microcontroller as part of it so you can combine the fun of the electronics with the fun of programming.”

      You mean like this?


  10. My brother and I bought the 160 in 1 kit in the very early 1980s and he could wire up all kinds of stuff that wasn’t in the book that came with the set. We still have it some place at the parent’s house. I remember one circuit that could be used to fire a solenoid repeatedly. A few years later in electronics class, we wowed the teacher by building that circuit to make a mechanical counter out of a dictaphone machine operate. Good times, good memories, and having loads of fun learning.

  11. My son just got in trouble for sticking a butter knife in an electric tea kettle’s contacts. Thankfully it wasn’t plugged in but the result of that is he’s now duly cajoled about the dangers of electricity, but also has a standing promise that I’m going to reach him about it.

    Is there anything like this kit still available these days that I can use to teach him about discrete electronics and electricity?

  12. While I’m sure loads of us on here got the electronics bug fron kits like this, i feel like kits like this were also the first gift adults in our lives got us when they figured out we like to tinker.

    While a generation or two ago, a kid who’s prone to opening up radios and toys and VCRs might end up with no other means of learning electronics than a thin manual in a 150 in 1 kit that hit the absolute bare basics then expected you to play monkey see monkey do and not know where to go if you’re stuck with a problem, now there’s no end of sites and videos to keep going down the rabbit hole with.

    Tiktok isn’t teaching anyone electronics, but loads of video games have elements that are helpful, from making mods to redstone circuits in minecraft, and if a kid is more inclined to take things apart than play games the world has never been more awash in cheap electronics no one will mind you taking to bits.

    As someone else mentioned, you can still buy these kits today, as well as their moral sucessors in arduino and raspberry pi stem learning project kits. The ever-increasing integration and move toward surface mount and miniaturizing of circuits makes the initial hump harder to climb for a kid, but a bored kid with a long summer to poke at a broken monitor or chromebook is still in good stead as long as they can go online for help when they get stuck

  13. I (and many others in my sphere) had several versions of the springs-in-cardboard electronics kits.

    But even that fairly comprehensive web site doesn’t show my first and favorite one, a very unusual electronics kit with magnetic blocks of different sizes (but mostly cubical) with magnetic contacts on the edges and (where appropriate) the bottoms.

    Every component of the kit had an engraved white plastic top with the component’s circuit symbol etched in black lines on top. All of the blocks were made of otherwise clear plastic so you could see the actual component inside. The set came with a steel tray to stick everything to, and each part (battery, transistor, CdS photocell, potentiometer, straight junction, three-point junction, etc.) would magnetically stick together to form a circuit. When you were done, the result was arranged exactly like a standard circuit diagram, teaching basic electronic design.

    The most complex circuit in the kit was a radio receiver. Of course even as a youngster I had seen a circuit diagram for one of our family television receivers and dreamt of sticking together enough magnetic blocks to make a TV….. Not practical, but I didn’t know better yet.

    I lived in the southern US, but a lot of my toys at that age were made in Europe, so I suspect the set was of German or Danish design. I probably received the kit for Christmas… 1971 or ’72?

    I lost all the pieces in a long-ago move, so I have no idea who made it. I have never again seen references to the kits.

    Maybe someone here will recognize my description and can supply a name for it to satisfy my curiosity.

      1. Thank you! That’s exactly it!

        I see now why I didn’t start with the full set. That was pricy! I didn’t do a great job explaining the pieces. It was remarkably well constructed — too nice for a toy.

  14. The predecessor 100-in-one I got way when I was too young for it. Couldn’t understand it, what was going on.
    The saving factor was the cartoon instructions explaining what the 2SB(56) or capacitor did. That one moment made me get into the toy instead of shunning it due to inablility to comprehend what all this stuff does. It would be no different today – kids need to understand in order to learn.

    Amazing what they did even with ONE TRANSISTOR – A wireless burglar alarm, sends AM radio tone if switch closes. Ain’t nobody beating that to this day.

  15. What really got me started was tape recorders and at one recent hamfest I picked up the one I wanted so bad when I was a kid. That and crystal sets, It is sad that when I was a kid I got nice parts and my dad would break down a pallet and cut me off a base to nail the parts too. Screws were much too hard at that age. I womped a lot of pricy stuff now with that hammer! I was looking for what a cats whisker detector would go for and almost fainted. I was thinking about 1/10 of that price and I thought that was being nice!

  16. Since you mentioned video games as a means of learning / inspiration, I wanted to mention https://nandgame.com/ and just about anything by Zachtronics, especially Exapunks. My middle schooler went through both of them and I think he really picked up a ton. Of course that’s more chip design and assembly than actual circuits… Would love to see that approach at the same level as the Radio Shack kits!

      1. Turning Complete is amazing. It basically goes over the topics in my Fundamental of Digital Circuits and Microprocessors Principals and Applications courses that I took for my EE degree.

        Also, second on all of the Zachtronics games. Each game has their own fun focus, but Shenzhen I/O is probably my favorite since it mixes the coding and some electronics.

  17. Not just electronic toys. I had the 200 in 1 kit, my own computer, and, because of my father, got a ham license all as a kid. I also had LEGO, K’nex, and other various building toys. These days, I work as a software developer, about to graduate with an EE degree, and build things in various mediums for fun. Even though my toys have gotten more complex and expensive, I’m still just playing around with problem solving and creating. And occasionally, I get paid for it.

  18. I haven’t seen any mention here of the Heathkit Electronic Workshop – perhaps the first of the board + spring lab kits. Its board was masonite, and in true Heathkit fashion, you had to put it together. I ended up with one after a friend grew tired of it and reused or lost some of the parts.

    1. It just came to me. 4JX1C707. That was the GE germanium transistor (actually, two) used in the Heathkit Workshop. I probably still have one.

      Why would I remember this for 50 years?? Brains R wierd.

  19. I grew up with a 10-in-1 kit from radio shack. One transistor, audio transformer, AM coil, variable capacitor, germanium diode, Morse key, piezo earphone, two resistors and ceramic capacitors. One AA cell on top. Good memories. Got a 65-in-1 or something similar as a teen for another Christmas present. This is how I got into the hobby 👌

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