Chemicals available circa 1945

Discussion in 'Chemistry' started by Dinosaur, Apr 26, 2017.

  1. Dinosaur Rational Skeptic Valued Senior Member

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    When I was 12 to 18 (1942 to 1948), I was able to buy various chemicals which I assume are not available to teenagers today. I think I bought them at a pharmacy, but might have got them at chemical supply house.

    I used concentrated acids to make gun cotton (nitro cellulose), an explosive used in old fashioned cannons & which might be used today in more sophisticated artillery.

    I also made ordinary gun powder, for which the necessary chemicals might be easily available today.

    I could have made nitroglycerin & nitrogen chloride, but considered them too dangerous to play with.

    BTW: Nitrogen chloride is a dangerously volatile chemical. I think it will explode due to direct sunlight or a mild bump of the container.
     
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  3. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    Yes sadly you cannot even get the things we could get in the 1960s. Even copper sulphate comes with a toxicity warning today. But then there are fewer nasty accidents today.

    I think I recall heating ethanol in a tube with asbestos wool to make ethylene, at school, in 1969.... and freely using benzene as a solvent, without recourse to a fume cupboard. Terribly shocking now of course.
     
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  5. el es Registered Senior Member

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    In those days the postal service wouldn't handle acids. They had to be shipped by rail. The local depot would notify me when they received something. I was going to make a couple of drops of nitro once, but came to my senses and poured the acids and glycerin on the ground and washed the area down with the garden hose.

    I made black powder for fireworks too. My "rockets" were more like pipe bombs. I think I used zinc powder and sulfur powder with a black powder starter. Today the Feds would look into anyone buying such things.
     
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  7. el es Registered Senior Member

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    I forget the details, but one experiment was something like this:

    I bubbled up some acetylene gas through a copper sulphate solution, gathered the precipitate and after drying when heated it would pop into two solids without a gaseous byproduct.
     
  8. el es Registered Senior Member

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    I remember being interested in nitrogen triiodide, but never did anything about it.
     
  9. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    As a child I could buy carbon tetrachloride easily over the counter and sodium cyanide with some difficulty (note from parents, special order).

    In earlier days one could also purchase "chemistry sets", with bottles of sodium cyanide in them, nitric acid, potassium nitrate, and stuff like this:
    Looking back, that seems insane.
     
  10. Randwolf Ignorance killed the cat Valued Senior Member

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    Maybe so, but loads of fun...

    My mother was very into the auction and garage sale scene in the late 60's / early 70's and I inherited three very large boxes stuffed with scientific equipment and chemistry apparatus. The main set that I remember was a Chemcraft similar to this one:

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    As an added bonus, the smaller of the three boxes was chock-full of additional chemicals contained in truly ancient apothecary bottles like these:

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    Although my secondhand set was "atomic", the radioactive components had fell by the wayside somewhere. I felt compensated to an extent when I discovered an old jar of water - containing several rather large chunks of white phosphorus! Spontaneous combustion at 5000 degrees is even more fun than playing with potassium permanganate and glycerin, liberal quantities of both being included in my boxes.

    I promptly set up in an unused section of our chicken coop, commandeering an area about 10' by 15'. This arrangement served as my "mad scientist lab" (parents' words) for about eighteen months, until an untimely conflagration burned the whole building to the ground. And yes, I know what you're thinking - but it turned out to have nothing to do with my lab, rather the old kerosene coop heater was ruled the culprit. I had a few rough days while the fire department was investigating though...

    Today's chemistry sets are nothing like they used to be - no blowtorches, nothing that could be considered "dangerous" - Texas has even outlawed the Ehrlenmeyer flask out of fear of meth labs. In fact, we now have the Elenco Chemistry 60 set available - note the caption:

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    Really? Seriously? "60 Fun Activities with No Chemicals?" Wow...

    There was a KickStarter fund that I contributed to a few years back promising to bring back a semblance of a "real" chemistry set:

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    With "real" chemicals:

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    Here's a video:



    While the set actually made it to market for about $1,000.00 it unfortunately went south - along with all of H.M.S. Beagle. "Used" sets still pop up occasionally although I wasn't able to immediately locate one.

    Probably the best remaining commercially available kit for kids is the Thames & Kosmos CHEM C3000 - while nothing compared to those from "back in the day" it at least has, you know, chemicals included.

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    Chem 3000 PDF manual

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    Perhaps a better route today is to buy a real manual and then build your own kit:

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    In closing, my thanks to the OP for the trip down memory lane.

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  11. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    We made it in the 6th form at school and I bruised my finger by tapping some of it which had dried and it went off. Strictly speaking what we made was the NI3.NH3 adduct, by reacting iodine with ammonia.

    Our teacher used to like to sprinkle some on the stone steps to the lab and we could enjoy the crackling and psychedelic puffs of purple smoke as unsuspecting people came up the steps.

    (Looking at the Wiki article I see that even irradiating it with alpha particles is enough to set it off, a degree of sensitivity that is apparently unique among contact explosives.)
     
  12. sideshowbob Sorry, wrong number. Valued Senior Member

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    A friend of mine made some for a university science show. It blew up in his face but with no serious ill effects.

    The only other (accidental) explosion I was involved with was one I caused by careless use of sodium.
     
  13. karenmansker HSIRI Banned

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    Ammonium tri-iodide is also fun to play with - quite pressure and temperature sensitive!
     
  14. spidergoat Valued Senior Member

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    Was that back when you could buy a machine gun by mail order with no background check?
     
  15. karenmansker HSIRI Banned

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    The modern-day millenial mix: Mentos + soda water
     
  16. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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  17. karenmansker HSIRI Banned

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    Your are correct . . . . . we made the stuff in high school by adding iodine crystals to ammonium hydroxide. . . . .then decanting liquid with (cold!) water . . . . guess it was actually forming Nitrogen Tri-iodide . . . NI3 - fun to fling on the floor when wet (relatively safe) and watch folks walk over when dry (not so safe)! . . . . nice little pops and blasts to entertain the pedestrian folks! . . . . but, not near as exciting as when I dropped a rock on a fuse-type blasting cap (detonator) . . . . . guess that's why I became a Combat Demolition Specialist in the Army!
     
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2017
  18. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    Yes the explosive stuff one makes at school is NI3.NH3 : a nitrogen triiodide/ammonia adduct. Stable in the presence of ammonia and while wet - and only then.......

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  19. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    The chemistry sets, sure - it's the carbon tet and sodium cyanide handed over the counter to a ten year old with some gopher money that strikes me as imperfectly thought through. That and the casual attitude toward background radiation.

    Learning chemistry without ever playing with chemicals - - not the most likely of approaches.
     
  20. Seattle Valued Senior Member

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    I think you could easily construct such a set today but you'd just have to do it yourself. Even back in the day when I had a basic "starter" set I still bought a lot of chemical and apparatus via mail order.

    It was easier to buy some basic chemical just down at the local drugstore however. Certainly sulfur and saltpeter was available just off the shelf and that was in the early 60's.
     
  21. Dinosaur Rational Skeptic Valued Senior Member

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    From SpiderGoat #11
    Probably.

    I just checked a 1959 Guns Magazine advertisements for light machine guns & many types of pistols. I did not notice any mention of restrictions.

    Circa 1945 (I was 15), I remember my Uncle Stanley had both a rifle & a hand gun. I do not think he had any sort of license. He & my father used to hunt.

    BTW: Circa that time, my father, uncle, & I discovered a hunter who had been shot. He was alive & we took him to a hospital.

    The next day, we checked on him at the hospital. He told us where to find his car, which we retrieved for him.

    He had been wearing a red & black checkerboard pattern shirt. He said had been on a tree limb about 20 feet off the ground when shot (we had found him on the ground).

    It was deer hunting season. Apparently a deer hunter had shot him from a tree 20 feet off the ground wearing that checker board shirt.

    We never again went into the woods during the hunting season.
     
  22. Dinosaur Rational Skeptic Valued Senior Member

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    BTW: I think most gun laws are due to Local & State regulations rather than Federal.

    Back in my youth (1940's) I am sure that cities like New York & Philadelphia had stricter laws than cities in Montana & Wyoming. Rural communities in that era had few restrictions on carrying weapons/

    In my youth I had a Bowie knife with a 12 inch blade, which was not unusual in rural communities where I lived in the summer. I did not carry it in the winter when I lived in Philadelphia& it might have been illegal there.
     

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