The BGL Chemical Set
B.G. L. Limited, London, England, 1930s
Lead acetate aka sugar of lead, Pb(C2H3O2)
A highly toxic compound used as a sweetener in
ancient Rome, it’s hard to believe this was in kids’
sets, but here it is — sold by the British Gas Light
»DIY: Textile, dye, and alternative photography
Sodium hydroxide aka caustic soda or lye, NaOH
Not really kids’ stuff either. Extremely corrosive, it
burns skin on contact. It reacts with acids violently,
with metals to produce flammable hydrogen gas, and
with sugars to form deadly carbon monoxide gas.
»DIY: Sold at hardware stores as crystal drain
cleaner (check the label to make sure it’s pure).
Chemcraft Chemical Outfit No. 1
Porter Chemical Co., Hagerstown, Md., 1917
“Perfectly Safe. Contains No Poisonous Or Otherwise
Potassium nitrate, KNO3
Photography courtesy of Chemical Heritage Foundation; by Dustin Fenstermacher (second from top)
Gunpowder precursors were common in chemistry
sets before about 1940. Black powder is potassium
nitrate (saltpeter), carbon (charcoal), and sulfur
mixed in the correct proportions (see MAKE, Volume
13, “The Fire Drug”).
“Potassium nitrate and table sugar, if processed
and mixed properly, can form a low explosive that’s
used for amateur rocket motors (“rocket candy”),”
says Thompson. “Otherwise they simply form a very
combustible mixture that burns fiercely and generates a lot of smoke (smoke bombs). In today’s sets,
sulfur is still common — but not potassium nitrate.”
»DIY: Charcoal you can get anywhere. Potassium
nitrate is sold as a fertilizer (14-0-45 or 13-0-46),
and sulfur is sold in lawn and garden stores to
control plant pests and diseases.
Ammonium nitrate, NH4NO3
Explosive, it’s used in fertilizer bombs like the one
that destroyed the federal building in Oklahoma City Strontium nitrate, Sr(NO3)
in 1995. Extremely volatile, it’s used to color fireworks.
»DIY: Sold at lawn and garden or farm supply When heated, it releases toxic nitrogen dioxide gas.
stores as 34-0-0 fertilizer. » DIY: Chemical supply companies.
40 Make: Volume