07 June 2006
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PriUPS Project


False Chemistry Memory?

I was not physically overprotected as a young human.  It's not that my parents didn't want me to grow up alive and without major defects.  Rather, it was the fact that many years ago, the subtle interactions between chemicals and children were less known and of less concern.  Chemistry sets contained actual science stuff, instead of sterilized dirt and things too large to swallow.  While the "documentation" that came with the sets offered suitable precautions ("Do not swallow these chemicals even though they are small enough to try"), the colorful powders in their inviting cubical bottles radiated an aura of "this won't kill your child instantly."   My parents, with misplaced faith in my sanity, and perhaps in Darwin, happily purchased ever larger sets as I depleted the more interesting substances in the starter kits. <FICTION>Of course I was extremely grateful for these educational items and grew up to become a successful industrial chemist.</FICTION>  In fact, I was a boy, and had not yet attained the critical facilities to know that it is far better to read good literature about big explosions than to attempt to create them in one's home.  This led to the successful search for a source of "chemicals" beyond the pitiful quantities available in the aforementioned cubical bottles. 

Which brings me to the point of this blogitem.  (Not the chemistry, not the explosives, not the stains on the furniture, not the interesting aromatic effects achieved, not the inexplicable problems I caused with certain major appliances, but rather, commerce!)  I remember it as if it were yesterday:  On 23rd Street, in Manhattan, on an upstairs floor, there was a chemical supplier, the John H. Winn Chemical Company.  You could see his large glass window from the street.  You, even if you were a boy with no business buying potassium chlorate, aluminum powder, magnesium ribbon, or other pyrotechnic ingredients, could walk upstairs and purchase these substances by the 100g or, if especially flush, by the half-kilo.  Winn would purchase his chemicals from the real suppliers such as Fisher Scientific, which was farther downtown.  These suppliers were less eager for the custom of a lad such as myself, being preoccupied with selling carboys of acids and barrels of dyestuffs and other industrial items. 

What has become of the John H. Winn Chemical Company?  First, a company that would sell brimstone to the benighted would be sued out of existence today.  Second, simply given the relative ages of the eponymous proprietor and his very youthful supplicant, it seems unlikely that said proprietor remains extant.  And yet, given the importance this company had to me and to similarly curious youths in those days, one would expect an internet search to turn up something!  Perhaps a brief history, perhaps a remembrance, perhaps on old telephone listing in Southern Florida - something!  Can I be the only person who remembers this?  Or did the chemicals cause some subtle dain bramage (he did offer mercury) that makes me misremember the John H. Winn Chemical Company, complete with middle initial?  Was it really "Elihu Sternwallow Pyrotechnics and Arachnids" where I was shopping?  I don't think so, but young brains are, I'm told, malleable. 

I have friends who have admitted to reading this blog.  Perhaps one, in turn, might also have a friend who grew up in NYC with potassium permanganate in the bathmat and silver nitrate pretty much everywhere.  Yo!  John H. Winn?  Or the arachnids?  Help! 

Follow-up 03 Sept. 2006

Proof!  Look what Abe from Alaska found on eBay!  Check the address on the bottom - West 23rd Street.

Magic Chemistry - John H. Winn Chemical Company "Chemical Magic. How to make inks and paints. Electroplating and Electrotyping. Glass blowing. Food Analysis. Household Chemistry."

Instruction book from a chemistry set. Vintage, probably late 50s or early 60s?

  • Published by John H. Winn, New York
  • Dedicated to Thomas Alva Edison
  • 80 Pages in black and white with many line drawings.


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