Special Thanks To: Todd Franklin

Hey kids! Pull up your bobby socks and get ready to duck and cover ’cause we’re visiting the American Museum of Atomic Energy! I’m sure you’ve heard about that little project during WWII called the Manhattan Project, right? You know, atomic bombs and such. The souvenir beanie above is telling the truth when it says, “Oak Ridge, Tennessee is the home of the atomic bomb. This “secret city” sprouted up during the war years and in its factories the atomic bomb was built. After the war, the town shifted to civilian control.

In 1949, Oak Ridge also became the home of the American Museum of Atomic Energy! This was the place to learn about the benefits of the all powerful atom. More importantly, it was the place where you could get a radioactive dime to take home as a souvenir!

In the brochure pictured above, it looks like those teenagers are having fun feeding the machine dimes. Boy, that sure beats getting a wooden nickel for a souvenir!

Unfortunately, the dime didn’t glow like my exaggerated example, but that’s how I like to imagine it when it came out of the machine. In reality, the radiation faded away quickly and the dime was supposedly safe to stick in your pocket. (Click here for more info on irradiated dimes and here for another photo.)

The museum was much more than radioactive dimes according to these excerpts from the brochure.

The Dagwood Splits the Atom exhibit looks like fun! Science is always better when explained by comic characters. Apparently this exhibit made the rounds to various fairs and museums. Click here and here to view the official comic.

Here you get to see a schematic model of plants that helped build the atomic bomb.

The first gas diffusion separation is on display. (You know, I really don’t know what any of this means, but it sure does sound interesting!

The Theatre of the Atom. I think this is where an audience member would get their hair zapped. Click here to see this gal get a new atomic hairdo!

The American Museum of Atomic Energy moved to a new location in 1975 and in 1978 the name was changed to American Museum of Science and Energy. Even though they don’t have a dime irradiator machine the place still looks like a fun family outing.

I leave with you this very cool photo of a vintage bowling shirt from Oak Ridge. I snapped this pic at the Bowling Hall of Fame back when it was located in St. Louis, Missouri.


If an A-Bomb Falls… Will You Know What to Do?


If An A-Bomb Falls was an 8-page Instructional comic published in 1951 (see comic pages below). It is in the public domain and can also be viewed on-line at various sites like Summary from My Comic Shop: “If an A Bomb Falls… Will You Know What to Do? (1951), published by Commercial Comics. 8 pages, full color, standard comic book dimensions, all newsprint, no cover price. This promotional educational giveaway comic book describes what to do in the event of an atomic blast. Includes: 1) How important it is to know the signals of an impending atomic attack; 2) The meaning of the different tones of air raid sirens; 3) What to do if you are attacked without warning ; 4) How to react to the brilliant flash of an atomic explosion; 5) How to find the safest place in your home; 6) The equipment you need for a home safety and emergency kit; 7) How to store a good supply of canned goods and water for extended sheltering; 8) How to prepare for an attack if you have advance warning How to seek protection from an impending attack; 9) Remembering to keep calm to stifle panic during an attack ; 10) How people caught outdoors will suffer the greatest casualties; 11) What to do if you are on a car, bus, or train during an attack; 12) How the worst danger from atomic attack is radiation in the air and water; and 13) How to decontaminate yourself if you think you have been exposed to radioactive dust or mist. The back cover features a chart showing the number of deaths and the number of injured people that can be projected if an A-bomb explodes in a populated area.” Additional pages below from Ethan Persoff.

The H-Bomb and You was an educational 16-page comic published by the government in 1954. Page #1 reproduced below from Ethan Persoff. We’ll take a closer look at what these educational comics tell us about the era in the future.


The Art Of Math – you could do that with SPIROGRAPH


Spirograph is a geometric drawing toy that produces mathematical roulette curves of the variety technically known as hypotrochoids and epitrochoids. – Wikipedia

The Marvelous Wondergraph drawing (1907-1908) - Manufactured by E. I. Horsman Co., U.S.A.

The Marvelous Wondergraph drawing kit (1907-1908) – Manufactured by E. I. Horsman Co., U.S.A. (Photo: © The Strong)

A forerunner of the 1960s Spirograph, the 1908 Horsman WONDERGRAPH allowed kids to create roulette curves with the help of a mechanical device. It was sold through the Sears catalog in 1908.

Fast forward to 1962.

Inspired by a Victorian idea for creating patterns using cogs and wheels, an English mechanical engineer named Denys Fisher designed a tool originally intended as an industrial drafting instrument. Using perforated interlocking gears and the point of a pen, Fisher’s invention would trace sine and cosine waves by using the gears as a moving stencil. This idea never materialized – Fisher had another plan.

In 1965 Fisher introduced his repurposed invention at The Nuremberg International Toy Show – SPIROGRAPH was a hit.

Denys Fisher original Spirograph - 1965

Denys Fisher original SPIROGRAPH set – 1965 (Photo: Ralph Stephenson)

Unlike earlier mechanical geometric design drawing kits – i.e. the WONDERGRAPH – SPIROGRAPH’s varied cogs, wheels, and racks, allowed for more interactivity and hands-on play. The relative ease of use made it possible for people of all ages to feel that they too could create interesting bits of art.

Found Spirograph Drawings (1)

Found Spirograph Drawings (1) via Mike Leavenworth on Flickr: ‘We found a nearly complete Spirograph Set with these (essentially) flawless images – all on one page and no do-overs!’

Found Spirograph Drawings (2)

Found Spirograph Drawings (2) via Mike Leavenworth on Flickr

The mathematical formulas inherent in Spirographs are intuitively recognized by the user. The visible interplay between art and math helps teach logical pattern rules. In the UK, SPIROGRAPH won the Educational Toy of the Year three years running from 1965 to 1967 and became Toy of the Year in 1967.

1967 UK SPIROGRAPH Drawing Set - The British version manufactured by The Denys Fisher Toys Group contained instructions on how to create drawings of animals, including the owl pictured on the box.

1967 UK SPIROGRAPH Drawing Set – The British version manufactured by The Denys Fisher Toys Group contained instructions on how to create drawings of animals, including the owl pictured on the box. (Photo via Daily Mail)

In 1966 Kenner Toys purchased the marketing rights to SPIROGRAPH for American consumers. It became the number one selling toy in the US for Christmas in 1967.

Kenner's 1967 SPIROGRAPH Set

Kenner’s 1967 SPIROGRAPH Set (Photo via eBay)

In 1969 Kenner introduced SUPER SPIROGRAPH PLUS. This set included interlocking arced racks, a geared square, and a triangle, adding larger and even more interesting design possibilities.


The 1969 Kenner SUPER SPIROGRAPH PLUS set (Photo via eBay)

Various other Spirograph-related products were sold, including a SPIROTOT (a Spirograph designed for toddlers), and various refill packages. Other Spirograph products included the Spiroscope, with a kaleidoscope capable of bringing new depth and view to your Spirograph drawings; a Sparkle Spirograph, featuring glitter pens; and a kinetic art Spirograph in which the pen swings on a pendulum, drawing the pattern with the power of physics. As of 2009, there are electronic versions of Spirograph for creating designs on the computer. Math Playground has an online version called, Spiromath – The Intersection of Math and Art – it can be found here.

Denys Fisher’s SPIROGRAPH has gone on to become an art design classic for the ages.

In 1970 Fisher sold his company to Hasbro (making SPIROGRAPH a registered trademark of Hasbro, Inc.) and Fisher became a wealthy man. In 2002, the inventor of the Spirograph passed away at the age of 84. While Fisher the man may be gone, his legacy endures in the countless number of artists, mathematicians, and designers whom his drawing toy inspired throughout the years.

Sound Feelings believe in carrying on the SPIROGRAPH tradition and they market a ten color pen that features ‘the original “thin-style” ballpoint pen tips that are required to fit through the narrow holes of the Spirograph gears.’ Their promo graphics cover the virtues of Fisher’s invention.

Spirograph Learning Math Through ArtSPIROGRAPH, Eye-Hand Coordination

SPIROGRAPH, Universe Of PossibilitiesSPIROGRAPH, Like Life Itself

Nat is a bookbinder and crafter extraordinaire. After her husband gave her a vintage SPIROGRAPH set in 2011 she’s added it as another tool in her creativity tool-kit.

One of Nat's early SPIROGRAPH works: I couldn't help myself!  Of course I just had to draw one straight onto my current embroidery, and stitch it up.

One of Nat’s early SPIROGRAPH works: I couldn’t help myself!
Of course I just had to draw one straight onto my current embroidery, and stitch it up. (Photo: Smallest Forest)

Kathrin Jebsen-Marwedel is an artist who presents her love of illustration in Moleskine planners. She posted the entry below on Flickr in August 2009.

Fabulous SPIROGRAPH inspired illustration - Kathrin Jebsen-Marwedel's Moleskine Collection

Wonderful SPIROGRAPH inspired illustration – Kathrin Jebsen-Marwedel’s Moleskine Collection, 2009

This post ends with a splendid example of SPIROGRAPH in the early-21st century. Si Keshi created a multi-color multi-patterned design called, Spirograph Madness. Afterwords, using the basic Paint computer app, Keshi inverted the image creating Spirograph Madness Inverted. The original Spirograph Madness can be seen here. Denys Fisher would have been pleased.

Spirograph Madness Inverted - Si Keshi, 2008

Spirograph Madness Inverted – Si Keshi, 2008

Info Resources:
Retrowow UK
The Journal Of Antiques and Collectables