The other night, I was searching Google Books for a free version of a science book from my childhood called The Boy Electrician by Alfred P. Morgan. This excellent book came out in numerous editions from about 1913 until the late 60’s. It contains descriptions of all kinds of experiments and projects in electricity and the budding area of electronics, including how to make a Tesla Coil, a microphone (with which you can hear a fly walking!), a crystal radio (which I made), several electric motors and dynamos, and a couple other early radio designs. It turns out that Google Books did not have any full text versions of this book, but I did find a link to someone’s site that contained a scanned version of the book in PDF, which I downloaded. This scanned version is of the 1966 printing of the 1948 edition, and looks identical to the one I used in my teens. I’m thrilled to have this book, partly because of the memories it brings back and partly because I hope to redo some of these projects with my young daughter as she gets older (she’s only four and a half right now).
To access the scanned PDF, you should go to the SGT PJ’s Stuff website at http://rawfire.torche.com/~opcom/ and scroll down until you see the link to “The Boy Electrician”. If you want to buy this book in hard copy, you can find numerous editions of it available on Amazon.com and AbeBooks.
While I was poking around that very same evening, I discovered that Project Gutenberg has a beautifully scanned PDF of another early young engineering book called The Boy Mechanic: Volume 1: 100 Things for Boys to Do. According to Gutenberg, the book is not copyrighted in the U.S., so if you live here, download away. It is full of all kinds of cool projects such as how to make snowshoes, motors, and even early radios. To access the various download options for this book, go to http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/12655
These books date from a time when young people learned how to do engineering by experimenting on their own with stuff they could find around the house or in the local hardware store. Back before there were so many safety rules and regulations, before you could just go out and buy a K-Nex kit or a Radio Shack electricity kit all designed for you. Back when you would build an electric motor with pieces of tin can that you snipped yourself. I did this myself in my adolescence and never forgot the experience. I may sound old-fashioned, but there is something about the experience of building something that works with your own two hands that trumps whatever you may get out of putting a couple of wires together in a store-bought set.
Note the politically incorrect titles. These days, these books would justifiably be called the “Young Electrician” or the “Young Mechanic” but both date from early in the Twentieth Century.