Edmund Scientific Corporation
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Edmund Scientific Corporation was a company based in Barrington, New Jersey that specialized in supplying surplus optics and other items via its mail order catalog and Factory Store. During four decades from the 1940s to the 1970s Edmund Scientific was virtually unique in its offerings to scientific hobbyists.
In 1942 amateur photographer Norman W. Edmund (1916 - 2012) found it hard to find lenses he needed for his hobby. This led him to advertise lenses for sale in photography magazines. It was so successful he founded "'Edmund Salvage Corporation.'" It soon changed its name to Edmund Scientific and made its name with ads in publications like Scientific American as a supplier of chipped lenses, war-surplus optics, and low cost scientific gadgetry. Its advertisements caught the attention of hobbyists, amateur astronomers, high school students, and cash-strapped researchers.
Edmund Scientific was part of the post-World War II "war surplus" phenomenon, when the U.S. government sold off large quantities of materials. "Army and Navy Stores" were a national phenomenon and originally sold military-surplus clothing. Surplus electronics found an outlet in dozens of shops, in New York City's "Radio Row" and elsewhere. A few issued catalogs and developed national mail-order businesses. Edmund was, however, the only widely known supplier of surplus optics.
The core of Edmund’s offerings was surplus lenses. These were single-element lenses, shipped in 2.5x4.25-inch (63x108 mm) coin envelopes, with the approximate diameter and focal length stenciled on them. Reflecting their salvage and surplus origins, available diameters and focal lengths did not fall into regular progressions. Edmund published crudely printed, stapled "books" describing experiments that could be performed with their lenses, and plans for building telescopes and other optical equipment. Edmund also sold lens "kits." The ten-lens kit cost less than $10 and included a booklet of plans for instruments that could supposedly be built with them.
Unlike Heathkits, which were absolutely complete kits requiring only soldering and assembly, Edmund's "kits" consisted of only the lenses. A great deal of skill and effort would have been needed to fashion the telescopes, microscopes, or opaque projectors described. With single-element lenses, quality of the resulting optics was not high. Edmund even sold high-quality, thick, black cardboard tubes that many of the projects called for.
Following Sputnik, Edmund was able to capitalize on a growing national interest in science and astronomy. They expanded their business into a full line of telescopes and telescope kits as well as equipment, parts, and supplies for other scientific fields such as physics, optics, chemistry, microscopy, electronics, and meteorology. They continued to grow as a supplier to teachers and schools with demonstration devices and kits that covered most fields of science.
Edmund's catalog became a source for optical and mechanical parts useful in the field of amateur telescope making. A compilation of Edmunds' earlier pamphlets published as the book "All About Telescopes" offered many designs for telescopes of all sizes and configurations, which directed the builder to the relative Edmund catalog part numbers needed for each design. The "Factory Store" in Barrington, New Jersey also had a number of bins and shelves full of surplus and hard to find items which never made it into the catalogs.
Edmunds catered to the 1960s generation by expanding and highlighting their line of projectors, color wheels, black lights, filters, and other optical devices that could be used by rock bands and in psychedelic light shows. Other items that catered to the counterculture were eventually added to the catalog covering the fields of Biofeedback, ESP, Kirlian photography, Pyramid power, and alternative energy. In 1971, in the Whole Earth Catalog of items "relevant to independent education," Stewart Brand noted: "Edmund is the best source we know of for low-cost scientific gadgetry (including math and optics gear). [In this category,] many of the items we found independently... turned up in the Edmund catalog, so we were obliged to recommend that in this area we've been precluded." That is, the Edmund catalog was virtually a Whole Earth Catalog for items related to scientific fields.
Some sources claim that certain of the original polyhedral dice used in the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game system were obtained from Edmund Scientific.
End of an era
In the 1970s, as the viability of Edmund's business model waned, Norman Edmund's son Robert Edmund refashioned the business into two new ones, Edmund Scientifics and Edmund Optics. Edmund Scientifics marketed to consumers and specialized in science-themed toys, vaguely high-tech household gadgets, and "science gifts." Edmund Optics did not have a public showroom like Edmund Scientifics, although the two organizations shared the same building. The large back room of Edmund Scientifics still sold military surplus from World War II and other wars well into the 1980s and into the mid-1990s. Some of the items in the surplus room were from German and other non-American militaries. None of these items were in the mail-order catalogs. They also sold other surplus wares of interest to hobbyists, including specialized motors and other miscellaneous electronics, parts from toys, and other household items.
In line with their focus on optics, Edmund Scientifics's entrance vestibule housed a pale-blue working World War II Japanese submarine periscope. Children were often drawn to this periscope. Drawing on the periscope's popularity, sometime in the 1970s a hall of mirrors, complete with black lights, was installed toward the rear of the building.
The Barrington, New Jersey, store closed in 2001 when Edmund Scientific was acquired by Science Kit and Boreal Laboratories.
As of 2007, Edmund Optics continues to offer brand-new stock optics, as well as offering custom and specialized optics to corporations and higher education institutions.
In 2000 Edmund Scientific was purchased by Science Kit and Boreal Laboratories, a western New York based science supply company. Science Kit and Boreal Laboratories is part of a group of companies that provide science supplies to elementary, middle, and high schools as well as colleges and universities. This group falls under the unofficial umbrella "VWR Education" and are owned by VWR International, a multi-national conglomerate with offices in India, China, Europe, Canada and the United States. They are no longer affiliated with Edmund Optics Inc.
As of 2009, online sales now make up the bulk of Edmund Scientific's revenues. The company still sells telescopes (including an updated version of their Astroscan Telescope), microscopes (mostly they carry the Boreal brand which is manufactured for their parent company Science Kit LLC), surplus optics, magnets and Fresnel lenses. They continue to sell many of their old favorites along with new items such as the Impossiball and hand boilers as well as other science-themed toys, novelty items, gifts and gadgets.
In movies and television
Edmund Scientific has provided items used in television shows such as House, MythBusters, 24, Modern Marvels, and motion pictures such as Star Trek, and the 1975 version of Escape to Witch Mountain. Wah Chang, the artist who designed and built several props in the 1960s for the Star Trek television show, used moiré patterns found in the Edmund Scientific Educator's and Designer's Moiré Kit for the texture used in the Starfleet communicator props.
- Astroscan, a wide-field Newtonian reflector telescope produced by the Edmund Scientific Corporation.
- "Edmund Optics Mourns the Loss of Founder, Norman W. Edmund" (Press release). Edmund Optics. 2012-01-17. Retrieved 2012-01-23.
- https://forum.rpg.net/archive/index.php/t-382854.html, RPGnet Forums: Where'd the first d20's come from?, Retrieved Mar. 5, 2016.
- herocomm.com - The Details... A Moiré Story
- "[3F09] Two Bad Neighbors". The Simpsons Archive. Retrieved 16 August 2013.
- Preface to Edmund Scientific Catalog 751 Copyright 1974, Edmund Scientific Co.