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Personal Chemistry: 1943

Personal Chemistry: 1943

June 1943. "Keysville, Virginia. Randolph Henry High School. Chemistry class equipment." Photo by Philip Bonn, Office of War Information. View full size.


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College Chemistry

I too had a female lab partner in Freshman chemistry. One day she spilled a fortunately mild, very dilute acid on my hand. No immediate effect, but I promptly washed it off anyway. She scoffed at me, saying that if it were dangerous, they wouldn't let us do it. A couple of weeks later, we were doing something similar to this picture, heating a test tube of something or other to generate oxygen, which we ran through a rubber tube to a water-filled flask. We were told specifically not to pull the flame from the test tube while the rubber tube was under water, as it would pull water into the hot test tube and shatter it. The reaction took off, and my partner said, "Oh! Take the flame away! Take the flame away!". I was mightily tempted to say, "Oh, come on, if it were dangerous, they wouldn't let us do it" but instead I just pinched the rubber tube until the reaction slowed down.

Love the haircut

I wonder if he joined the Marines after school

Some things change

while others are the same. I'd agree that the test tube should be pointed away from anyone and I'd also suggest some eye protection and maybe rubber gloves. Those clear reagent bottles below his right elbow look like what we stored strong acids and bases in.

More familiarly, the countertop looks like soapstone, chemically resistant but usually with scratches and scars. Note the tapered nozzle for the faucet -- designed to fit rubber tubing over to supply an aspirator or cooling water to a condenser. The hole in the countertop next to the test tube stand was used to hold a vertical rod to which glassware could be attached.

Food for Fun

The lesson, according to the now-cryptic cursive writing on the obsolete blackboard, is about food chemistry, so the leftovers in the dish are likely part of the experiment.

[Also in the dish: a fly. And we know how that experiment turns out. - Dave]

Putting names to the faces

Possibly someone out in Shorpyland has a yearbook collection from the Randolph Henry High School or is close enough to see if they still have early 1940s yearbooks in their library. There is a chance one or both of these students might still be with us although in the 90ish age range.

Test Tube Babe

I'm the quintessential nerd, but my chemistry lab partner was the most beautiful girl in the class. We had a test tube incident, in which the tube (containing sulfuric acid) boiled up and launched its contents onto an expensive Periodic Table wall hanging. By the next class period it had been reduced to Swiss cheese. Our teacher railed on with an "If I ever find out who did this .." speech. He never found out. I was most grateful that the acid hit the wall, rather than either of us. RIP, Mr. Livengood.

The chemistry lab assistant

In 1950, my wife's student job was to assist students in a HS chem lab. The pay was $2.50 per semester. At the end of a class, a student asked what to do with his experiment. She told him put it in the waste basket. When a small fire and smoke resulted, she was fired. The school did pay her for the time she had worked and gave her a check for 83 cents. And she did get a C for the course.

Things Never Change

I graduated from high school in 1997, and the school I attended was built in the 1920's. The items in the picture are almost exactly like the ones we were using in my day. I was sure then, and convinced now, that we were using 50-70 years old test tubes and bunsen burners. Probably some of the chemicals we used were that old, too!


On the right I see a piece of a bun and what looks to me like an egg yolk in a petri dish.

Belt Up Or Suspend?

I don't think this kid can make up his mind

Things are heating up

I don't know ... in high school we were always taught to point the test tube *away* from us while heating it, in case it boiled over.

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