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Author Topic: Heathkit Educational Series 1959  (Read 24289 times)

Posts: 1309

« on: September 14, 2014, 12:52:56 PM »

In the late 1950s Heathkit issued their Educational Series. This was quite different from the "trainer" series that came later. It was aimed squarely at the general public, basically at anyone who had any interest in electricity, electronics, or radio. It made no assumptions about prior knowledge but simply guided you from first principles. If you did all the parts in the series, you learned an enormous amount and had a lot of fun in the process. You built a VOM, a tube superhet radio, and a transistor intercom -- but along the way you built many, many other things too. Audio amplifiers, oscillators, crystal sets, regenerative sets, and so forth.

The manuals that came with this series were quite unlike other Heathkit manuals. Not only did they have the famous "step by step" instructions and illustrations, but they also included copious "how it works" material.

Fellow eham readers, I am proposing to do the entire Heathkit series and document it here in the Homebrew area. Although a lot of the theory material will be very familiar to most of you, I hope that you will enjoy seeing the way that Heathkit led its builders through this journey of discovery. As is my wont, this will be done by providing links to captioned Picasa photo albums. Each module in the series will have a separate thread. The current thread is just by way of introduction, and for general discussion about the series.

There are three modules in the series:

By way of introduction, here's what we'll be doing in the next few months:

EK-1 Basic Electricity
(1) Electricity and Series and Parallel Circuits
(2) The Direct Current Milliammeter
(3) The Direct Current Voltmeter and Ohmeter
(4) Verifying Ohm's Law and the D-C Maximum Power Transfer Theorem
The final product of this course is a Volt-Ohm Meter (VOM) that you build yourself:

EK-2A Basic Radio
(1) HOW DO VOICE AND MUSIC GET FROM A BROADCAST STUDIO TO YOUR HOME? How to Plot Your Broadcast Station Environment.
(2) WHAT IS A BROADCAST RADIO SIGNAL? How To Put Up a Broadcast Receiving Antenna.
(3) WHAT THREE THINGS MUST RADIO RECEIVERS DO? How To Rectify Current With a Crystal Diode.
(4) WHAT IS A DETECTOR CIRCUIT? How To Build a Radio Signal Detector.
(5) WHAT IS A TUNED CIRCUIT? How To Build a Tuned Circuit for Radio Signals.
(6) HOW DO DIODE VACUUM TUBES WORK? How To Build a Vacuum Tube Signal Detector.
(7) WHAT DOES THE GRID IN A VACUUM TUBE DO? How To Build a Vacuum Tube Amplifier.
(8) CAN ONE VACUUM TUBE DO TWO THINGS AT ONCE? How To Build a Detector-Amplifier.
(9) HOW IS FEEDBACK USED FOR EXTRA AMPLIFICATION? How To Build a Regenerative Detector-Amplifier.

EK-2B Basic Radio
(1) WHAT IS A TRANSFORMER? Putting the Transformer to Work.
(3) HOW TUBES USE OPERATING VOLTAGES. Using the Triode and Pentode Amplifiers.
(5) HOW THE DETECTOR CIRCUIT OPERATES. How To Build a Detector Circuit.
(7) WHAT IS AN OSCILLATOR AND HOW DOES IT WORK? How To Test an Oscillator Circuit.
(8) WHAT IS A CONVERTER CIRCUIT USED FOR? How To Build a Superheterodyne Receiver.
(9) WHAT DOES ALIGNMENT MEAN? How To Align Your Superheterodyne Receiver.
(10) WHAT ARE SHORT WAVE SIGNALS? How To Add a Short Wave Band and BFO to Your Receiver.
The final product of this course is a complete superhet receiver:

EK-3 Basic Transistors
(1) WHAT ARE CONDUCTORS, SEMICONDUCTORS, RESISTORS, INSULATORS? How To Determine the Resistance of Some Common Materials.
(3) HOW DOES A TRANSISTOR REACT IN A SERIES CIRCUIT? How To Control Current in a Series Circuit.
(4) HOW TO CONTROL THE CURRENT FLOWING THROUGH A TRANSISTOR. How To Control the Current Flowing Through a Transistor.
(6) HOW TRANSISTORS USE OPERATING VOLTAGES. Demonstrating the Effects of Changing the Bias in a Transistor Amplifier.
(7) HOW DOES A TRANSISTOR RADIO WORK? How To Build a Simple Transistor Radio.
(8) WHAT MAKES A TRANSISTOR OSCILLATOR WORK? How To Build a Transistor Audio Oscillator.
(9) WHAT MAKES A TRANSISTOR BROADCASTER WORK? How To Build a Simple Transistor Broadcaster.
(10) WHAT MAKES A TRANSISTOR INTERCOM WORK? How To Build Your Complete Transistor Intercom.
The final product is this intercom:

So, try to imagine that it's 1959 (I'm too young to remember that year). Sputnik was launched a couple of years ago. America, and the West, are trying to catch up to a perceived Soviet "superiority" in technology (which later turned out to be largely bogus). Riding the crest is the electronics industry and Heathkit is ready to feed the droves of would-be technicians!

I'm making no promises about the timing of this eham series, I'll post stuff when I have time.

73 de Martin, KB1WSY
« Last Edit: September 14, 2014, 01:00:22 PM by KB1WSY » Logged

Posts: 349

« Reply #1 on: September 14, 2014, 04:20:39 PM »

Just hope some BOZO doesn't come up and try to hammer you with copyright/patent  ad nauseum. I think it's a great idea to run this as there are many that I think will benefit tremendously as there are not many places to get basic knowledge anymore.
Go for it! Dick KH2G

Posts: 1309

« Reply #2 on: September 14, 2014, 04:36:08 PM »

Just hope some BOZO doesn't come up and try to hammer you with copyright/patent  ad nauseum. I think it's a great idea to run this as there are many that I think will benefit tremendously as there are not many places to get basic knowledge anymore.
Go for it! Dick KH2G


I did think about that. However:
(1) I do not intend to reproduce the whole manuals, just excerpts from them. Certainly not enough to make them useful to other kit-builders (they would have to obtain, elsewhere, a full copy of the original manual, as I did when I bought them from used bookdealers on
(2) This is a pretty obscure part of the Heathkit range (at this point).
(3) Yup, if a copyright stakeholder intervenes persuasively, I'll just stand down.
(4) However I have done some research into the whole issue of who, really, owns those copyrights and I'm not satisfied by any of the answers I've seen; the ambiguity probably makes things easier, not harder, for me.
(5) Finally, in an ideal world I would hope that my motivations (which are educational/nostalgic) might make a difference but ... nah, I'm not that naïve!

By the way, I am in the publishing industry myself, so it's something I'm attuned to.

73 de Martin, KB1WSY
« Last Edit: September 14, 2014, 04:39:20 PM by KB1WSY » Logged

Posts: 4546

« Reply #3 on: September 14, 2014, 05:15:35 PM » there are not many places to get basic knowledge anymore.

Mr Google begs to differ.   Took all of three seconds to find this one...

...with many more to choose from.

There are plenty of technical schools / community colleges that post lesson plans and course material on their web sites available to anyone 24/7.  All it takes is the ability to find them.  Click this for an example:

BTW:  If 1959 is your idea of a good time visit here:  Note the books by William Orr, W6SAI.  For the truly hard core you can also find the military manuals used in Army / Navy Radioman school.  Never know when you'll need to troubleshoot a BC-348 in 2014, ya' know.................


Posts: 2409

« Reply #4 on: September 14, 2014, 09:54:19 PM »

There is a Heathkit Yahoo Group that might well be interested in hearing about that.
Some people had to remove Heathkit manual publishings as someone (Data Professionals?) bought the rights. I do, however, not remember the details.

Posts: 1309

« Reply #5 on: September 15, 2014, 04:54:24 AM »

There is a Heathkit Yahoo Group that might well be interested in hearing about that.
Some people had to remove Heathkit manual publishings as someone (Data Professionals?) bought the rights. I do, however, not remember the details.

Yes, it was Data Professionals ( They offer reprints of those same EK-series manuals for $20 to $25 each -- except for the EK-2B which for some reason is not listed on their website (which doesn't mean they don't have it available). I didn't have to use their services because original copies of the EK- series manuals are still widely available on and eBay. I already knew that, at various times, that company has asked for items on the Internet to be taken down.

Again, I am not intending to reproduce usable versions of the manuals, but only various small excerpts, none of which will be usable on their own. This should qualify as "fair use" under the copyright law; I have just reminded myself of that law's provisions. (And BTW, under the law, it also make a purported difference if you are acting for an educational purpose rather than the profit motive although that has been interpreted in all sorts of different ways by the courts.)

Even if if I am asked to take down the manual excerpts, that does not stop me from describing my kit-building experience and explaining how the kits work, in my own words. The copyright law basically says that you cannot copyright facts; the atomic nucleus and the role of electrons, which is on the first two pages of the manual, is not something that can be copyrighted. Only the "expression" of those facts is copyright, thus it is straightforward to convey the factual content of the manual without actually quoting it, inasmuch as it pertains to pure science. Indeed, I will actually find it educational (for myself) to provide my own descriptions rather than parroting the manual; manual excerpts will be limited to small examples. (In that sense it is fortunate that the subject matter is scientific rather than being, for instance, a work of fiction.)

I do not intend to reproduce the "building instructions" except occasionally as examples of how thorough Heathkit was; they will be partial pages and not usable in their own right.

In terms of technology, I won't be using my flatbed scanner much (it would provide a crystal-clear copy) but rather, my digital camera, with the manuals placed in the context of other stuff that's going on, such as the electronic experiments themselves.

Again, I work in the publishing industry myself, and thus am fully sensitized to the rights of copyright holders. Without the copyright laws, I'd be out of a job!

73 de Martin, KB1WSY
« Last Edit: September 15, 2014, 05:07:03 AM by KB1WSY » Logged

Posts: 1309

« Reply #6 on: September 15, 2014, 05:48:06 AM »

Some of you may wonder how I got hold of these kits, given the fact that "unbuilt Heathkits" change hands at ridiculous prices. The going rate on eBay, for this "EK series," is $200 to $300 for each module and sometimes even more. Well, it took a while (nearly three years) to get these items but this is how.

EK-1, "Basic Electricity." I bought a beat-up, already built EK-1 VOM on eBay. Can't remember what I paid for it, but it was probably $20 or so including shipping. I dismantled it, stripped down the paint on the cabinet and resprayed it. There were various scratches on the front panel, which I fixed using model paint that I premixed to the correct color. Concerning the components, some of them were either dubious, or damaged by me when I took the kit apart (that includes some of the precision resistors). One of the rotary switches was a write-off. These items were replaced with new ones. As for the other parts of the original kit: a miniature compass, a knife switch, several battery holders, lamp holders, and so forth, they were easily obtainable new. The original meter probes were dubious, so I replaced them with new ones. By the way, that VOM has turned out to be useful as a test instrument: because it is so simple, it is a useful "double check" on voltages in radios because it may be less affected by RF than (for instance) a VTVM.

EK-2A, "Basic Radio." This one was really tough, because it includes some custom parts that are removed (when building the follow-up EK-2B that uses the same chassis and power supply) and discarded. Thus, I could not locate a "prebuilt" version, given that almost no-one built the first kit without then progressing to the second, and essentially destroying the first. I initially tried to find the missing parts "on their own" or build my own, but eventually I had a stroke of luck and managed to buy an almost complete, unbuilt, EK-2A kit from a fellow ham for about $70 (it was "cheap" because of the "missing parts"; it turned out that the only things missing were a dogbone insulator, and some wire, for creating a simple antenna!).

EK-2B, "Basic Radio." I bought an already built EK-2B radio for about $40. After considerable restoration, it became my shack radio for background music (I feed it with an Internet classical music stream via an AM modulator). In theory I was going to take it apart and turn it back into a kit, but I grew rather attached to it "as is." So a few days ago I went mad and bought an original unbuilt EK-2B kit on eBay, at what amounts to the "going rate" ($250). My folly.

EK-3, "Basic Transistors." This one was easier. Although this kit seems to be very rare, I managed to pick it up for a "low" price on eBay. Can't remember how much, but it was probably in the $40 range. I think the reason why this kit seems to be held in "low regard" by collectors is because it's solid-state, not tube. I don't care: I actually know very little about solid-state theory (only enough to understand how my little homebrew receiver works) so I think it will be valuable to build this project.

So, the total cost (not including the prebuilt EK-2B that became my shack music source): $380. In some ways an absurdly large sum of money. OTOH it is providing me with hundreds of hours of fun, and education. Also, here is a reality check: the prices from the 1964 Heathkit catalogue (they don't include shipping; of course back then, you might have been able to buy the kits from a local Heathkit store):

1964 prices
EK-1, $19.95
EK-2A, $19.95
EK-2B, $19.95
EK-3, $16.95 ("Learn about the wonder of the age ... the tiny transistor!")

Total price, not including the optional $3.95 wooden cabinet for the EK-2B: $76.80 in 1964, which is worth $590.25 today, once you take inflation into account (I used Therefore, I paid only about two-thirds of the original price. I could have paid a lot less if I'd just dismantled my "prebuilt" EK-2B, but there you are. Ah, the smell of unbuilt kits ... the thrill of unpacking the box and removing the disintegrating padding materials ... the random pieces of paper inside.

73 de Martin, KB1WSY
« Last Edit: September 15, 2014, 06:30:19 AM by KB1WSY » Logged

Posts: 1309

« Reply #7 on: September 23, 2014, 10:32:55 AM »

The last kit arrived today (EK-2B).

(The EK-1 VOM on the left is already built. I photographed the process and it's gradually being documented in the separate EK-1 thread.)

Posts: 377

« Reply #8 on: September 28, 2014, 05:26:13 PM »

In the local Home Depot there is a Wireless Doorbell
system bearing the Heath-Zenith logo embossed on
the bottom of the annunciator unit. Anyone know
if there is a Heath-Zenith left or is it just a sheel
that licenses the label?

Posts: 630

« Reply #9 on: September 28, 2014, 05:51:58 PM »

" Originating from the Heath Company, best known for designing and marketing electronic kits and controls to the early do-it-yourself market, HeathCo’s foundation is built from over 100 years of finding and applying innovation to develop new products. In the 1980’s, as part of the Zenith Electronics Corporation, Heath began marketing products under the brand name of Heath/Zenith. These two great American brands were both established by offering quality products that are innovative and easy to use.

 Since the late 1980’s, intelligent lighting, door chimes, and wireless lighting controls have been the product categories of focus. Today, under the Heath/Zenith brand we offer a broad selection of specialty electrical products built to meet the needs of today’s consumer. Our products are designed to complement any décor and install with ease for even the most inexperienced do-it-yourselfer.  "


EXTRALight  1/3 less WPM than a Real EXTRA

Posts: 377

« Reply #10 on: September 29, 2014, 05:31:57 PM »



Posts: 820

« Reply #11 on: October 02, 2014, 07:19:36 PM »

After Sputnik there was a real emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) knowledge in the US, because we thought that the Soviets had an edge. America's first satellite launch blew up on the launch pad. There were a number of other American failures too, like the satellite that had an error in the math and nearly crashed back to earth, only being stopped when it was somehow blown to bits. Meanwhile, the Russkies were putting "cosmonauts" into earth orbit.

There was a real fear that America's edge in a war had been obliterated by the Soviet invention of the ICBM. Until the late 50s America was focused on how to get bombers to dodge Soviet radar. It was widely assumed that the Russians had hidden nukes in all their consulates and in the USSR Embassy in DC. Given that we couldn't get our ICBM's to work, there was a lot of panic. JFK likely held off attacking Cuba during the Missile Crisis because he thought that the Russians already had nukes on the tips of ICBM's and could destroy the US without having to rely on bombers. The Pentagon thought that the Russians could shoot most of our bombers out of the sky before they reached Russia.

So, that was the situation, kids were being pushed into STEM careers and the TV networks were cancelling rural-themed TV shows and Westerns and putting up shows with modern themes. That period gave us not only the internet but modern computing itself. The microchip was invented in 1961. Among others, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, as well as Bill Gates and other future tech titans, were likely inspired by this era. It's too bad that we never were able to recreate the push for technology for later generations.

Posts: 1265

« Reply #12 on: October 03, 2014, 01:05:59 AM »


I guess now the worry is that the Russians or the Chinese might have better lawyers, which is why so many kids become lawyers!!
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