Spitz Junior Planetarium (1954)

Flash! The Spitz Jr is famous. See if you can spot one in the movie Unstrung Heroes or in the TV show Third Rock from the Sun .

Okay, we're wandering pretty far afield from radios here, but this toy planetarium is so pretty I thought some of you might enjoy a peek. My wife found this for me (she has all the luck!) and saved it for a Christmas present. Despite being almost as old as me, the set shows little evidence of use.

Like some modern toys, the box is almost more fun than its contents. It shows an excited pair of children crouching next to their Spitz Junior, gazing eagerly into a dark blue sky crammed with colored planets, comets, and constellations. About the only thing missing from this scene is Buck Rogers!

The extensive instruction book is charming and quite well written. Aimed at a young audience, it conveys a real sense of excitement about astronomy while giving lots of practical information. The foreword identifies the designer as Armand N. Spitz, crediting him with the design of over 100 real planetaria throughout the United States plus a "giant projection unit," weighing over 1100 pounds, which was shipped to South America.

The front of the planetarium base has a power switch and dimmer rheostat. The dark projection sphere (made of Tenite) tilts up and down to show the heavens from different latitudes. Just as in a real planetarium show, you can rotate the sphere to show the stars for a particular date and time.

Stored in a little bracket on the side (on the right, in this photo) is a small light wand powered through an auxiliary cable. Using its own dimmer, the light can act as a pointer during ordinary operation or as a "constellation projector" when fitted with the slides shown here scattered around the base. It also accepts a couple of special round slides. The round slide mounted in this photo shows closeups of each planet. Another shows eclipses of the sun and moon.

This fascinating toy was built by the Harmonic Reed Corporation of Rosemont, Pennsylvania, which also made the "Harmotone" line of realistic musical toys.

If you're interested in planeteria, Loch Ness Productions offers a wealth of information. The Spitz company is still in business, producing full-sized planetarium domes.

©1995-2014 Philip I. Nelson, all rights reserved