Gizmos and Gadgets from American Science and Surplus

We are fascinated by discovery and invention. And we are dedicated to having fun along the way," says Philip Cable owner of American Science and Surplus. The stores offer an eclectic range of products, many with a science or educational tilt to them, others simply handy or amusing. "Value is important, he adds. "Whenever we can, we carry surplus at prices well below retail. We love closeouts, inventory overruns, mis-manufactures, and items whose time has not come."

When they can't find surplus, they may carry regular merchandise which they think those interested in learning and tinkering will find appealing. "Littered in and around this stuff are whimsical things that we carry because, well, because we like them." Phil says.

Customers have used American Science and Surplus items in homemade cars, sculptures, precision instruments, homemade telescopes, costumes, model railroads, window dressings, holiday decorations, and innumerable science projects.

Company History

American Science & Surplus was established in about 1937. At that time the founder, Al Luebbers, was working for Western Electric, here in Chicago. Al had a great interest in optics and he noticed that a company next door to the plant where he worked was throwing away reject lenses. He asked them if he could buy the rejects and they said, "No. But you can have them if you will haul them away."

Al and his wife Buddy took the lenses, cleaned and polished them at their kitchen table in the evenings and decided to offer them for sale. They placed an ad in Popular Science offering ten lenses for 50¢ and began to receive orders. Al figured that if they changed the ad to "Ten Lenses for $1" people would think they were better lenses and buy more. So he did. And they did. And the business was launched as American Lens & Photo.

After the Second World War the company expanded, fed by war surplus. Eventually, Al opened a regular store on Chicago's Northwest side called American Science Center and started carrying educational science items.

In the 1970's Al & Buddy's son Jerry joined his parents in the business, eventually taking it over from them. In 1979 he started a catalog operation under the name "Jerryco" and in 1981 he opened a second store, in Milwaukee.

In 1988 Jerry took in a partner, Scott McCausland, who bought out the Luebbers after Jerry's death a short time later. After consolidating all operations under the name American Science & Surplus, the company started its first web site in 1995. In late 1999 we completely rebuilt our web site and started taking on line orders. In 2000 McCausland retired and sold American Science & Surplus to Philip Cable. Philip, a life-long science geek, continues to grow the business today.

AS&S Today

American Science & Surplus continues to offer a unique mix of industrial, military and educational items, with an emphasis on science and education. We supply a wide range of unusual and hard to find items (some say bizarre stuff) to the hobbiest, tinkerer, artist, experimenter, home educator, do-it-yourselfer, and bargain hunter.

"Our items are great gifts, inexpensive supplies, and an endless reason for a giggle or a "Gee whiz!" We try to be scrupulously honest in presenting whatever we know about what we have, and always take it back, no questions asked, if the customer isn't satisfied with it," Phil Cable says.

American Science & Surplus Stores are located:

IN CHICAGO: 5316 N. Milwaukee Avenue (773) 763-0313

IN GENEVA: Route 38, 1/4 mile east of Kirk Road (630) 232-2882

IN MILWAUKEE: 6901 W. Oklahoma (414) 541-7777


The Mother of All Fresnel Lenses

It came from either outer space, or a projection TV. Our largest Fresnel lens measures 49-1/8" x 37-1/8" x 1/16" thick, with a 42" focal length. Build your own lighthouse or projection TV, teach optical properties to students, or just turn your 21-inch model into one with a tavern-size picture. Held in the sun, the lens will concentrate rays enough to cook eggs or torch lumber. And, under adult supervision in the parking lot, employees of a certain un-named scientific and surplus purveyor actually melted pennies in seconds. Extremely cool and done strictly, we assure you, to determine the lens's focal length. Do not, we shouldn't have to remind you, store this puppy in direct sunlight. Or let the underage or under-mature sneak it into the sunlight.


  • Will focus sun to small point.
  • Gets extremely hot.
  • Will melt a penny in just a few seconds!
  • Fun for experiments and science fair projects.

Screeching Monkey Superhero!

Look! Up in the sky! It's a screeching flying monkey to the rescue! And at a screechingly low price. Our hero is an 11" long stuffed monkey in superhero togs (a cape, and maybe a mask or hood, depending on his sartorial whim). Put two fingers in the little pockets on his paws, pull his bungee arms back, and let him go. He'll fly a good 25 feet or more, issuing hideous monkey screeches all the while, faster than a flying nun and able to brighten up a day in the office in a single bound.


  • Totally useless, but lots of fun.
  • Monkey has latex tubing inside arms.
  • Put you fingers in his hands and pull on his legs.

More Electronics...More Fun

When is a toy not a toy? When you can have fun with a kid, and build a digital voice recorder at the same time. If the young Tom Edison had had one of these kits, your grandparents' lives would have been a lot easier. Elenco's Pro Model SC-750 is a Dr. Toy winner, from their Snap-Circuits" series. Has over (80) parts to snap (no soldering) into a grid and learn electronics while building an AM or FM radio, digital voice recorder, burglar alarm, doorbell, and electronic games, among over 750 experiments, including solar, electromagnetism, and computer-interfaced applications. For ages 8 up to adult, it includes a well-written, graphically illustrated instruction manual. AWARDS: The National Parenting Center-Seal of Approval, Dr. Toy 100 Best Children's Products, Dr Toy Best Educational Products.

93444 SNAP CIRCUIT PRO 750; $79.95

  • Has won multiple awards.
  • Make AM/FM radio, burglar alarm, over 750 experiments.
  • No soldering or tangles of wires.
  • The various components all snap together.
  • Ingenious.

Lay Siege To The Doghouse!

Right after you build your own working medieval catapult or trebuchet. All you'll need is glue, scissors and a steady hand (plus a small bag of marbles or rocks or something as a counterweight for the trebuchet) to construct these wooden, Canadian-made siege engine kits. The catapult stands 6" tall x 5" wide x 10" long and will toss assorted stuff 15 feet or farther, depending upon the stuff. The finished trebuchet will be 26" long x 18" wide x 24" tall and will propel small objects (meatballs?) 20 feet or more. Both include detailed instructions. Note: Please don't propel small mammals, and please don't put anyone's eye out.

92886 MODEL CATAPULT; $29.95
92887 MODEL TREBUCHET; $39.95

  • Make working model medieval war machines.
  • Just like in the Lord of the Rings movies.
  • Easy to assemble.
  • Teaches physics and mechanics.
  • Also have the catapult.

Wow! Double Wow!

This is Philip's new favorite toy, since he blasted a rocket so high over our parking lot that he lost sight of it (the rocket, not the parking lot). The Air Burst(tm) Rocket system has a 26" tall, air-powered tri-pod launcher made of plastic and rigid foam. A 65" long air hose connects it to any stand-up bike pump. After a few pumps, the air pressure bursts a replaceable booster disc in the launcher and sends a 10" x 3/4" dia rocket 250 to 1000 feet into the air. Wow! The system includes the launcher, (2) rockets, and (60) boosters (two different weights). Sending rockets out of sight, even if they usually come straight back down, is an ingenuous ploy for selling extra rockets. Our each is a pack of (2). And having extra rockets is an ingenuous ploy for selling extra booster discs. Our each is another bag of (60). No bicycle pump? The 18" black Tech Team pump blew majestically through a "double bozon" booster for us! It creates up to 120 lbs of pressure while most pumps will only generate 80 psi. It fits a Schrader (American) valve. Warning: The Air Burst(tm) Rocket is for ages 10 and up, with adult supervision. Don't let us catch you out there without a kid!


  • Launch rockets hundreds of feet into the air.
  • Does not use fire or explosives or rocket engines.
  • Uses a bicycle pump to compress air.
  • Requires adult supervision.

A Stellar Telescope

This telescope is computerized and has a huge selection of celestial objects in its built-in database. It is an 80mm refractor. It has GOTO capability.


  • Has built-in computer and motors.
  • Once oriented, this telescope will automatically point itself at items in the sky.
  • It has thousands of objects in its memory.
  • Just enter the item in the keypad and motors in the telescope point it to the right spot in the sky.
  • Not the telescope from your youth.

Keep Track of Those Mules!

Frankly, it just doesn't get any surplusser than this. Swiss Army knives? Please. You can get those from SkyMall. But a genuine Swiss Army surplus Mule Branding Kit? Only at AS&S, my friend. Comes in a 20" wide x 13-12" tall x 9" deep olive-drab wooden carrying box with a handle and a padlock with a key. The (20) numerical cast-iron branding irons (a double set of 0 to 9) are also quite suitable for personalizing strip steaks with SS#s at those large BBQs. (We'd maybe wash them first.) The irons are 18" long with wooden handles and approx 1" high numbers on the branding end. Includes instructions in French and German along with a nice supply of envelopes and stationery in assorted languages, all inside a 17" x12" cardboard and canvas, ribbon-tie portfolio. Worth every penny, even if the mules aren't included.

36615 MULE BRANDING KIT; $149.50

  • Obviously a weird item.
  • Can't understand why we've been selling dozens and dozens.
  • One customer said they want to brand their steaks at large cookouts.

Pow! Pow! Pow!

It's 1953 all over again! Now you can buy your favorite childhood toy for your grandkids! We have the original Burp Gun that rapid-fires small ping-pong-type balls the length of our office as fast as we can pump the barrel (no batteries needed). All right, we remember the grip of the original as plain old brown plastic, and this one is bright red - but kids are used to a lot more stimulation these days! The Burp Gun, which comes with 15 balls, is 30" long when fully extended. The Burp Pistol, which comes with 7 balls, is 12" at its smallest and extends to 17". Great fun - but maybe you'd better buy a couple of bags of extra balls (10 per bag). Big sisters still stomp on them.

92020 BURP GUN; $17.95

    Shoots lightweight ping-pong-like balls.
  • Old fashioned, classic item from years ago.
  • Makes a very satisfying sound.
  • Uses air to shoot balls.

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