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Heathkit (wikipedia.org)
38 points by vinchuco on Oct 7, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 17 comments



It was a crisp fall Saturday when I first learned about the basement full of computers.

The previous night my dad's boss hosted a party at his house that my parents had attended. My dad was in the IS department of a medium-sized insurance company, and his department was full of chess players, assembly language programmers, ham radio operators, and computer tinkerers. My dad's boss was all of those rolled into one. "You would love it!" my mom told me, "his basement is full of computers!" My imagination ran wild.

Within a week or two my dad's boss invited us over. We pulled up to his house and I gazed up at a 50-foot tower with a beam antenna next to his garage. As I walked into the basement, I could hear strange sounds of beeping, static, and garbled voice. My first sight was of three walls covered with a custom-built set of cabinets that contained a dizzying array of electronic equipment. I would later learn that it was full of Heathkit radios and computers. I was awe-struck.

Later that fall my dad announced, "we're getting a computer." We proceeded to spend several evenings and weekends at my dad's boss' house where they built our family's Heathkit H-89 computer. As they soldered, I played on the Heathkit pinball machine. Our H-89, as I recall, had 16K of RAM and a 4 MHz Z-80 CPU. My first program was about twenty print statements that displayed a crude outline of a football helmet using asterisks.

That winter I studied for and received my amateur radio novice, and later, my general class license, and my dad's boss administered the novice test. I remember him sending morse code at 6 or 7 WPM and excitedly decoding it and reading it back to him. My first radio was a Heathkit purchased for $80 at a ham 'flea market'. I went on to build a Heathkit VTVM (vacuum tube voltmeter), a code practice oscillator, and a few other kits. There were several Christmas nights spent soldering into the wee hours of the morning.

Without my dad, his boss, and Heathkit, it's unlikely I'd be doing what I do today. Thanks for the memories, Heathkit.


I had an electronics bench when I was 13, started out with a Heathkit power supply, then an early digital voltmeter (since I couldn't read resistor codes very well, being colorblind). My dad built a tube-based mono amplifier and radio. A few years later I built a kit computer (a very nice Digital Group Z-80 system).

I still build kits and am getting back into tinkering with electronics after 35+ years of software hacking. Hardware keeps you honest about your abilities, and the smoke keeps you humble about your mistakes. :-)


> Hardware keeps you honest about your abilities, and the smoke keeps you humble about your mistakes.

I'll use that. :-)


Building up a basement rec room stereo from a Heathkit kit is one of many electronics related memories I have of bonding with my dad. I was less than 10 years old, and I'm sure he did most of the work, but it certainly helped teach me -- as the article so wonderfully says -- that machines weren't magic, and that curiosity combined with a healthy dose of fearlessness was enough to understand just about anything. What a great thing these kits were.


Me too, my Dad and I bonded over building a SW radio together. Heathkit was the first in the Maker movement.


My parent's house still uses the Heathkit programmable doorbell I put together in 2nd grade (and the tune I made up for it).

And I still have my "atomic" clock that reads the NIST radio—same tech as the self-setting wall clocks you can get nowadays, except completely discrete, with 4 or 5 daughter cards, and a speaker so you can actually listen to the beepy radio transmission.

I loved Heathkit. I so wish they were still around...


My dad worked at a heathkit dealer in Houston back in the 70s. Growing up he assembled both of our tvs, complete with a high frequency remote control that worked somewhere between 14 and 20khz that I could hear when I put up to my ear. We had a heathkit receiver that had an astounding 70watts per channel back in the late 70s/early 80s. I remember being able to look at the thin elastic cords that would allow you to tune into your station. Turn it fast and it had that rubber band effect like the iOS browser. I remember thinking there is nothing my dad can't make or fix back then. I hope the kits come back and are as comprehensive and cost effective as previous times.


My AM/FM Heathkit radio worked the first time I powered it up. One of my proudest moments in junior high.


I found an old Heathkit at a garage sale: https://www.flickr.com/photos/xistence/sets/7215762293061906...


There is a company trying to bring Heathkit back. A member of their board did an AMA At the end of 2013: http://www.reddit.com/r/tabled/comments/1tdf45/table_iama_me...


>We hope to introduce a few kits in the first half of 2014. However, their website [1] and facebook page [2] haven't been updated for 7 months.

[1] https://www.heathkit.com/ [2] https://www.facebook.com/heathcompany


I have a pair of Heathkit robots and robot arms in the garage in mint condition, new, in the box, unassembled. Waiting for the right time to bring them out and use them to inspire the kids.


I used to stare longily at the Hero-1 ads at the back of magazines.


It was because of the Hero-1 that I bought (actually, made my mom buy) a my firat Computers and Electronics magazine. Then Creative Computing, then BYTE and so on...


My grandfather, a retired Milk Truck driver, really got into Heathkit and built several things, including a large TV. It made a strong impression on me when I was in elementary school. I was rather disappointed when I got old enough to do Heathkit projects myself that they had pretty much disappeared.


If Heathkit got their act together, I'm sure they could become successful again. The Maker/DIY movement is big, and they do have that brand name. They could even use the classic designs, retro is super big at moment. Yes, tubes are back! :-)


That's the goal. There is now a lot more competition though.




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