Innocent Experiments

Childhood and the Culture of Popular Science in the United States

By Rebecca Onion

240 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 18 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-2947-6
    Published: October 2016
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-2946-9
    Published: October 2016
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-2948-3
    Published: October 2016
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-4343-2
    Published: October 2016

Studies in United States Culture

Buy this Book

For Professors:
Free E-Exam Copies

To purchase online via an independent bookstore, visit
From the 1950s to the digital age, Americans have pushed their children to live science-minded lives, cementing scientific discovery and youthful curiosity as inseparable ideals. In this multifaceted work, historian Rebecca Onion examines the rise of informal children’s science education in the twentieth century, from the proliferation of home chemistry sets after World War I to the century-long boom in child-centered science museums. Onion looks at how the United States has increasingly focused its energies over the last century into producing young scientists outside of the classroom. She shows that although Americans profess to believe that success in the sciences is synonymous with good citizenship, this idea is deeply complicated in an era when scientific data is hotly contested and many Americans have a conflicted view of science itself.

These contradictions, Onion explains, can be understood by examining the histories of popular science and the development of ideas about American childhood. She shows how the idealized concept of “science” has moved through the public consciousness and how the drive to make child scientists has deeply influenced American culture.

About the Author

Rebecca Onion is a visiting scholar of history at Ohio University and staff writer at
For more information about Rebecca Onion, visit the Author Page.


“[A] terrific synthesis of places and trends in popular science over the course of the 20th century. . . . An excellent addition to collections in US history, popular culture, educational history, childhood studies, and the history of science. Highly recommended.”--Choice

“A lively and provocative exploration of the intersections of American culture, childhood, and science that have fueled popular perceptions of science's value to society.”--History of Education Quarterly

“With her book, Onion has proven that such play was never meant for girls like us, nor was it ever about girls like us, anyway.”--The Journal of American History

“Onion proves throughout the book that science education has been anything but innocent, despite attempts to market it as such. She depicts the contextualized history of science education as political and ideological, with racist, sexist, and classist tendencies that persist today.”--MAKE Literary Magazine

"We applaud the smartphones and space exploration that spring from scientific research yet continue to reject scientific conclusions because of political and religious ideologies. Rebecca Onion dissects such contradictions, offering a fascinating perspective on how we use science to help shape children’s lives and our own."--Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette, author of Science on American Television

"In this fascinating book, Rebecca Onion connects the histories of science, education, and childhood in dazzling and original ways. Innocent Experiments will change the way we think about gender and popular science."--Matthew Pratt Guterl, author of Seeing Race and coauthor of Hotel Life

Multimedia & Links

Follow the author on Twitter @rebeccaonion.

Visit the author's website,