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Fascinating facts about the invention of Erector Sets by A.C. Gilbert in 1913. ERECTOR SET
Born in Salem, Oregon in 1884. A. C. Gilbert (1884-1962), boyhood love was magic tricks: he became so proficient that he once matched a traveling professional magician trick for trick, and earned the prescient praise, Gilbert was also a brilliant student, and soon went on to Yale Medical School. He helped pay his tuition by performing as a magician, and founded a company, Mysto Manufacturing, which sold magic kits for kids. In 1909, Gilbert finished medical school, but decided to expand his budding toy business rather than practice as a doctor.
Like many residents of New Haven, Connecticut, he often took the train to New York City; and on one trip in 1911 he was inspired with what would be the most popular of his dozens of inventions.

Watching out the train window as some workmen positioned and riveted the steel beams of an electrical power-line tower, Gilbert decided to create a children's construction kit: not just a toy, but an assemblage of metal beams with evenly spaced holes for bolts to pass through, screws, bolts, pulleys, gears and eventually even engines. A British toy company called Meccano Company was then selling a similar kit, but Gilbert's Erector set was more realistic and had a number of technical advantages --- most notably, steel beams that were not flat but bent lengthwise at a 90-degree angle, so that four of them nested side-to-side formed a very sturdy, square, hollow support beam.

Gilbert began selling the "Mysto Erector Structural Steel Builder" in 1913, backed by the first major American ad campaign for a toy. The Erector set quickly became one of the most popular toys of all time: living rooms across the country were transformed into miniature metropoles, filled with skyscrapers, bridges and railways. Those kids who already owned a set would beg Santa annually for an upgrade, aiming for the elusive "No. 12 1/2" deluxe kit that came with blueprints for the "Mysterious Walking Giant" robot. It is difficult for anyone under the age of 35 today to appreciate just how popular the Erector set was for over half a century.

A. C. Gilbert was one of the most multi-talented inventors of all time. With many fields open to his ingenuity, he chose to educate and entertain children through toys.

TO LEARN MORE

RELATED INFORMATION:
A. C. Gilbert, Inventor Profile   from The Great Idea Finder
History of Toys   from The Great Idea Finder

ON THE BOOKSHELF:

Block Building for Children: Making Buildings of the World With the Ultimate Construction Toy
by Les Walker, Lester R. Walker, Witold Rybczynski (Introduction) / Hardcover (1995) / Overlook Pr.
Block Building for Children is a great way for kids and parents to play together, and of course is also perfect for budding young architects. Each project is accompanied by detailed plans, photographs and a stunning line drawing to fire the imagination, and the text for each project puts it in its historical context.
The Man Who Changed How Boys and Toys Were Made: The Life and Times of A. C. Gilbert
by Bruce Watson / Paperback: 224 pages / Penguin Books; Reprint edition (October 28, 2003)
Athlete, magician, marketing genius, millionaire- A. C. Gilbert was all of these, but he made his name by refusing to grow up. In 1913 Gilbert poured his boyish enthusiasm into a new toy. He called it the Erector Set, and the A. C. Gilbert Company sold 30 million of them.
Kid Stuff : Great Toys from Our Childhood ( Out of Print.)
by David Hoffman, Viktor Budnik (Photographer) / Paperback - 108 pages (1996) / Chronicle Books
Ever wonder if Barbie had a last name? (It's Roberts.) Who invented Lincoln Logs? (John L. Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright.) Filled with a host of curious facts and little-known anecdotes about the creation of dozens of timeless toys and games, Kid Stuff is a celebration of classic playthings, mostly from the 1940s throught the 1960s, that are still popular today.

ON THE WEB:
Official Erector Set Web Site
The site is operated by Brio Division of Maccano Company,
(URL: www.briotoy.com)
Invention Dimension - Inventor of the Week
Celebrates inventor/innovator role models through outreach activities and annual awards to inspire a new generation of American scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs.
President (TMA)
A.C. Gilbert was a native Oregonian who was born in Salem and was the famous inventor of Erector Sets and Gilbert Chemistry Sets. Gilbert was the first president of the Toy Manufacturers Association (TMA), an association that hosts the largest toy fair in the world.
(URL: www.acgilbert.org/about.htm)
A.C. Gilbert Heritage Society
From 1909 till his death in 1961, AC Gilbert would revolutionize the toys that we would play with. For a little over fifty years he brought us toys that made science fun.
(URL: www.acghs.org/)

AC Gilbert's Discovery Village
A.C. Gilbert's Discovery Village

Hands-on children's museum with interactive exhibits in the sciences, arts and humanities.
(URL: www.acgilbert.org
)
Erector World
Everthing you ever needed to know about Erector Sets.
(URL: www.girdersandgears.com
)
Construction Toy Homepage
These pages are devoted to vintage construction toys of all types. This site is intended for the enjoyment of its visitors and has no connection with any commercial firm.
(URL: www.chem.sunysb.edu/msl/lego/homepage.html
)
The Construction Site
This site is dedicated to providing a complete selection of high quality blocks and building toys and accessories. Invemtory includes the entire line from each manufacturer in stock, including basic sets, extra pieces, add-on sets, and storage bins with many new and hard-to-find construction toys.

(URL: www.constructiontoys.com/)
The Man Who Saved Christmas

Abstract of an article by Bruce Watson, originally published in the April 1999 issue of Smithsonian.
(URL: www.smithsonianmag.si.edu/smithsonian/issues99/may99/erector.html)
Erector Set Heart Pump (Page removed.)
Using a toy Erector set, William Sewell Jr. and William W. L. Glenn, Yale University medical students, built this section of a heart pump, which Sewell successfully used in experimental bypass surgery on dogs.(URL: www.smithsonianlegacies.si.edu/objectdescription.cfm?ID=17
)

DID YOU KNOW?:

  • By the time of his death in 1962, A. C. Gilbert was credited with 150 patents for the inventions that went into his products, which were really much more than just "toys."
Reference Sources in BOLD Type This page revised March, 2005.
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