about A. C. Gilbert
inventor of the Erector Set in 1913.
invent. First to patent. Entrepreneur.
13, 1884 in Salem, Oregon
1961 in New Haven, Connecticut,
|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.
Gilbert was born in Salem, Oregon in 1884. His 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, "My boy, you will be a great success." In high
school, Gilbert discovered his talent for athletics, especially wrestling and track and
field; in college, he was a football star.
But 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 1908, he took time out to compete in the
IV. Olympiad in London, England, and came home with the gold medal in the pole vault ---
thanks in part to a new, spike-less bamboo pole that he was the first Olympian to use.
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 metropolis, 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. But that was not all A. C. Gilbert produced: he
manufactured some of the finest model trains ever made (1946-66), a glass blowing kit
(1920s), various chemistry sets (including one specifically for girls, in 1958), an
"Atomic Energy Lab" complete with real radioactive particles and a working
Geiger counter (1950-52), and of course his old standby, the Mysto Magic Exhibition Set.
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." Gilbert was not only a proponent of "good, clean fun," as he
put it; he truly wanted his products to better the minds of the children that enjoyed them
Gilbert's original rival Meccano Company (now Meccano Toys Ltd.) acquired the rights to
the Erector Set after 1962, and still sells them today.
The Entrepreneur from The Great Idea Finder
from The Great Idea Finder
ON THE BOOKSHELF:
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.
Stuff: Great Toys from Our Childhood (Limited Availability)
by David Hoffman, Viktor Budnik (Photographer) / Paperback - 108 pages (1996) / Chronicle
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:
Erector Set Web Site
The site is operated by Brio Division of Maccano Company,
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.
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
A.C. Gilbert Heritage
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.
AC Gilbert's Discovery Village
A.C. Gilbert's Discovery Village
Hands-on children's museum with interactive exhibits in the sciences, arts and
Everthing you ever needed to know about Erestor Sets.
Set Heart Pump
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.
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.
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.
Who Saved Christmas
Abstract of an article by Bruce Watson, originally published in the April 1999 issue of
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."
- Christmas of 1918 was just months away,
and the United States immersed in the war effort was considering calling off
Santa. Perhaps parents should invest in Liberty bonds rather than in toys, the
powers-that-be reasoned. Why should toys be saved when so many other items were being
sacrificed during wartime? Addressing the Council of National Defense in a special
meeting, an energetic businessman from New Haven, Connecticut, explained why. America,
argued A. C. Gilbert, was the home of educational toys, toys that prepared our boys for
adulthood. He was touted in the press that year
as "The Man Who Saved Christmas."
Sources in BOLD Type
October 9, 2006.
Berners-Lee's invention has revolutionized the world like nothing
The invention of the Internet,
should be classed with the greatest events of the 20th Century.
The Aero Sport All-Terrain Bed
with Dual Power Pump is the perfect addition to any camping trip or weekend
book, is the perfect desktop reference for both the science novice and the
technologically advanced reader alike.
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