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Erector Sets


ERECTOR SETS. The modernization of the Progressive Era called for engineers, the heroes of that age. In response, the toy industry released new mass-produced and nationally marketed toys aimed to shape boys into "efficient" men by teaching them to build. Inspired by seeing new girder construction on a train ride into New York City, Alfred C. Gilbert, born in Oregon in 1884, shifted from producing magic kits from his Mysto Manufacturing Co. (1909) to marketing Erector Set No. 1 or "Structural Steel and Electro-Mechanical Builder." It was patented in 1913, with accessories such as one-inch-wide metal girders, pulleys, gears, and screws to let boys, often with fathers' help, construct powered windmills, vehicles, drawbridges, skyscrapers, and elevators.

Gilbert sold larger sets in wooden boxes for more ambitious projects, and then branched out into chemistry sets. Larger sets included a DC motor to construct moveable toys. New sets marketed in 1924 with half-inch girders permitted the building of Ferris wheels, automobiles, trucks, battleships, zeppelins, and other "action models."

When metal became scarce during World War II, Gilbert produced wooden sets for a few years. He organized and became the first president of Toy Manufacturers of America in 1916, a trade association. As if echoing John Dewey, Gilbert proclaimed, "Playing is essential to learning." Today, at A. C. Gilbert's Discovery Village (1989) in Salem, Oregon, an interactive museum, children can climb the world's largest Erector Set tower.

Blanche M. G.Linden

See alsoLincoln Logs ; Toys and Games .

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