Living the Life Eclectic - Inventor A.C. Gilbert and the Erector Set

Today we profile one of the greatest, A.C. Gilbert, medical doctor, Olympic gold medallist, magician, and inventor of the Erector Set, one of the most popular toys of all time.

In his brilliant work, the Mystery of Capital, Hernando De Soto argues that the United States has forgotten its own history and methods behind its current success. So here at BRINQ, we try to learn as much as we can from the great innovators of history. Today we profile one of the greatest, A.C. Gilbert: medical doctor, Olympic gold medallist, magician, and inventor of the Erector Set, one of the most popular toys of all time.

Gilbert’s Erector Sets allowed children to build mini metropolises, bridges, Ferris weels, and even zeppelins in their living rooms. An estimated 30 million of these steel and wooden construction sets have sold over the years. Although Erector Sets have lost ground in recent years to more modern toys and video games, they are still a popular toy for purchase, especially for children with an imagination for building things up rather than tearing them down (a common theme in today’s video games). EBay alone clears hundreds of new and vintage Erector Sets each day, some bidding as high as $1000!

Inventor A.C. Gilbert was born in 1884 and as child had a love for all things magic. When he began medical school at Yale he started Mysto Manufacturing, a company which manufactured magic kits, to pay for his tuition. After a break from school and work in 1908 to win the gold medal for pole-vaulting at the 4th Olympic Games, Gilbert graduated with his MD and made the fateful decision to design toys rather than practice medicine. As the story goes, it was on train trip into New York City when Gilbert had the inspiration for Erector sets:

“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.”

Lessons? Well, A.C. Gilbert's story emphasizes the fact that innovation can come from many different places and can be inspired at any moment. Just keep looking at the world from different angles and who knows what treasure you’ll discover. It also probably wouldn't hurt to live as eclectic and stimulating a life as A.C. Gilbert's!

Resources and Links:

Girders and Gears - the Web's #1 resource for metal toy construction systems

A.C. Gilber Heritage Society - honoring the memory and accomplishments of a very great man in American toy history

The Great Idea Finder - A.C. Gilbert - More facts and links about A.C. Gilbert