When it comes to toys, the words “some assembly required” aren’t often welcomed by parents. But every once in a while, a toy comes along where assembly is the sole purpose, a task left to the child that engages the imaginative mind while providing countless hours of fun. And for almost a hundred years, Erector Sets have done just that, becoming one of the most iconic building toys of all time.
When toy manufacturer and Olympic gold medal-winning pole vaulter A. C. Gilbert invented the Erector set in 1911, he had no idea that he was creating something that would be more than just fun. It would be revolutionary. The A. C. Gilbert Company released Erector Set in 1913, much to the chagrin of the industry leader Meccano at the time. Erector’s metal girders differed from Meccanos, thanks to the addition of flanges that made them much sturdier than those made by their British competitor. Erector Sets were simply miniature construction sites, complete with small metal beams that had holes for nuts, bolts, screws and any other number of means for connecting girders. Kids used pulleys, gears, and even small electric motors, allowing them to construct virtually anything they could imagine. History also records that the Erector Set was probably the very first children’s toy to be the focus of its own national advertising campaign.
While some kids used Erector sets simply as blacksmiths shops for forging simple swords, most kids understood the engineering possibilities and hungered for more. Gilbert responded, releasing more and more elaborate sets. Various numbered model sets produced anything from construction vehicles to power plants. One model featured a complete amusement park with all the classic rides, all fully functional. Dozens of Erector Sets have swept across the shelves throughout the years, including the famous “Mystery Walking Giant” robot. So influential were Erector Sets that the Eli Whitney Museum in Hamden, Connecticut now houses model trains, chemistry sets, and other scientific and educational toys made by the A. C. Gilbert Company.
Erector Sets have changed owners over the years, today being owned ironically enough by Meccano who in turn answers to Nikko (a Japanese Company). Plastic construction toys and mass competition have diminished sales to a large degree. But budding physicists and civil engineers still recognize the name that puts the power of constructing in their hands. From a gold medal winner came a gold medal standard and a place in folk culture history, proving that if anyone knew how to build a lot out of very little, it was A. C. Gilbert.
If you spent numerous hours of your youth constructing things with an Erector Set, we would love to hear about it in our comments section. Tell us about your creations, and most importantly, tell us about the impact this toy had on your childhood. Meanwhile, we tip our hats to this iconic building set that has been enjoyed by generations of kids throughout the world.