The Gilbert Erector set was invented in the year 1911 by American athlete and toy-maker A.C. Gilbert and was manufactured by the A.C. Gilbert Company between the periods of 1913 until 1967. The story is told how Alfred C. Gilbert was initially inspired to invent his famed erector set while watching a steel worker put together his product along the New York, New Haven Railroad. The rest of the story, as they say, is history.
By description, erector sets are toy construction sets consisting of various sized small metal beams with regular holes for nuts, bolts, screws and various other mechanical parts like motors, gears, and pulleys. Gilbert Erector sets become very popular during a large part of the 20th Century – especially with young boys. The majority of metal construction sets available before Gilbert's contribution were just pulleys, gears, and metal strips. However, Alfred Gilbert had a vision for something much more rugged and sturdy to stand the test of time and lots of playtime wear and tear. That's when the inventor came up with the brilliant idea of a ridged square girder. Though Gilbert's Erector Sets also included the staple pulleys, gears, etc. as the competing brands, A.C. also integrated a variety of triangles, wider strips and various other creatively sized and shaped pieces.
The main Gilbert Erector Sets were constructed with 4 metal strips held together by 2 screws, making for a very firm square girder. The first issue construction sets were numbered 1 through 8 with the higher numbers containing more construction pieces to construct a greater variety of objects. The smaller, more inexpensive Gilbert Erector Sets were shipped in cheaper cardboard boxes, while the larger, more expensive sets were shipped in sturdier boxes made of stronger wood. As time went on and the need for more reliable transport of set pieces increased, the boxes were eventually replaced by metal carrying cases.
Over the years the Gilbert Erector Sets went through a variety of structural tweaks and changes – some well-received, some rejected. One of the most significant modifications came in 1931 with the Gilbert Erector Hudson Locomotive and Tender, which enabled the more creative little construction workers to actually assemble an entire functioning locomotive. The sets continued evolving well into the 1950's with the arrival of special theme sets like Cape Canaveral, Amusement Parks and eventually even a robot construction set.
Another claim to fame of the Gilbert Erector Set is that it has earned the privileged position of being the first toy in American toy to have the backing of a national advertising campaign. Over the past several decades, hundreds of different sets have been manufactured and distributed in toy locations across North America, the most popular being the "No. 12 1/2 " deluxe kit that shipped with special assembly instructions for a robot known as the "Mysterious Walking Giant". This is probably a big reason why the Gilbert Erector Set has achieved such unparalleled popularity with young and old alike, making it a huge part of American folk culture.