As the story goes, Alfred C. Gilbert invented
the Erector set by observing the steel work
along the New York, New Haven Railroad, in
1913. Although there were other metal construction
toys available, the most prominent of which
was Meccano made by Hornby in England. Gilbert
along with John Petrie had started the Mysto
Magic Co. in 1909. Gilbert, a graduate of
Yale Medical School, had won a gold medal
for pole vaulting in the 1908 Olympics in
Most of the available metal construction
sets were simply pulleys, gears, and varying
lengths of metal strips with holes evenly
spaced on them. Metal construction sets were
very popular, especially with boys. Gilbert
had what he saw as a better idea. He wanted
something more sturdy, and what he came up
with was a way of making a ridged square
girder. And so the Erector set was born.
Gilbert's Erector sets also included the
pulleys, gears and wheels,but it also had
wider strips, triangles and other shapes.
The main girder was formed by 4 strips held
together by only 2 screws to form a very
sturdy square girder. The first sets were
numbered 1 to 8, the higher the number, the
more parts to make more things. The smaller
less expensive sets came in cardboard boxes,
more expensive sets were in study wooden
boxes. Also included in the large sets was
an electric motor.
As time went on the original Erector set
went through many changes. In 1924 the main
girders were changed from the original 1"
wide to 1/2" wide. This was evidently
done so smaller curved girders could be added.
With this smaller curve, a wider variety
of models could be built. This include a
ferris wheel and zeppelin. Also included
in other sets were parts to build a truck.
One of the most impressive change came in
1931, with the Erector Hudson Locomotive
and Tender. You could build an entire large
working train locomotive. While some sets
were always offered in some kind of cardboard
box or tube, the wooden box was replaced
by metal boxes. But if the ferris wheel,
zeppelin and Hudson weren't impressive enough,
then the 1940 Parachute Jump, one of the
largest and most detailed models, to that
time, had to be an eye grabber. Gilbert also
added many accessory items for Erector, such
as lighting kits and smoke units.
And changes and new sets kept coming through
the 1950's. There were the theme sets, like
the Amusement Park set, the Cap Canavril
set and many more. The largest set ever offered
was the 12 1/2, with this set you could build
one of the most popular things of the day,
In the 1960's the Gilbert Company fell on
hard times. Sales of it's two biggest selling
toy lines, Erector and American Flyer Trains
fell off. After the death of A.C. Gilbert
Sr., his son took over for a short time.
The company was eventually acquired by the
Wrather Corporation, which drove it into
ruin. In 1966 the Company was liquidated,
Erector was purchased by Gabriel Toys, and
later by CBS, and is now owned by Meccano.