A. C. Gilbert Company

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A. C. Gilbert Company
FormerlyMysto Manufacturing Company
Founded1909 in Westville, Connecticut

The A. C. Gilbert Company was an American toy company, once one of the largest in the world. Gilbert originated the Erector Set, which is a construction toy similar to Meccano in the rest of the world, and made chemistry sets, microscope kits, and a line of inexpensive reflector telescopes. In 1938, Gilbert purchased the American Flyer, a manufacturer of toy trains. The Gilbert Company struggled after the death of its founder in 1961 and went out of business in 1967. Its trademarks and toy lines were sold to other companies.


First known as the Mysto Manufacturing Company, the company was founded in 1909 in Westville, Connecticut, by Alfred Carlton Gilbert, a magician, and his friend John Petrie, to provide supplies for magic shows.[2][3] Their "Mysto Magic" magician's sets were marketed from the 1910s until the 1950s. The sets contained a variety of objects including interlocking rings, playing cards, and a magic wand.[4]

In 1911, Gilbert invented the Erector construction toy concept, inspired by railroad girders used by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad in its mainline electrification project. Gilbert and his wife Mary developed cardboard prototypes to get the right sizes, openings, and angles to create a robust buildable girder pattern. The Erector set was introduced in 1911, as the Mysto Erector Structural Steel Builder, at the New York City Toy Fair.[3]

In 1916, the name of the company was changed from the Mysto Manufacturing Company to the A. C. Gilbert Company.[2]

In 1920, the company began selling regenerative vacuum tube radio receivers designed by the C. D. Tuska Company, and the following year, in order to increase interest in radio, began operating station WCJ, which was the first broadcasting station licensed in the state of Connecticut.[5] However, the receiver sales were ended after the Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company threatened legal action, on the grounds that Tuska's patent rights did not extend to other companies,[6] and WCJ was shut down in late 1922.[7]

A.C. Gilbert ad in The Saturday Evening Post in 1920.

Beginning in 1922, A. C. Gilbert made chemistry sets in various sizes. The instruction manuals were co-edited by a Sterling Professor at Yale university and one of his graduate students.[8][9]

Between 1946 and 1966, the company manufactured toy trains called the American Flyer.[10]

In the 1950s, sets for other budding scientists included those to investigate radioactivity using a kit featuring a Geiger counter and radioactive samples.[11][12]

A line of inexpensive reflector telescopes followed the Sputnik-inspired science craze in the late 1950s. In 1958, the company promoted its science toys by commissioning a comic book, Adventures in Science, from Custom Comics. In the comic, a mysterious "Mr. Science" leaps through time and space with a bored teenage boy to interest him in science.[13]

In 1965, A. C. Gilbert produced James Bond movie tie-in figures and a slot car road race set featuring Bond's Aston Martin DB5.[14]


  1. ^ Lenore, Skenazy (December 24, 2017). "The Dangerous Toys of Christmas Past: Hungry Cabbage Patch Kids, loose bear eyeballs, hot Creepy Crawlers, and more". TheFreeDictionary.com. Retrieved May 24, 2019.
  2. ^ a b "A. C. Gilbert: The Demise of The A. C. Gilbert Company". Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  3. ^ a b "A.C. Gilbert Company". Play and Playground Encyclopedia. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  4. ^ Lampkin, Stephanie (2015). "Presto Chango". Distillations. 1 (4): 10–11. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
  5. ^ "New Stations: Commercial Land Stations", Radio Service Bulletin, October 1, 1921, page 2. Limited Commercial license, serial #232, issued for a 1 year period.
  6. ^ Radio Manufacturers of the 1920s (Volume 3) by Alan Douglas, 1991, pages 200-203.
  7. ^ "Alterations and Corrections: Broadcasting Stations", Radio Service Bulletin, January 2, 1923, page 7. WCJ was deleted on December 1, 1922.
  8. ^ Johnson, Treat B.; Shelton, Elbert M., eds. (1937). Chemistry for boys. A. C. Gilbert Co. pp. 1–10.
  9. ^ Johnson, Treat B. (1946). Fun with Gilbert chemistry. A.C. Gilbert Co. pp. 1–128. ASIN B0007HIS8W.
  10. ^ Nelson, Paul C. (1999-12-25). A.C. Gilbert's Famous American Flyer Trains. Heimburger House Pub. Co. pp. 1–200. ISBN 978-0911581485.
  11. ^ "World's Most Dangerous Toy? Radioactive Atomic Energy Lab Kit with Uranium (1950)". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Retrieved 2022-09-17.
  12. ^ Young, Norman. "Gilbert Atomic Energy - Part I". The Science Notebook. Retrieved 2022-09-17.
  13. ^ Boyd, Jane E. (2015). "Science as Adventure". Distillations Magazine. 1 (3): 24–25.
  14. ^ James Bond 007 Road Race Set

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Watson, Bruce (2002). The Man who Changed how Boys and Toys Were Made. Viking Press. pp. 1–256. ISBN 978-0670031344.