A. C. Gilbert Company
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|Formerly||Mysto Manufacturing Company|
|Founded||1909 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. Their "Mysto Magic" magician's sets were marketed from the teens until the 1950s. The sets contained a variety of objects including interlocking rings, playing cards, and a magic wand.
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.
In 1916, the name of the company was changed from the Mysto Manufacturing Company to the A. C. Gilbert Company.
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. 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, and WCJ was shut down in late 1922.
Beginning in 1922, A. C. Gilbert made chemistry sets in various sizes as well as similar sets for other budding scientists, adding investigations into radioactivity in the 1950s with a kit featuring a Geiger counter and radioactive samples. In 1929, Gilbert bought the US company producing Meccano construction kits, which had been set up in 1913 by the British parent, and continued production as "American Meccano" until 1938. A. C. Gilbert began making microscope kits in 1934.
In 1938, Gilbert purchased American Flyer, a struggling manufacturer of toy trains. Gilbert re-designed the entire product line, producing 1:64 scale trains running on S gauge track. At the same time, Gilbert introduced a line of HO scale trains, which were primarily marketed under the brand name Gilbert HO. During the World War II period, virtually all American companies, no matter what they originally produced, converted to making some type of war material. A. C. Gilbert was no different, and by 1942 was producing equipment for military aircraft.
After the war ended, Gilbert went back to producing toys, introducing S scale model railroad trains running on S gauge 2 rail track in 1946, mostly in response to the shortcomings of O scale utilized by Lionel and Marx. These American Flyer trains were smaller and proportioned more realistically than either the pre-war American Flyer trains or its post-war competition. Although these new trains were popular, Lionel outsold American Flyer nearly 2 to 1.
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. 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.
Gilbert was the largest employer in New Haven from the early 1930s to the late 1950s, employing more than 5000 in three shifts at its Sound Street Manufacturing facility. In the late 1930s, the company expanded to produce household products and small appliances including mixers, desk fans, milk shake machines, toasters, stoves and ovens, and washers.
The Gilbert company struggled after the death of its founder in 1961. Gilbert's family sold its shares, and the company was never profitable under its new ownership. By 1967, Gilbert was out of business. Erector was sold to Gabriel Industries and moved production from Erector Square in New Haven, Connecticut, to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. American Flyer was sold to Lionel.
Although the A. C. Gilbert company no longer existed, the Gabriel company continued to use the brand name on its Erector Set and microscope products, a practice that subsequent owners of the Erector brand have continued. Current Erector toys have the words "The construction toy from A. C. Gilbert" on their packaging. Lionel also uses the brand name on its American Flyer products, along with the old Gilbert catchphrase, "Developed at the Gilbert Hall of Science", on its product packaging.
A collection of Gilbert trains, Erector sets and objects built from them, chemistry sets, etc. is displayed in the Eli Whitney Museum in Hamden, Connecticut. The factory building now provides space for artists and others in the Erector Square complex. Another display of vintage Gilbert toys is located at A. C. Gilbert's Discovery Village in Salem, Oregon.
- 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.
- "A. C. Gilbert: The Demise of The A. C. Gilbert Company". Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
- "A.C. Gilbert Company". Play and Playground Encyclopedia. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
- Lampkin, Stephanie (2015). "Presto Chango". Distillations. 1 (4): 10–11. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
- "New Stations: Commercial Land Stations", Radio Service Bulletin, October 1, 1921, page 2. Limited Commercial license, serial #232, issued for a 1 year period.
- Radio Manufacturers of the 1920s (Volume 3) by Alan Douglas, 1991, pages 200-203.
- "Alterations and Corrections: Broadcasting Stations", Radio Service Bulletin, January 2, 1923, page 7. WCJ was deleted on December 1, 1922.
- Boyd, Jane E. (2015). "Science as Adventure". Distillations Magazine. 1 (3): 24–25.
- James Bond 007 Road Race Set
- The Eli Whitney Museum's extensive A. C. Gilbert Project includes collections, a profile[permanent dead link], pictures of Gilbert, and a bibliography
- The Gilbert Electric Eye Set with Free Downloadable Manual
- Slideshow: Golden Age of Chemistry Sets
- Soaring and gliding aircraft This patent was assigned to A.C. Gilbert company.
- A less successful venture of the company
- "The 8 Most Wildly Irresponsible Vintage Toys" -- page 1 and page 2 at Cracked.com: Includes humorous discussions of some of A.C. Gilbert's more ill-advised products for pre-teens: A glass blowing kit (#8); a molten lead casting kit (#7); a chemistry set (#3) which included potassium permanganate, ammonium nitrate and instructions on how to make explosives; and an atomic energy lab (#1) which included uranium and radium samples and a coupon for ordering replacement uranium and radium through the mail.