A. C. Gilbert Company
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The A. C. Gilbert Company was an American toy company, once one of the largest toy companies in the world. It is best known for introducing the Erector Set (a construction toy similar to Meccano in the rest of the world) to the marketplace.
Gilbert was founded in 1909 in Westville, Connecticut, by Alfred Carlton Gilbert, a magician. The company was originally established to provide supplies for magic shows. Gilbert invented the Erector concept in 1911, inspired by railroad girders used by the New Haven RR in its electrification project. The construction toy was introduced two years later. In 1920 the company began selling "Superdyne" regenerative vacuum tube radio receivers designed by C. D. Tuska, and the following year received a license for radio station WCJ, which was the first broadcasting station in the state of Connecticut. However, the Radio Corporation of America threatened legal action, on the grounds that Tuska's patent rights didn't extend to work for other companies, so in 1922 WCJ was shut down and the receiver sales were ended.
Beginning in 1922, A. C. Gilbert made chemistry sets in various sizes as well as similar sets for the budding scientist, adding investigations into radioactivity in the 1950s with a kit featuring a Geiger counter. In 1929, Gilbert bought the US company producing Meccano, 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 O gauge track. Although these are sometimes referred to as S scale or S gauge trains, they are technically O27. 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 form or another 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 newer 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 home house products and small appliances including mixers, 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.
- Radio Manufacturers of the 1920s (Volume 3) by Alan Douglas, 1991, pages 200-203.
- 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, 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.