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The History of Erector Sets

In 1911, A. C. Gilbert watched the construction of steel girders for power lines from a train window and came up with the idea for the Erector Set. Unlike a similar but more complex British toy, the Meccano, Gilbert designed his toy to be simple; it was made up of sturdy one-inch square girders and bolts. He wanted his educational toy to help kids get inspired to create their own miniature buildings. And indeed, once it debuted in 1913, the toy was lauded for encouraging children’s “constructive instincts.” Notably, its launch was the subject of the first national adverting campaign for a toy! Ads with taglines like “Hello, Boys!” and “Make Lots of Toys!” appeared in The Saturday Evening Post and Popular Mechanics. The toy was a hit. It was redesigned in 1924 to encourage more complex construction, and later, specialized kits with electric motors allowed kids to create trains, steam shovels, Ferris wheels, and zeppelins. Wooden Erector Sets were introduced in the 1940s in response to metal shortages due to the war. In the 1960s, the company was purchased by Gabriel Co., and by the 1970s, sales were slowing down considerably. In 1980, Erector Sets were discontinued entirely, but many people still have fond memories of playing with them as children.

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