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1. A. C. Gilbert. Pole vault, 1908.
He also tied for gold medal in the 1908 London Olympics.
2. He put himself through Yale performing as a magician.
3. The Erector Set
|Answers to Quiz #365
August 19, 2012
|1. Who is this man and what world record did he set?
2. How did he put himself through college?
3. What was his most famous invention?
|Inspired by a suggestion from Quizmaster Emeritus Mike Dalton.
|Congratulations to Our Winners!
Arthur Hartwell Perry Lamy
Donna Jolley Leslie Lawson
Peter Norton Daniel E. Jolley
Jim Kiser Elaine C. Hebert
Shirley Hamblin Robert W. Austin
Sandy Thompson Dennis Brann
Margaret Waterman Margaret Paxton
Joyce Veness Audrey Nicholson
Janice M. Sellers Marcelle Comeau
Richard Wakeham Joe Ruffner
Collier Smith Christine Walker
Stephen P. Hall
|Comments from Our Readers
Erector set. Yep, I had one, and a chemistry set as well. "famous pole vaulter inventor"
did the trick.
He was a world-renown toy maker, inventing the Erector Set in 1913 (popular even
when I was a child AND my children's young years!).
Elaine C. Hebert
I would guess that most every male in this country my age had an Erector set as a child.
Far too easy - it had to be London, it had to be Olympics and it had to be 1908. Who
needs Tin-Eye? Once again a win with a sports (ugh) Quiz. Didn't know any of the
The erector set--though he is also considered a pioneer in providing employee benefits,
is arguably as significant. ;)
Good quiz this week! It took me about 10 minutes to solve. :)
Stephen P. Hall
I grew up with Gilbert microscope, chemistry and Erector sets. Thanks for leading me
to the background on this true visionary.
favorite toy of the fifties was Robbie the Robot, which was modelled after the robot in
In 1891, knowing his young son’s interest in magic, A.C.
Gilbert’s father took him to the Reed Opera House to see
"Hermann the Great," one of the finest magicians of his
time in America. Arrangements were made for the boy to
go up onto the stage. At the end of performance, the
magician said to his young admirer, "Don’t you wish you
could do things like this?" Gilbert replied, "I can," and
demonstrated tricks he had learned from a magic kit he
had won selling the children’s magazine Youth’s
Alfred Carlton Gilbert was born in Salem in 1884 at 700
Marion Street, the present site of the Congregational
Church. As a boy he was responsible for tending the
family cows, hauling firewood into the house, and
trapping squirrels. He attended track meets at Willamette University, stimulating his
interest in athletics.
In 1892, his family moved to Idaho where he organized a small athletic club for his
friends. At a field day, he made winners’ medals out of the backs of his father’s old
watches. At about this time he ran away from home to join a minstrel show: his father
caught up with him when young Gilbert was only twenty miles away in Lewiston.
In 1900 the family returned to Salem. He attended Tualatin Academy where he
continued his training in athletics and set world records for pull-ups and the running
long jump. This led him to Pacific University and finally Yale University where he
earned a medical degree.
To help pay tuition, he performed magic
tricks he had learned as a child, often
making as much as $100.00 a night. He
also made his first boxed set of magic
tricks which he sold for $5.00.
He was still training in athletics, setting a
world’s record in pole vaulting, using a
spikeless pole of his own invention. He
qualified for the 1908 Olympics in
London, but his victory there was
disappointing. After a controversy with
the judges about his use of a pole of his
own invention, he used the same pole as
|A. C. Gilbert
1904 Pacific University
his rival, E. T. Cooke - and still won. However, the judges ruled that Cooke had
reached the same height in the preliminaries, and that the two should share the medal.
Cooke graciously let Gilbert have the medal which was presented to him by Queen
Alexandria of England.
Gilbert decided to direct his creative energy toward magic instead of pursuing a career
as an athlete. His first business was in New Haven, Connecticut where he and his
partner formed the Mysto-Manufacturing Company. His magic sets contained coin and
handkerchief tricks, a decanter which changed one liquid into another, and an apparatus
which allowed one to produce items from sleeves and
Early in 1911, while riding the train, he conceived of
the Erector Set as he watched steel girders raising new
power lines. One night, he and his wife cut out
cardboard girders and worked with them until they fit
together. A machinist converted the pieces into metal.
Since his partner was not interested in this new idea,
Gilbert marketed it himself at the Toy Fair of 1913.
The new company was renamed the A. C. Gilbert
Company and in 1915 won the Gold Medal at the
Panama Pacific Exhibition. He sold 30 million sets in
the next two decades. The toy was not only popular
with boys, but became useful to architects and scientists to build models of real
structures and machines.
Meanwhile, in 1917, with the help of a chemist, Gilbert developed his chemistry set. A
microscope set followed as another of his innovative educational toys. The American
Flyer Train, developed in 1938 by W.O. Coleman, was bought by Gilbert who
redesigned the cars to make them more realistic. By the end of the 1950s, Gilbert held
150 patents including ones for the small horsepower motor and
the first low-cost fan sold in America.
His educational toys revolutionized the toy industry and his
management of the company was just as progressive. He was
one of the first to offer "coffee breaks" to his employees. He
arranged programs of dancing and movies during lunch time and
developed a personnel contract which protected jobs and
allowed for conferences to discuss working conditions and
other concerns. He emphasized the team-work concept and
practiced it himself, often seen punching the time-clock and
wandering informally around the plant with his pipe stuck in a
pocket of his old gabardine suit.
After his retirement in the late 1950’s, the business went into
decline and finally sold its trademarks to another company.
Gilbert died in 1961, but his memory is very much alive and his
unique concept of play as education is one that is universally
accepted today. The A. C. Gilbert Discovery Village, a popular
attraction to youngsters in his hometown as well as to tourists
from around the world, is a lively monument to his creative
|A. C. GILBERT
1908 CO-OLYMPIC POLE VAULT
CHAMPION...AND A LOT MORE
by John A. Lucas
JOURNAL OF OLYMPIC HISTORY -
SEPTEMBER 12 2000
|Click on thumbnail. File will open in pdf format.
|American Flyer Railroad Cars
|Wireless Outfit and Mineralogy Book
For 50 years, Alfred Carlton Gilbert put his signature on
toys for children. He built a world of learning tools that
were unified by a distinct, personal vision. No toymaker's
name in history is better known.
Gilbert, like Eli Whitney, was a pivotal figure in the history
of hands-on education. From his factory complex in
Hamden, Eli Whitney influenced training and education in
the 19th century; at Erector Square in New Haven, Gilbert
built the toys that defined it for the 20th century.
The Eli Whitney Museum collects and studies the
products and legacy of A.C. Gilbert and his company.
Between 1909 and 1964, the Gilbert Company was the
premiere producer of learning toys in the world. Its
showroom in New York, the Gilbert Hall of Science, was an emporium of experimental
learning and a forerunner of the modern science museum. The Eli Whitney Museum’s
workshops still nurture that experimental learning.