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The A.C. Gilbert Company


Alfred Carlton Gilbert (February 15, 1884 – January 24, 1961) was an American inventor, athlete, toy-maker and businessman. Born in Salem, Oregon and died in Boston, Massachusetts, Gilbert is best known as the inventor of the Erector Set.

Choosing not to pursue a medical career, Gilbert co-founded Mysto Manufacturing, a manufacturer of magic sets, in 1907. This company would later become the A. C. Gilbert Company. Gilbert developed the Erector Set, a popular construction toy, in 1913 (preceded by the similar Meccano set first conceived of by Frank Hornby in 1898 which he developed and patented as "Mechanics Made Easy" in 1901). His inspiration was steel construction girders being used on the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad. In 1918, with the United States embroiled in World War I and the Council of National Defense considering a ban on toy production, Gilbert argued successfully against it. The press gave him the nickname "The man who saved Christmas."

By 1935, he had sold more than 30 million of the sets. He also added chemistry sets, microscopesets, and other educational toys to his product line, accumulating more than 150 patents during his 50-year career. In 1938, he acquired the rights to the American Flyer toy train line from W. O. Coleman and moved their production from Chicago to New Haven. At the same time, he adopted a 3/16 scale for this train line while keeping the three-rail O-gauge track now associated with Lionel. Following World War II, O-gauge track was abandoned in favor of two-rail S-gauge track. Gilbert was lauded for his strict adherence to scale realism, making American Flyer trains look more real and less toylike.

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