On February 15, 1884, the New Haven inventor of the Erector Set, Alfred Carlton Gilbert, was born. A magician, athlete, and savvy businessman, Gilbert enrolled in medical school at Yale in 1904 to pursue a career as a physical education director. He supported himself at night by performing magic tricks at parties, eventually partnering with a friend in his senior year to form the Mysto Manufacturing Company, which sold boxed magic sets.
An accomplished athlete, Gilbert won national intercollegiate wrestling and gymnastic competitions while a student. In 1908 he broke the world’s record for the pole vault—jumping 12 feet 7 3/4 inches—at the Olympic trials in Philadelphia and went on to tie for a gold medal at the 1908 London Summer Olympics.
In 1911, Gilbert began designing a toy construction set based on steel building girders he observed while on a train ride between New Haven and New York. Confident in the product’s potential, Gilbert bought out his partner around the time he first introduced the “Erector Structural Steel & Electro-Mechanical” builder set in 1913. By 1916, he had changed the name of the company to A. C. Gilbert Co. and the Erector Set was on its way to becoming one of the 20th century’s most successful educational toys marketed to boys. A. C. Gilbert’s product line eventually grew to include toys in the fields of science as well, offering microscopes, telescopes, chemistry sets, and kits for studying everything from engineering to physics.