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An Erector Set (the trademark has always been styled as "ERECTOR") is a brand of metal toy construction sets, originally patented by Alfred Carlton Gilbert and first sold by his company, the Mysto Manufacturing Company of New Haven, Connecticut in 1913. In 1916, the company was reorganized as the A.C. Gilbert Company. The trademark for Erector is today owned and marketed by Meccano.
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Basic Erector parts included various metal beams with regularly-spaced holes for assembly using nuts and bolts. A frequently-promoted feature was the ability to fabricate a strong but hollow lightweight structural girder from four long flat pieces of stamped sheet steel, held together by bolts and nuts. Flat or curved pieces of sheet metal in various shapes and colors could be added to the structural skeleton. Hardened steel rods and screw clamps allowed the construction of hinges and the transmission of mechanical power via rotating parts such as pulleys, gears, wheels, and levers.
Unlike some earlier wooden construction sets, Erector could be used both for static structures and for dynamic structures incorporating mechanical linkages and other moving components. Modular, standardized construction sets like Erector provided the ability to build a model, then take it apart and build something else, over and over again.
Both AC-powered electric motors and battery-powered DC motors became available, usually equipped with gears to increase their torque and effective mechanical power. Later sets added miniature light bulbs and simple switches to control electrical power.
Erector was first envisioned by Alfred Carlton Gilbert (A.C. Gilbert) in 1911, as he rode the train from New Haven to New York City. This section of track was being converted to electrical power, and Gilbert watched as steel girders were erected to carry the power lines, inspiring him to develop the toy. Gilbert was a skilled magician and manufactured magic tricks and magic sets with his existing company the "Mysto Manufacturing Company". The first Erector set was made there in 1913, called "The Erector / Structural Steel and Electro-Mechanical Builder", and claimed to be "Educational, Instructive and Amusing". The toy was first introduced and sold to the public in 1913 at the Toy Fair held at the Broadway Central Hotel in New York City.
Erector quickly[when?] became the most popular construction toy in the United States, most likely because it was the only construction set at the time to contain a motor. Erector was commonly referred to as an "Erector Set", though "erector set" has since become somewhat of a generic trademark denoting a variety of construction toys, irrespective of brand.
In 1914, the name was changed to "The Mysto Erector, The Toy That Resembles Structural Steel". In 1916, the company was reorganized and became the A.C. Gilbert Company. The product was renamed "Gilbert Erector, The Toy Like Structural Steel". In 1924, more changes occurred, as the entire Erector system was completely overhauled to include over 70 types of parts. Erector was now called "The New Erector, The Worlds Greatest Toy".
Through 1932, Erector was sold in wooden boxes, but 1933 through 1962 the sets would be sold in colorful boxes made of painted steel. Early boxes were colored red, green, or blue; by the 1950s all set boxes were painted red. As the company grew, the area around the Gilbert factory became known as "Erector Square".
A.C. Gilbert died in 1961, and the company went into decline, filing for bankruptcy in 1967. The product was redesigned, adding many plastic parts, but the "clunky" looking models failed to compete with the new, more-realistic scale plastic models coming onto the market. The Gabriel company of Lancaster, Pennsylvania bought the "Erector" name and continued to market the recently redesigned system. Sales were slow and by the 1980s the trademark Erector was acquired by Ideal Toys and then Tyco Toys. Meccano Ltd (France) has owned the Erector brand since the year 2000. In August 2015, the Erector brand was relaunched under the global name "Meccano".
Erector is believed by many to have been the subject of the first national advertising campaign in America for a toy. Its great success made it part of American folk culture and the famous company slogan "Hello Boys" is still fondly remembered by many. Its popularity has faded in recent decades in the face of competition from molded plastic construction toys, electronics, and other more modern toys and gadgets.
Erector sold millions of sets over the years. The most sought after by collectors is the 1931 No. 10 Set, although a larger set, the No.12, was manufactured for a brief time. The No. 12 included the parts to make a parachute jump, modeled after the amusement ride at Coney Island. Touted in advertising of the day as "The Climax of Erector Glory", the No. 10 set weighed in at around 25 pounds.
In 2002 a movie based on A.C. Gilbert's life called The Man Who Saved Christmas was made for TV. It focused on Gilbert's successful appeal to the Council of National Defense to reject a proposal to ban toy production in favor of wartime related materials during World War I.
In 1949, an Erector set was used to build the precursor to the modern artificial heart by Drs. William Sewell and William Glenn of the Yale School of Medicine. The external pump successfully bypassed the heart of a dog for more than an hour.
The "Soarin'" attraction at Disneyland Resort's Disney California Adventure in Anaheim, California and Walt Disney World's Epcot near Orlando, Florida was designed with an Erector set.
Shannon pioneered juggling robotics, constructing a bounce-juggling machine in the 1970s from an Erector set.
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