Now admittedly, back then only boys were interested in the Erector Set (could you imagine this being sold in the Bible Belt today with that suggestive name?) and electronics kits, according to the video. But how many kids started out playing with them who went on to become scientists and engineers? And how many today don’t because they get fps video games instead because lawsuits and laws (might cut yourself, become a potential terrorist, etc.) prevent them from being sold?

  1. mool7518 says:

    wow. that last paragraph is sad but true. i wish i could have had a toy like that when i was little instead of the usual plastic bricks.

  2. Eideard says:

    After their factory closed down in New Haven, I tried to buy the erector set-style structure that looked like a poor man’s Eiffel Tower – used to be in front of the factory – about 30 feet high. 🙂


    My American Flyer trainset is still running somewhere in the family Back East, though.

  3. Floyd says:

    While I had a small microscope from about 7th grade, it was of Japanese make, and had fairly decent optics for a “toy.” I remember finding all sorts of critters in water from the drainage ditch that flowed through our yard in wet weather.

    What really got me going in science was a chemistry set and a couple of kids level books on chemistry. I had an Erector set, too. Our oldest grandson got an Erector set this Christmas; yes, they’re back in stores.

    However, chemistry sets aren’t generally available any more, or they’re very small sets with few chemicals to mess with. It’s the experimentation beyond what instructions say in the book that are learning experiences. The few sets (and for that matter, microscopes) I’ve seen are sold at science or natural history museum gift shops, but not at WalMart or Toys R Us. Uncle Dave is probably right–it’s probably because of potential lawsuits.

    At least computers are everywhere these days, but kids aren’t encouraged to program either, unless it’s in some toy language like a simple BASIC that can’t be used to make a “real” application.

  4. Dorksters says:

    Real men use assembly.

  5. eyeofthetiger says:

    Surely, a lady named Surely is on a list somewhere for purchasing terrorist training camp paraphernalia. Though, I am a wee-bit nostalgic for crushing bugs with the microscope lens, children these days have much better educational toys (e.g. stun gun made from a camera, a portable microwave gun and an arsenal worth of explosives knowledge at Home Depot). Not to mention the years of kids filming pranks and uploading to the web.

  6. KwadGuy says:

    Ah…bittersweet nostalgia. I remember, as a kid, peeling through the toy pages of the Sears wishbook (sadly, another relic of a bygone era). My favorite section contained toys like these: chemistry sets, microscopes, Erector sets, etc. I did get the microscope and the Erector set, but wasn’t old enough to get the chemistry set until a few years later.

    When I think about things like this, I believe that all the progress made in the intervening years (video on demand, computers/computer games, etc.) represents no progress at all as far as childhood development is concerned. As a father, I wish we could put that genie back in the bottle.

    Oh well…

  7. bobbo says:

    I had all this stuff as a kid but wanted a really big erector set but never got it. “As an Adult” I decided to cure this childhood abuse by buying an erector set today–the biggest available times 3. I went to Toys are Us. Nothing available was really close. Kits to build specific things all motorized with LED’s and such–but way too expensive for the limited creativity I saw.

    I bought some shelf bracing instead and have kinda made my own erector set. My hard drive cage is made of 4 six inch lengths. Keeps things nice and cool.

    Think I recently saw a microscope that connects to the computer. Got to look into that some more.

  8. Duncan MacGregor says:

    Meccano and Erector parts were and are still interchangeable. Meccano is still sold in 2007, and Meccano bought the name ‘Erector’ some time ago.

  9. bobbo says:


    I googled meccano and came up with this:

    looks familiar. I’ll spend more time there, but, first impression is that I had more imagination as a kid? (Big Smile!)

  10. Thinkdeep says:

    Using physical items in the real world to experiment instead of sitting in front of a screen doing a simulation?

  11. Awake says:

    I miss lawn darts!
    My memory of my chemistry set: fizzy green stuff in a test tube.
    Give a kid ten random pieces of an erector set, a string and a screwdriver, and challenge him to build a car… he will somehow.

  12. AlanB says:

    “Whatever Happened To… A.C. Gilbert Science & Engineering Sets?”

    They are on display in my home town (Salem, Oregon)along with other toys A.C. invented. All at the “A.C. Gilbert’s Discovery Village.”

    A.C. was born in Salem and the Discovery Village pays homage.

    Their website doesn’t do the museum any justice. There are several buildings, an outdoor play structure large enough to get lost in, and many examples of the toys and science sets A.C. invented.

    If ever in Salem, it’s worth the time to stop in and take a look.

  13. Jägermeister says:

    #9 – bobbo

    Perfect site! I really like the Gift Wizard. Thanks a lot.

  14. ibdense says:

    I was surprised to see a made for TV movie with Jason Alexander playing Erector Set inventor, A.C. Gilbert, who was asked by the Government to urge citizens to cancel Christmas during the first world war and buy bonds instead of toys. Gilbert turns his toy manufacturing plant in a war supply plant making gas masks, bomb casings, chemical suits and bayonets among other things. Gilbert has a change of heart and goes with his deepest and long fostered dreams. He goes before the nation’s Defense Counsel and gets permission to go back to making his toys. The toy maker still kept manufacturing war supplies, but also turned his own home into a producing center for more Erector Sets. After the war, Gilbert continued manufacturing Erector Sets, Chemistry Sets , Magician Trick Sets, American Flyer trains and other toys for over forty years.

    Christmas in the early and mid fifties was special to me because of the products from this creative soul like the chemistry set and American Flyer model trains.

    [The Man Who Saved Christmas (2002) – ed.]

  15. Mister Catshit says:

    When I was about eight, I used my new chemistry set for a “brew alcohol” experiment. My mother went ballistic worried that I might be making wood alcohol (methanol) and end up going blind.

    That was the end of my budding chemistry career. Instead, I went on to become a juvenile delinquent.

  16. BubbaRay says:

    I’ll never forget the birthday I received the largest chemistry set there was in the catalog – a trifold + bifold monster with scores of little bottles, flasks, piping, tubing, stoppers, an alcohol lamp, etc. Unfortunately, the 100+ page book had no formulae for atomic bombs and anthrax dispersal delivery units.

    After their factory closed down in New Haven, I tried to buy the erector set-style structure that looked like a poor man’s Eiffel Tower – used to be in front of the factory – about 30 feet high.

    Eideard, that would have been a superb purchase.

  17. RickCain says:

    Ah, my youth was filled with memories of the erector set, mail order science experiment of the month, chemistry sets, and all sorts of things that today would be banned because well…they were dangerous for kids. I will admit I had sliced myself up a few times with scalpels in the process of completing my science experiments, but hey my parents supplied the scalpels and didn’t mind me messing with sulfur, saltpeter, alcohols, nitrates, etc. In a way maybe I should have been monitored more closely. Who knows what brain damage I got sniffing all the hot fuel proof dope when painting my R/C planes, getting poisoned from the methanol in airplane fuel, and stabbing myself in the leg with a scalpel (deep!). Oh well I’m still alive so I guess Darwin didn’t beat me.

  18. bobbo says:

    I had the triple fold out chemistry set as well. Got tired of it and actually recognized that “everything” was chemicals. So I started finding my own explosives in the form of filed down matches and such. I stopped the day I made some kind of chlorine gas and almost killed myself.

    All reminds me of the new show on tv “Mad Men” about life in the 50-60’s. Kids playing with plastic bags over their heads and such. Good times.

  19. Cursor_ says:

    The sole reason why science was big back in the 50’s and 60’s was the space race.

    Before Sputnik, no one gave a damn.

    After that the powers that be stated we were behind in sciences (sounds familiar doesn’t it?) and we needed to inspire the kiddies to be scientists.

    So Mr. Wizard came along, microscopes, chemistry sets, Erector, etc. All to make a buck on it. Then rocket sets, airplane kits (before then you had to get tin and some snips and do it yourself) it all went nuts. Then they canned the space program and kids went back to playing games, sports and just goofing off again.

    Budgets got cut, science toys dried up. Hell even radio shack stopped selling those electronic building kits. It just didn’t make money over crap like Gi Joe, Transformers and My freakin lil pony.

    Now we’re behind in the sciences again, kids blow their time in playing video games instead of programming that damn things and they whine.

    Back to the supposive good old days!

    #4 LAZY men program in assembly.
    Real men program in machine code.


  20. AZAndy says:

    Edmund Scientific, who provided my favorite dreams catalogue when I was a lad, is still around and even has a fairly serious chemistry set:


  21. steve jibs says:

    Every youth today, especially those who play video games, are just some degenerate punks with no interest in a career in technology or other sciences.

  22. Les says:

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with teaching kids BASIC. I have written and maintained 40000+ line programs in x86 assemmbly, but given the amount of RAM, disk space, and CPU speed available today, it’s hardly needed anymore. Today I generaly use either C or Delphi depending on the application. That said, I am teaching my kids programming using DOS QBASIC.

    The old saying was “Real programmers dont use BASIC, actualy nobody over the age of 12 uses BASIC”

    Altair BASIC: the last good product developed by Microsoft.

  23. B. Dog says:

    I had the triple fold out chemistry set too. I still think test tubes, glass pipes and beakers are cool.

    Thanks Les, I didn’t think anyone else still liked Delphi.

  24. keylime48 says:

    I just bought my son an Erector set, at a Walmart in TN. 634 pieces for $50. Admittedly most of those pieces are tiny nuts and bolts, but not a bad deal, compared to the cost of similar sets I’ve seen.

  25. highqham says:

    It’s sad to think our next generation of scientists will be brought up with educational toys like the “Tickle Me Elmo” doll.

    I loved my Gilbert Erector Set, Gilbert Chemistry Set, as well as Lincoln logs as a child. I had Lionel trains instead of American Flyer. 1950’s era.

  26. Thomas says:

    I had the erector set and chemistry set. I had the smaller chemistry set and it wasn’t that interesting. It did give me the ability to make a fine dye that I used on my sister and some stuff to watch ants die but nothing extraordinary. The erector set was actually pretty cool mainly because they gave you working motors. Honestly, if I could go back I’d have traded the chemistry set for the microscope.

  27. gerdan55 says:

    I had both the Gilbert Erector set and the tri fold chemistry set. I also had the larger Lincoln Log set.
    I loved these because I was such a tinkerer as a kid.
    It’s incredible how much a youngster can learn from these sets and I relate much of my success today from them.
    My dad had a lot of influence on me because he was the one that always brought home another set for me to tinker with.
    Whats out there for a kid today, Grand Theft Auto, IPOD, Text Messaging. All brainless.

    Oh well.

    Love the memories.


  28. rolfe says:

    I also was raised up on Gilbert chemistry sets. I remember my favorite experiment of generating oxygen. It was magic to see a glowing splint burst into flames when plunged into the test tube. When Ebay came on the scene, I went nuts buying up all the sets I could find, as well as, some very exotic lab equipment. I miss being a kid.


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