Many of my earliest creative memories are sitting on that awful burnt orange rug in our basement floor, listening to LPs on my brown plastic Fisher Price record player, and putting together [seemingly] elaborate edifices with construction toys. Honestly, though the specifics have been slightly updated, it’s basically how I spent last evening – in the basement, listening to music, and putting stuff together.
See, both my parents were science teachers, and I always had many more engineering-style toys than action figures, and while many kids love their LEGOs, I was always into the (sadly discontinued) Construx and Ramagons, and that kinetic masterpiece, the Erector set. This year marks the 100th anniversary of when the first Erector set went on the market. The New York Times details its history, and the people who still love it today.
Erector Sets were the invention of a commuter, Alfred Carlton Gilbert, who had started a company that manufactured props for magicians. The non-hocus-pocus inspiration struck in 1912. “Gilbert was traveling into New York when they were electrifying” the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, said William Brown, an expert on Gilbert in Hamden, Conn. Gilbert looked out the window and saw workers riveting the steel beams of a power-line tower. “He saw the girders in the tower,” Mr. Brown said, “and that was that.” Gilbert switched from making magic to making metal parts — little girders, little wheels for pulleys, little gears, little engines — and big money….
“Veterans of the Erector generation find a vague incompleteness in the ease and precision of Lego construction,” [William] Brown wrote on Web site of the Eli Whitney Museum, of which he is the director. “Nothing in Lego matches the test of the Ferris wheel’s improbable rim, which was constructed of 13 rather than the logical 12 segments. Gilbert the magician seemed to want to be sure you were watching very closely. The bolder the challenge to be mastered, the sweeter the satisfaction.”
Read more about this great, timeless construction toy at 100 Years Later, Seeing the Influence of the Erector Set
What were your favorite construction toys as a kid? Let us know in the comments below.