The Gilbert Exhibitions

Eli Whitney Museum

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The Eli Whitney Museum collects and studies the products and legacy of A.C. Gilbert and his company. Since 1991, the Museum has held a series of exhibitions celebrating the 20th Century's premiere producer of learning toys. Those exhibitions are listed below.

The Gilbert Project

Gilbert and the Tools of Learning

A.C. Gilbert

Alfred Carlton Gilbert shared his dreams with America's children. He built a world of learning tools. He encouraged active inquiry and adventurous discovery. The Hall of Science was both a place and an idea: give children the right tools, the children will educate themselves. The Eli Whitney Museum celebrates that vision and achievement.

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The Gilbert Project

Cast of Thousands

The Gilbert Kastor Kit

A. C. Gilbert sold toys to boys. The boys who received Kastor Kits were most likely 13 to 15 year olds. America had not yet accustomed itself to store-bought toys. Like Gilbert's Erector Set, which had promised to make a hundred toys, the Kastor Kit was a tool.

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2013 Exhibition

The Erector Set at 100

What to Make of It?
The Erector Set at 100 thumbnail

Alfred Carlton Gilbert, a 1909 Yale graduate, had lingered in New Haven to produce and sell magic tricks. In 1911, he watched the steel tower construction to electrify the New Haven Railroad’s access to the new Grand Central Terminal. Steel and electricity were reinventing America. Gilbert invented the Erector Set to capture that spirit.

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The Gilbert Project

Flyer at 50

American Flyer Ad

1946: The world began to rebuild itself after the devastation and destruction of the second World War. At an age when other men might have begun looking to retirement, A.C. Gilbert set out to add to his immensely popular line of pre-war learning toys. The result was a line of trains redesigned so completely that they bear only the name of the company he purchased in 1939: American Flyer.

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The Gilbert Project

Gilbert and the Radio

Show Logo

In 1920, Guglielmo Marconi would broadcast opera on England's first commercial station. Within months, A.C. Gilbert would install a transmitter at his New Haven factory. He was the sixth American to hold a commercial license. His career in radio was brief and yet his radio tower became a symbol for his enduring passion for technology.

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The Gilbert Project

Classical Blocks

Classical Blocks exhibition shot

Blocks from the Gilbert Company, from the Gilbert Era, from before and after Gilbert. Explore the evolution of materials, styles of connection, styles of instruction. Artifacts from the Museum's collection; the Collections of Steve Olin, Keith Rancourt and others.

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The Gilbert Project

Learning Power

Gilbert smoking pipe

1913 was the threshold of the electric age. A.C. Gilbert, age 29, had just conceived a steel construction set. His Erector Set's girders modeled the new trestles and skyscrapers. Almost as an afterthought, Gilbert added the parts to construct a small battery-powered motor. That began a line of experimental motors that would become the heart of the Erector Set.

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The Gilbert Project

Yesterday and Tomorrow

The Eli Whitney Museum in Hamden reaches back to the 1939 World's Fair for it's 14th annual train exhibition. "Yesterday and Tomorrow" boasts scale replicas of some 60 buildings from the famous fair as well as four trains that visitors can control.

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The Gilbert Project

Eye Contact

Gilbert Microscope Ad

A. C. Gilbert graduated from Yale’s Sheffield Scientific School in 1909. Gilbert trained to be a physician just as modern scientific medicine... and the microscope... displaced 19th century practical medicine. Gilbert added microscope kits to his popular lines of Erector and Chemistry sets in 1934.

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The Gilbert Project

Magnetic Fun and Facts

Magnetic Fun and Facts Set

Gilbert introduced his first magnetism set in 1923. In 2008, Alex Kronman redesigned the Gilbert magnet experiments to preserve the tradition of curious exploration for a new generation of young hands.

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The Gilbert Project

Mr. Gilbert's Railroad 2015

The Museum's Annual Exhibition of American Flyer Trains
Driving the Trains

Classic toy trains produced by New Haven's A.C. Gilbert Company still run beautifully after 50 years. See them in action at the Eli Whitney Museum's annual hands-on exhibition of American Flyer Trains. Come run toy trains that your parents and grandparents ran more than 50 years ago and build wooden toy trains to take home.

We are pleased to thank WSHU as the Media Sponsor of this year's train show.

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The Gilbert Project

Mr. Gilbert's Railroad 2016

The Museum's Annual Exhibition of American Flyer Trains
Driving the Trains

Classic toy trains produced by New Haven's A.C. Gilbert Company still run beautifully after 50 years. See them in action at the Eli Whitney Museum's annual hands-on exhibition of American Flyer Trains. Come run toy trains that your parents and grandparents ran more than 50 years ago and build wooden toy trains to take home.

Learn More...

The Gilbert Project

Mr. Gilbert's Railroad 2017

The Museum's Annual Exhibition of American Flyer Trains
Driving the Trains

Classic toy trains produced by New Haven's A.C. Gilbert Company still run beautifully after 50 years. See them in action at the Eli Whitney Museum's annual hands-on exhibition of American Flyer Trains. Come run toy trains that your parents and grandparents ran more than 50 years ago and build wooden toy trains to take home.

Learn More...

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