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- The Gilbert Project
Open Weekends from November 29 to January 26
Saturdays, 10am – 3pm and Sundays, 12pm – 5pm
With an Opening on
November 29th, 12pm – 5pm
And Special Holiday Hours on
Dec 23, 12pm – 5pm
Dec 24th, 12pm – 3pm
Dec 26, 27, 30 & 31, 12pm – 5pm
One hundred Holiday Seasons ago, a 29 year old brought a product to market that would become an American icon. It would also redefine the Holiday Season.
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.
The Erector Set, a metal nuts and bolts construction set that captivated the hearts, hands and imaginations of three generations of American boys. Its success asked fundamental questions. Can a toy be a learning tool? Can advertising persuade a society to invest in play? Can an expensive toy be a popular toy? Are there boys’ toys and girls’ toys? Is toy safety overrated? Can tinkering change the way we think?
Thanks to a grant from the Connecticut Humanities as part of its year-long Connecticut at Work initiative, on November 29, the Eli Whitney Museum will open a celebration: The Erector Set at 100. The Erector Set’s last dominant decade was the 1950’s. That era’s generation of enthusiastic Erector builders is growing smaller. But the lessons of the Erector Set are still relevant. The exhibition is subtitled: What to Make of it? to connect the project to the MAKE Movement. The MAKE Movement is a contemporary collection of tinkerers, hackers, and inventors who take pleasure in finding new ways to make things work. The MAKE Movement traces its origins to the emergence of Popular Mechanics Magazine which, like the Erector Set, was born in the first decades of the 20th century.
The exhibition features a timeline of the Erector Set’s evolution with its interconnections to the major events of the 20th century. There are Erector Sets with familiar and unfamiliar pieces. There are samples of the advertising that show Gilbert as one of the early masters of brand management. There are motors, pulleys and gears. Visitors can try their hand at mastering the speed, direction and shape of movement. There are nuts and bolts and girders. Visitors can construct a Gilbert box girder that will become part of a skyscraper that will climb 25 feet over the course of the exhibition. There is a practical beauty in this toy that still works a half-century past its most glorious days. The Erector Set remembers the thousands of capable hands which stamped, plated and packed its parts with pride in Fair Haven’s Erector Square.
The Erector Set at 100 joins Mr Gilbert’s Railroad, the Eli Whitney’sMuseum’s annual American Flyer train exhibition, opening at noon, Friday November 29th.
These Gilbert celebrations will be open Saturdays 10-3 and Sundays 12-5 through January 26.
Admission is free. Donations welcome. Consider contributing those old Erector Set parts you thought you might never find a home for.
Thank you to Judy Sirota Rosenthal for photographing the exhibition.