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What is an Erector Set®?

Erector Sets were inspired by skyscrapers being built in the early 20th Century.
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  • Written By: Mary Elizabeth
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2014
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Along with Tinkertoys®, Legos®, Lincoln Logs®, and K’NEX®, the Erector Set® is a type of building toy on the Toy Industry Association’s list of the 100 tops toys of the twentieth century called “Century of Toys.” Created in 1913, the same year as Tinkertoys®, the Erector Set® was invented by A. C. Gilbert, an inventor who had started the Mysto Magic Co. in 1909. Upon watching a skyscraper being erected in 1911, Gilbert had the idea for an educational toy that would encourage budding architects.

The Erector Set®, manufactured by the A. C. Gilbert Company, was available for purchase in 1913, and was the focus of the first national advertising campaign ever. Advertisements appeared in Popular Mechanics and The Saturday Evening Post. Its first name was “Mysto Erector Structural Steel Builder.”

The Erector Set® was redesigned in 1924, leading to the addition of more parts and the provision for kits that included electric motors. Today, some of the basic metal and plastic parts include the following:

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• Strips: Strips have holes in them for screws to pass through, and so are called “perforated strips.” The strips may be flat or have bent ends, in which case they are called “Double angle strips.” Each bent end has a perforation. Curved strips are also included.

• Plates: While strips have one line of holes, plates generally have a minimum of three, with rows of perforations across the entire plate, in most cases. “Flat plates” are rectangular with rounded corners. “Semi-circular plates” only have perforations across the diameter and on a perpendicular radius. “Flexible plates” are made rectangular or triangular. “Curved plates” are arched. And “Plastic plates” are made of plastic. A “flanged plate” is like a “double angle strip.”

• Brackets: A variety of brackets are included, like 90º “Angle brackets,” “Double brackets, bent similarly to a “Double angle strip,” and “Reversed Angle brackets.”

• Nuts, bolts, washers, and screws serve as fasteners.

• An open-ended wrench and an Allen key are basic set tools.

Each Erector Set® includes a design guide with building ideas. Sample ideas include a race car, a robot, an airplane, a helicopter, and a castle. This brings up a point about how children can use an Erector Set®. First of all, an Erector Set® can be used to help children base a creation on a model, learn to use the set tools, and follow directions. But it can also operate quite differently: used without reference to the directions, an Erector Set® can give children wide scope for imaginative play in which they simply explore the possibilities offered by the elements of the set to create an abstract or specific, planned or improvised structure.

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