In 1911 Gilbert was riding a train when he saw a section of track was being electrified and steel girders were erected to carry the power lines and that's what inspired him to invent the toy. Gilbert was also a magician and manufactured magic tricks and sets through his Mysto Manufacturing Company.
In 1916, the company was reorganized as the A.C. Gilbert Company. The Erector sets were loaded with pulleys, gears, strips of metal of every description with holes, nuts and bolts and they came with a windup or electric motor. You could build anything you could imagine! Trucks, steam shovels, Ferris wheels or all kinds of Rube Goldberg contraptions...the possibilities were endless. The great thing was, after you built something, you could take it apart and build something else. Gilbert marketed his product as a rival to Meccano, but they got the last laugh; they eventually bought the Erector line and the toy is still being marketed.
Gilbert died in 1961 and the company went into decline and the toy was redesigned using plastic parts, but they were no longer competitive with the realistic scale plastic models coming onto the market. The A.C. Gilbert Company filed bankruptcy in 1967. The Gabriel company of Lancaster, Pennsylvania bought the "Erector" name and continued to market the redesigned system. Sales were slow and in the 1980s the trademark "Erector" was acquired by Ideal Toys and then Tyco Toys. "Meccano" (of France) has owned the "Erector" brand since the year 2000. The present day sets by Meccano don't seem as good as the old Erector Sets though because all I could find were sets to make models of one specific item.
Walmart sells Meccano sets and I see the electric crane set costs $200 which seems pricey for a kid's toy. The present day sets by Meccano don't seem as good as the old Erector Sets though because all I could find were sets to make models of one specific item. I am not sure of the price in the mid-1950s, but in the 1940s Erector sets cost $3-12. That translates to about $40-160 in today's currency. These days it appears that if it's not some kind of electronic gadget with a lot of buttons you can push and can be used while in a sitting position, kids aren't interested. Check out Girders and Gears.