The Erector Set sold more than 30 million in his lifetime and in 1949 it was used to build the precursor to the first modern artificial heart pump at the Yale School of Medicine. Later, chemist Otto Wichterle invented the soft contact lens using an erector set.
As the story goes, Alfred C. Gilbert invented the Erector sets by observing the steel work along the New York, New Haven Railroad, in 1913. Although there were other metal construction toys available, the most prominent of which was Meccas made by Hornby in England. Gilbert along with John Petrie had started the Mysto Magic Co. in 1909. Gilbert, a graduate of Yale Medical School, had won a gold medal for pole vaulting in the 1908 Olympics in England.
Most of the available metal construction sets were simply pulleys, gears, and varying lengths of metal strips with holes evenly spaced on them. Metal construction sets were very popular, especially with boys. Gilbert had what he saw as a better idea. He wanted something more sturdy, and what he came up with was a way of making a ridged square girder. And so the Erector set was born. Gilbert's Erector sets also included the pulleys, gears and wheels,but it also had wider strips, triangles and other shapes. The main girder was formed by 4 strips held together by only 2 screws to form a very sturdy square girder. The first sets were numbered 1 to 8, the higher the number, the more parts to make more things. The smaller less expensive sets came in cardboard boxes, more expensive sets were in sturdy wooden boxes. Also included in the large sets was an electric motor.
The article focuses on three men and one woman: Othmar H. Ammann; , the inventorof the Erector Set; Dave Frieder; a collector of and a champion ofMr. Ammann and his bridges and Mr. Ammann’s daughter, Margaret AmmannDurrer. The article weaves all of theseindividuals together through Mr. Frieder who sees a powerful connection betweenthe Erector Set and the many bridges that Mr. Ammann built (the , the Whitestone and the Verrzano to name a few).