great robots & toys
from the space age

Erector Walking Robot

2013 will mark the 100th anniversary of Erector sets, created in 1913 by A.C. Gilbert, then known for his Mysto magic sets. The first sets were marked "Mysto", which was soon changed to "A.C. Gilbert Company". Numerous Erector Set variations were produced during the company's long, turbulent history, but in the late '40s, Erector stepped into the space age with the "Mysterious Walking Giant", later called the "Mysterious Walking Robot".

Left: The robot was built with the no.
1/2 Erector Set, at that time the largest set available, and which in 1947 cost $50, as shown in this figure from the instruction manual.

Right: Details from the leg and foot assemblies from the manual (from To download the manual at the site, select "g files" in the left column, then scroll down to "Type III Erector Model Building Instructions and Set Manuals", and click on "Mysterious Walking Robot Instructions".

Left: Walking robots like the perennially popular TV Robot, variously known as Saturn or Jupiter Robot, use the same walking mechanism as the Erector robot.

Above: The 1959 Master Builder Set came in a metal box. The inside lid featured a poster of the Mysterious Walking Robot (set shown from the collection of Ed Bohl, see link below).

The Man Who Saved Christmas

In 1918, as World War I raged, The U.S. Council of National Defense debated whether to ban sales of toys in order to preserve precious materials for the war effort. A.C. Gilbert, in his role as president of the Toy Manufacturers of America brought a sackful of toys to the council meeting, which pursuaded them to declare toys "essential" and thus exempt from the ban. The Boston Post heralded him as the "Man Who Saved Christmas". The story is told more fully in Bruce Watson's book, The Man Who Changed How Boys and Toys Were Made, as well as related in Tim Walsh's Timeless Toys (see below). The incident also inspired a 2002 TV movie on NBC, The Man Who Saved Christmas . Bill Bean and his Erector Sets were involved in the film, as he created Erector models for the movie from his extensive collection (see link below).

What a long, strange trip it's been

Initially a division of the Mysto Magic Company, A.C. Gilbert produced the first Erector Set in 1913. After his death, in 1961, Erector was sold to the Jack Wrather Company, which sold it to Gabriel Industries in 1967. In 1978, CBS acquired Gabriel Industries, and in 1982 Erector was produced by CBS/ Ideal.  In 1984, GAF View Master purchased the Ideal Group. Later it was owned by Tyco, and is presently part of the French company, Meccano, distributed in the U.S. by Brio. Recent  Erector robots  are stickered "Erector", marked "Meccano" and made by Nikko.

Left: Some Erector sets came in cardboard boxes. This package design was used from 1933- 1958.

Above: This manual came in sets from 1948- 1953.

Tim Walsh recounts the amazing origins of Erector Sets and more than fifty other classic toys and games in Timeless Toys: Classic Toys and the Playmakers who Created Them. Teddy Bears to Trivial Pursuit, Barbie to Beanie Babies, Monopoly to Mousetrap, Silly Putty to Superball, it's all here. 300 pages  and drenched in color, this fascinating coffee table book  follows our favorite pasttimes through the 20th century.

Erector Set Collector Links:  Ed collects, restores, and sells Erector Sets. A.C. Gilbert Historical Society. The fascinating history of A.C. Gilbert and Erector Sets. Downloadable 70 page Erector Set guidebook.  Bill Bean's great collection of historic sets, and his part in the movie, The Man Who Saved Christmas. The holy graal of construction kit sites, with downloadable PDF files of instruction manuals (the source for the Walking Giant figures above).

Related article: Gareth Kundert's Marvelous Machine.

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