The first construction toy set was patented in England by Frank Hornby in 1901. These toys, named Meccano in 1907, consisted of half-inch-wide metal strips with holes at half-inch intervals. The strips could be connected with metal rods and wheels to build bridges, buildings, and vehicles of all sorts.
A certain American entrepreneur, named A.C. Gilbert, claims he saw workers carrying the steel beams for an electrical power grid while traveling on a train, and that inspired him to introduce the Erector set in 1913. But the truth is that Gilbert, who had been selling his Mysto Magic Kits, had probably seen or heard of Meccano.
However, Gilbert improved on Hornby’s concept by including gears, pinions, and electrical motors in his kits to make them more versatile. Unlike Meccano’s steel strips, Erector’s were bent at a 90-degree angle so that four of them put together could form a hollow support beam. In the 1920s, Gilbert took over the American branch of Meccano, which by then was popular all over the world.
Gilbert opened his namesake “halls of science” during World War II. While the concern was really a place for him to market his toys, including Erector sets, American Flyer trains, and his chemistry sets and other science kits, Gilbert insisted that teaching children, and specifically boys, the principles of science and engineering was his No. 1 priority.
Gilbert died in 1961. The Erector name was first sold to Gabriel Toys in the '60s, and later to Ideal Toys.