Archive for the ‘Other Products’ Category

May 1, 2017 · by David Gilbert · Appliances, News

Guy Lanza recently sent us a photograph of a combination record player and television set which he saw in a museum in Tyumen, Siberia. We’re sharing Guy’s photographs below. According to the label, the appliance was manufactured by the A.C. Gilbert Company of New Haven, Connecticut. Our thanks to Guy for sharing this.

1925 Phonograph

1925 Phonograph

Label for 1925 Phonograph

Label for 1925 Phonograph

The Story of The A.C. Gilbert Company

A film by Thomas B. Barker.

2013 is the 100th Anniversary of the introduction of the ERECTOR SET. This is the story of that event and the company behind it. It also shows the era of the heyday of the company and then its eventual demise and why that happened due to sociological changes.

The film, which is 30 minutes long, focuses considerable attention on American Flyer Trains.

June 13, 2014 · by David Gilbert · Other Products

By James D. Spina

This story actually begins a long time ago in my home town New Haven, Connecticut. I was about four years old. My Dad (“Big Jim”) and his older brother, Giuseppe (Joe), were going to attend a Yale football game at the world famous Yale Bowl. We arrived at Joe’s house to get ready to go to the big game, but I was in for a surprise.

No. 15 Electric Motor Driven Musical Xmas Tree Turntable

No. 15 Electric Motor Driven Musical Xmas Tree Turntable

It was too early to leave and Joe began to show my Dad his latest gadget. Joe was an inventor and held more than one patent on things ranging from eyeglass attachments that prevented the specs from sliding down one’s nose to a fishing lure that would not catch in the weeds. The latest gadget was Joe’s version of a clock radio. Joe’s son, Ken, and I listened intently as he described how the little white radio worked. It was a wonder for 1943 and I remember not quite understanding what it actually did. I do remember the feeling of awe that I had for my Uncle Joe’s creativity.

My surprise was that I was not going to the game because I was too young. It would be Dad, Joe and Ken. I was to be babysat by my Aunt Yola.  Needless to say, I was furious! And this is why I remember the day and the amazing new clock radio so well.

Let’s fast forward to 1987 in West Palm Beach, Florida.  This was my home at the time and my cousin Ken was showing me some of the parts that his Dad had used to manufacture the “Spin-a-Lure”, the weed-free fishhook system. The name was a take-off on the family name Spina. As we poked around in the garage, I spotted what looked a Christmas tree stand sitting on a shelf. I asked Ken if it was a stand. He nodded, pulled it down and plugged it in to show me how it worked. It slowly rotated, played a one verse version of “Silent Night” and another musical piece that I did not recognize. The volume of the songs flowed out at a very pleasant level.

It was then that I noticed the label. It read “A.C. Gilbert New Haven, Connecticut”. I could not believe my eyes! I had been collecting Gilbert stuff for many years. As a youngster I even had the chance to bike to the Gilbert factory and look into the large round windows street-side at all the latest toys but I had never even heard of the Christmas tree stand much less having the chance to see one in action.

I quickly thought of several questions. How did Ken get it? Did he still use it at Christmas? How old was it? Was it safe? Ken answered every question. It was safe (even with the frayed cord, a cosmetic problem), he stilled used it during the holidays and it was made before the war. Then the bomb shell was dropped. It was a gift to Joe Spina from AC himself because Joe had worked on the design for Gilbert!  Ken did not recall if he worked as an employee or contract person. Unfortunately, we will probably never know although my guess would be as a contractor, based on my uncle’s entrepreneurial bent.

The stand itself was pricy at the time it was advertised. The flyer from about 1935 lists it at $15.50, a princely sum during the Great Depression. There are two toggle switches on the rear of the sheet metal housing. One operates the lights and the other, the rotation of the tree. The worm gear that drives the motion is quite heavy duty and was probably outsourced to a company such as Snow and Nabstead, a well know gear shop in the area. It reminds me of the worm drive of the later American Flyer trains that we know so well but much larger. The music box is ingeniously integrated with the drive train that moves the tree. The stand itself is not very heavy, weighing four to six pounds including the wood base. It is very neat to watch in action.

A number of years flew by and I’d taken a new job in Chicago. The Christmas tree stand was temporarily forgotten but never left my long term memory. One day I received some very sad news from Florida. Ken Spina had passed away. Several months later I learned that some of Ken’s things were being dispersed. I called and asked about the old Christmas tree stand and was told that no one in the family was interested and it was mine if I wanted it. I said “yes” and it was shipped to me in Maryland just before Christmas, 2007.

When it arrived, I inspected it and gave it a whirl. Of course, typical of vintage Gilbert things, it worked quite well. I decided to open the motor housing box to see what made it tick. I had planned to give the motor and the gears a cleaning and lube job if they needed one. As I disassembled it, I looked for dates or patent numbers but to no avail.  After photographing the works, I put it back together and went out to find a man-made “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree. Even though the information that I had obtained about the stand said it would hold one-hundred pounds, I was skeptical especially after I had noticed a brazed repair to the cast iron cup that held the tree. I found what I needed at a local hardware store, returned home and set the tree up in the stand. It blazed with lights and sparkled with vintage decorations. When viewed from the street it was glorious and, with the window ajar, “Silent Night” flowed out to people walking by. The second tune still remains a mystery.

I’m grateful that I was able to obtain the stand because it’s an important part of the Spina Family History. I’m also pleased to add to the body of knowledge of Gilbert’s genius and skill in bringing “fun things” to American families over the years by showcasing this rare item.  No one really knows how many were made or if there were only prototypes. For example, the base of the one I own is painted the same green as the motor housing. The description in the catalogue tells us that the base was mahogany in tone. Another rumor is that your name had to be “Gilbert” to have been given one of these. The pictures that follow tell the rest of this story.

Enjoy the trip back in time!

Author’s Note: I wish to thank my fellow Gilbert collectors (Bill Bean, Barry Lutsky and “Lazer” Jay Smith)  for their input and leads as I began to research the stand. A special thank-you goes to Dan Yett who provided me with invaluable insights and a copy of the Gilbert catalog showing the stand offered for sale. Thanks guys!

Video of Jim Spina's Gilbert Musical Christmas Tree Stand
March 31, 2014 · by Michael Foster · Chemistry Sets, Other Products
Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab

1951-1962 Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab

Gilbert’s U-238 Atomic Energy Lab was the most elaborate Atomic Energy educational set ever produced. Before Gilbert introduced his own Atomic Energy Lab in 1951, the American Basic Science Club produced their Atomic Energy Lab kit which came with real samples of uranium (which is radioactive) and radium (which is a million times more radioactive than uranium).

Atomic Energy Lab advertisement

Atomic Energy Lab advertisement

Gilbert’s Atomic Energy Lab came with four types of uranium ore, a beta-alpha source (Pb-210), a pure beta source (Ru-106), a gamma source (Zn-65?), a spinthariscope, a cloud chamber with its own short-lived alpha source (Po-210), an electroscope, a geiger counter, a manual, a comic book (Learn How Dagwood Splits the Atom) and a government manual “Prospecting for Uranium.” Using real radioactive materials, one could witness mist trails created by particles of ionizing radiation.

A product catalogue at the time describes the Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab as follows: “Produces awe-inspiring sights! Enables you to actually SEE the paths of electrons and alpha particles traveling at speeds of more than 10,000 miles per SECOND! Electrons racing at fantastic velocities produce delicate, intricate paths of electrical condensation–beautiful to watch. Viewing Cloud Chamber action is the closest man has come to watching the Atom! The assembly kit (Chamber can be put together in a few minutes) includes Dri-Electric Power Pack, Deionizer, Compression Bulb, Glass Viewing Chamber, Tubings, power leads, Stand and Legs.”

The Atomic Energy Lab was only around for one year to 1952. In addition, it was a relatively high price for the time ($50.00). This was the reason given for its short lifespan as well as the sophistication of the lab. However even at $50.00, the company lost money on every one sold.

The excerpt below is from A.C. Gilbert’s autobiography: “The Man Who Lives In Paradise” Rinehard & Company 1954.

“The most spectacular of our new educational toys was the Gilbert Atomic Energy Laboratory. This was a top job, the result of much experimentation and hard work. We were unofficially encouraged by the government, who thought that our set would aid in public understanding of atomic energy and stress its constructive side. We had the great help of some of the country’s best nuclear physicists and worked closely with M.I.T. in it’s development.

There was nothing phony about our Atomic Energy laboratory. It was genuine, and it was also safe. We used radioactive materials in the set, but none that might conceivably prove dangerous. There was a Geiger-Mueller Counter. It was accurate; a carefully designed and manufactured instrument that could actually be used in prospecting for radioactive materials. The Atomic Energy lab also contained a cloud chamber in which the paths of alpha particles traveling at 12,000 miles a second could be seen; a spinthariscope showing the results of radioactive disintegration on a fluorescent screen; an electroscope that measured the radioactivity of different substances.

It caused quite a sensation at the Toy Fair and received a great deal of publicity. But there were difficulties. It had to be priced very high–$50.00–and even at that price we managed to lose a little money on every one sold. The Atomic Energy Lab was also the most thoroughly scientific toy we had ever produced, and only boys with a great deal of education could understand it. It was not suitable for the same age groups as our simpler chemistry and microscope sets, for instance, and you could not manufacture such a thing as a beginner’s atomic energy lab. So we had to drop this wonderful new addition to our line of educational toys–and toy has never seemed to me to be the right word to apply to such things. We adapted some of its features so that they could be added to our largest chemistry set–using the spinthariscope, some radioactive ore, and the atomic energy manual.”

Comic book included in the kit

Comic book included in the kit

Parents today wouldn’t consider letting their children play with radioactive materials, but this science kit has become a much-sought-after collector’s item. Complete sets can sell for more than 100 times the kit’s initial cost.

March 27, 2014 · by David Gilbert · American Flyer, Other Products

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Cover of the 1939 American Flyer catalog (click on image to enlarge)

Although best remembered for the S gauge trains of the 1950s that it made as a division of the A. C. Gilbert Company, American Flyer was initially an independent company whose origins date back nearly a half century earlier. Chicago, Illinois-based toymaker William Frederick Hafner developed a clockwork motor for toy cars in 1901 while working for a company called Toy Auto Company. According to the recollections of William Hafner’s son, John, he had developed a clockwork train running on O gauge track by 1905.

In December, 1937, the A.C. Gilbert Company acquired American (Chicago) Flyer. Gilbert soon moved manufacturing from Chicago to New Haven, Connecticut, and re-designed parts of the product line. The initial changes included substitution of the ‘slot & tab’ couplers with link and pin semi-automatic ones on the higher priced 10-inch freight cars and steam engine tenders.

The smaller scale (1:64) models became much more prominent with its introduction in the 1939 catalog, which featured World’s Fair imagery on the yellow, black, and white cover. The relatively expensive, heavy, and highly detailed engines and cars had had diecast zinc alloy bodies. The 1939 catalog also featured the following introduction by A.C. Gilbert:

Hello Boys!

The Gilbert Hall of Science now brings you trains so true to life you can almost smell hot grease.

15 new features to give miniature railroading breath-taking realism.

Boys, if you went to the New York World’s Fair, you probably saw these marvelous new American Flyer Trains in action. Day after day vast crowds of boys – Dads – and Veteran railroad men gathered around to see . . . hear . . . and applaud these Tru-Model Trains of Tomorrow – that are here today.

Here, indeed, are the latest and most up-to-date “Challengers of the High Iron” . . . trains that capture all the romance of railroading . . . its air and adventure . . . its soul-stirring sounds . . . its sense of mighty power that you can control with a finger.

American Flyer engineers and technicians of the Gilbert Hall of Science have combined their inventive genius to develop 15 sensational new features. These features make electric trains look more realistic . . . sound more realistic – and operate in a more realistic way than ever before was dreamed possible.

Be sure to read every word in this booklet. That will help you decide what set and equipment you want for Christmas. Then see them at your local store. Take Dad along. He will be just as eager for an American Flyer as you. Tell your Uncles, Aunts, Grandparents what equipment you would like, so they can all join in giving you an American Flyer Merry Christmas.

Signed A.C. Gilbert

President The A.C. Gilbert Co.
and Founder of the Gilbert Hall of Science

Page 2 photo from 1939 catalogAfter WWII, the 3/16s scale O gauge trains were re-engineered to run on much more realistic two rail track. The fine detail of the diecast engines, tenders, and cars that had debuted in the ‘39 catalog reappeared. The engines and tenders continued to be made of diecast metal, but the cars’ bodies were made out of plastic. Because of the relatively accurate scale of the rolling stock and two rail track, these trains (not yet referred to as “S” gauge by Gilbert) were significantly more realistic than their 3 rail O gauge counterparts.

Photograph on right from page 2 of the 1939 catalog, showing John Kane, engineer of New Haven’s Crack Trains, with Mr. Gilbert and “Len” Bennett. (Click on photo to enlarge)

· by David Gilbert · Electrical Sets, Other Products

By Bruce Hansen, A.C. Gilbert Heritage Society Newsletter, December 2006

1936 No. 2 Magnetic Fun and Facts set

The Magnetic Fun and Facts sets were relatively popular from the 1920s through World War II. Most, if not all, of the experiments continued in Gilbert Electrical sets into the 1960s.

The set detailed dozens of experiments with static electricity and magnets. The static electricity experiments demonstrated putting positive and/or negative charges on small pieces of suspended cork. The experiments with magnets discussed poles, magnetic induction, and how to make magnets. Iron filings and a compass were used to show the poles. A number of demonstrations involved magnetizing needles and how the magnet would attract or repel them.

There were 20 “Parlor” tricks with magnets shown at the back of the manual. These included a magnetic car (needle with cardboard wheels being pulled with a magnet under a table), a submarine (needle through a small piece of cork pulled down a cup of water by a magnet), and a suspended top (nail through a cardboard disc spun while being suspended by the magnet).

Pictured below is the Magnetic Fun and Facts No. 2 set, circa 1936. The ebonite and glass rods (just to the right of the horseshoe magnet) were rubbed with silk (lower right) or felt (lower left) to build up a positive or negative static charge. The blue wooden base and support rod (left side) were used to suspend cord or paper bits for the static electricity experiments. My set came with iron filings in each of the two test tubes, but I have seen sets where one tube held steel axles and steel balls (stuck to the horseshoe magnet in this set).

· by David Gilbert · Appliances, Other Products

By A.D. Goolsby, A.C. Gilbert Heritage Society Newsletter, June 1999

In addition to Erector, A.C. Gilbert was of course responsible for many other products as well. One category that has been “slighted” are the Polar Cub fans. There is a dearth of information about these fans and other Gilbert appliances, and what I am presenting here is what I have learned about the fans through assembling a small collection of my own. These fans were collected via purchases on eBay, from antique shops, and at ACGHS annual meetings.

1925 Polar Cub fan

1925 Polar Cub fan

Fans were branded as Polar Cub, Gilbert, or Busy B. Busy B fans were manufactured in the Gilbert factory, but were products of Kelmet Corp., a captive company of A.C. Gilbert’s in the 1920s (see Volume 1 of Bill Bean’s “Greenberg’s Guide to Gilbert Erector Sets”). I suspect that Polar Cub fans were sold under other brand names as well.

My feeling is that the small early fans with the P56 motor and nominal 6-inch diameter blades are not very scarce. Two-bladed fans are less common than four-bladed ones, and counter-clockwise rotation is less common.

Jay Smith and I have discussed the use of “Erector” motors in the construction of these fans, and in models produced for sale as Sears. At first glance, it appears that some of the earliest fans used P56 motors that were identical to those found in Erector sets. However, comparing a P56G Erector motor to a motor in one of my fans, I have observed several interesting differences, aside from the mounting and shaft exposure at one end only. For instance, the fan motor housing is ¼-inch to 3/8-inch longer. The cylindrical portions of the fan motor are longer than those of a P56G, but the tapered portion of the blade end is shorter. Furthermore, the extensions on the ends for lubrication are cylindrical instead of tapered. These differences are not observed between P56Gs and the P56 motors on the earliest 6-inch breezes. It may be that later fans needed a heavier-duty housing compared to the motors intended for toy applications.