October 28, 2015 · by David Gilbert · Events, News, Uncategorized
Jeff Marsted and David Gilbert accept award for induction of their grandfather, A.C. Gilbert, into the American Manufacturing Hall of Fame from John Ratzenberger (left) and Barbara Johnson (right)

Jeff Marsted and David Gilbert accept award for induction of their grandfather, A.C. Gilbert, into the American Manufacturing Hall of Fame from John Ratzenberger (left) and Barbara Johnson (right). (Photo courtesy of Dan Wisneski)


October 8, 2015, Trumbull, CT – Milford-based actor and manufacturing advocate John Ratzenberger inducted six greater Bridgeport and greater New Haven manufacturing companies into the American Manufacturing Hall of Fame on Thursday, October 8th at the organization’s annual ceremony at the Trumbull Marriott. Ratzenberger founded the Hall of Fame with Black Rock residents Barbara and Carl Johnson in 2012. This was the second induction for the hall. Barbara Johnson is a retired executive from People’s Bank, a former Chairwoman of the Chamber of Commerce of New Haven, and a former President of the Housatonic Community College Foundation.

Jeff Marsted with the award for AC Gilbert

Jeff Marsted with the award for A.C. Gilbert. (Photo courtesy of Dan Wisneski)

Inducted from Bridgeport was Bridgeport Brass, Moore Tool and Wheeler & Wilson Manufacturing Company/Singer. Inducted from New Haven was the A.C. Gilbert Company, Brewster & Co., and SARGENT Manufacturing Company. The Hall of Fame was created to celebrate the rich heritage of American manufacturing and raise funds for scholarships to give to deserving students who are pursuing a career in manufacturing and engineering. All proceeds from the induction ceremony went to the HCC Foundation to distribute in to students at HCC’s Advanced Manufacturing Center.

The inductees’ awards were hand and machine crafted by the manufacturing students at Platt Technical School in Milford. The awards were designed by David Tuttle, who runs the Platt Program. Each award reflected the company being inducted in three dimensions. For example, Singer’s award was a representation of a sewing machine and the AC Gilbert award used parts of an old Erector set.

Over 200 manufacturers, educators, local businesses that service manufacturing and descendants from the area’s manufacturing history gathered to view historical exhibits and celebrate manufacturing’s past while talking about current manufacturing’s trends and its future. A customized video that described each inducted manufacturer’s accomplishments played before each formal induction. (See video link for 2015 AMHOF Inductee A.C. Gilbert below.)

Bridgeport Brass was an innovative maker of alloys and metals and an early telecommunications company. Moore Tool created some of the most accurate milling tools in history. Wheeler & Wilson/Singer brought affordable sewing machines into millions of US homes. A.C. Gilbert was an innovative toy company that manufactured Erector Sets, science and chemistry kits and highly detailed scaled trains that were later sold under the Lionel brand. Brewster & Co. are considered the builders of the most beautiful auto bodies in history and are now owned by Rolls Royce. SARGENT created a pick-proof lock using an innovative multi-direction tumbler that changed home security fifty years ago.

John Ratzenberger speaks at the induction ceremony

John Ratzenberger speaks at the induction ceremony. (Photo courtesy of Dan Wisneski)


“At the end of the day,” said Ratzenberger, “civilization depends on the people who can take a nut and bolt and put them together. And it also depends on the people that make that nut and bolt. And those people are manufacturers.”

Ratzenberger plans on continued expansion of the inductees of the hall in different areas of the state and then the country around what the steering committee of the hall calls “manufacturing pods.” A physical site will be determined in the greater Bridgeport area which will eventually house both the hall and manufacturing exhibits. The hall is modeled on the Rock and Roll and National Baseball halls of fame. Induction requirements are strict and determined by separate committees outside of the hall for transparency.

– Dan Wisneski, Communications Director, American Manufacturing Hall of Fame

Related Links from the American Manufacturing Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony:

August 5, 2015 · by David Gilbert · Erector Sets, Guidarelli, Greg, Machines

These models are from the 1929 #9 Mechanical Wonders set. The model on the right side of the back plate is the Cone Pulleys model, the first model in the wonders section of the manual and the easiest. The model on the left side of the back plate is part of the rectilinear motion model. All of the parts used are from the late 20’s with the exception of modern machine screws. The six shiny metal car trucks are from a mid-1920s Gilbert Meccano set. Special thanks to Joel Perlin for supplying the parts specific to the 1929 #9 set, those being the eccentric, cone pulleys and gear segment. These models do not really do much, they are more an exercise in getting your gears to mesh, which is not at all a trivial endeavor with sets of this era. I had to use a number of extra washers and brass collars to get smooth gear meshing. The motor is one I rewound, it is running at 3.0 volts and pulling 2.0 amperes in the video. On the front side is a back side is a basic reduction gearbox driven by a worm gear on the motor, the worm gear meshing is the hardest to get right. We then have ladder chain spinning two more gears. On the back side we have a crown gear turning three axels using the cone pulleys with women’s hair bands as the belts. The other side is an eccentric used to rock the gear segment across the saw blade. I really only included it so that one side of the back plate would not be so empty.

– Greg Guidarelli, August 5, 2015

Videos of Greg Guidarelli’s Erector Models:

March 14, 2015 · by David Gilbert · Cranes & Derricks, Erector Sets, Williams, Russell

Before building this crane, I looked at several crane designs on the Internet and incorporated some of the designs in my model. I have given my crane the name “The Mammoth Crane”, representing the new generation of 200,000 ton heavy lift cranes. These are cranes which are platform twin-rig containerized. In the PTC design of these cranes the boom height is as high as 587 feet. In addition, these cranes can lift in excess of 3,500 tons.

My super heavy lift crane weighs about 125 pounds. Over recent months I have taken it through a number of tests. Upon performing a heavy lift test in August 2014 I successfully lifted 40 pounds. This was done with the use of 5 gallon milk jugs filled with water. The boom height of my crane is 8 feet and it has 4 two-speed hoists and 5 motors.

– Russell Williams, March 8, 2015

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.

February 22, 2014 · by David Gilbert · News

Members Only: In addition to our tried and true Membership Directory in Excel format, you can also now browse a Summary Directory of members by last name, city, state or even country (yes, we do have some international members!) Alternately, you can browse a directory of Members by Region or Gilbert Product Interests. Note that these directories are only accessible to members of the A.C. Gilbert Heritage Society.

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
April 16, 2014 · by Michael Foster · Erector Sets
1929 Zeppelin Set_570px

1929 Zeppelin Set

In February of 2011 I participated in the Bill Bean Stout auction and was very fortunate to be the winning bidder of the 1929 No. 8 Zeppelin set from Bill’s collection that is pictured in Greenberg’s Guide to Gilbert Erector Sets, Volume one on page 105.  Needless to say, I’m quite proud of the set and it has become one of my prized sets.

Mystery Parts_250px

Mysterious Mooring Mast parts

When I received the Zeppelin set, there were 2 large black steel tubes and a round base included which I could not find on any inventory sheets I had. Nothing in the instructions referred to them either.  I put the 3 mystery parts together (they screwed together perfectly) and it appeared to me as if this was some kind of alternate “Mooring Mast” for the Zeppelin, as the support rod fit perfectly also into the pipe. Note:  The round black base has the mark “HAYS” on it, if that is a clue to anyone.

I was puzzled and wanted clarification, so I felt it necessary to contact Bill to see if he could shed some light on the mystery parts. Bill explained this was an interesting story. If you look at the graphic inside the Zeppelin box lid at the Mooring Mast you will notice the 3 mystery parts are in the picture.  Bill said he purchased the set from Ted Howard who got it from the original owner and the original owner stated those parts were in the set when he received it from A.C. Gilberts’ factory.

Zeppelin Mast Detail 01_250px

Mooring mast detail from internal lid graphic

This begs the question, were these parts included in any other Zeppelin sets or was this a one-time experiment by A.C.? Perhaps these were test parts and put in this set by mistake? If you have any knowledge of these parts or have them in your sets, please post a reply.

April 12, 2014 · by David Gilbert · News

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