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The Man Who Changed How Boys and Toys Were…

The Man Who Changed How Boys and Toys Were Made

by Bruce Watson

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Breezy biography of A.C. Gilbert succeeds in sparking interest in his eccentric life as Olympic athlete, magician, and toy millionaire as inventor of the Erector toyline. Author Bruce Watson injects allot of fun into the book with a writing style that captures the "golly-gee-whiz" attitude that Gilbert himself seemed to share through his toy ads and magazines. Its not all toys with this story, as Gilbert's life takes some unique turns with a brief career as an Olympic athlete and much later his opening the fifth radio station to be licensed in the United States. The anecdotes of the toy business during Gilbert's time are quite illuminating when Watson relates it to the larger world around it. Examples include the rise of American toy manufacturing following the outbreak of the First World War as a result of boycotts of German toys and later the attempt to effectively "cancel" Christmas and Gilbert's efforts to stop this. Watson makes valid arguments about the differences in attitudes towards children, women, and education in general between today's more cynical world and Gilbert's more optimistic era. Even if the reader is not a huge Erector set fanatic, the book is never at a loss with surprising stories such as Gilbert's marketing of a toy for adults (the vibrator) and an Atomic Energy Lab kit that featured actual radioactive elements for kids to track down with Geiger counters. The deeper and more complex story of Gilbert's relationship with his family is, by the author's own admission, given only a surface treatment as it seems little is actually known. Despite his persona of a friend to all young boys, Gilbert demonstrated a certain distance with his own children and grandchildren which is curious to note. Watson delivers a very engaging read with this look at Gilbert's life and its to be recommended to any with an interest in the history of toys or just someone open to looking for an offbeat biography. ( )
  Humberto.Ferre | Sep 28, 2016 |
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To my mother, who taught this boy to build with words, and to my wife, who encourages this man to play with them for a living.
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[Prologue] In the fall of 1961, the world was coming apart.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0670031348, Hardcover)

Athlete, magician, doctor, marketing genius, millionaire-A. C. Gilbert (1884-1962) was all of these, but how he really made his name was by refusing to grow up. In 1913, Gilbert poured his boyish enthusiasm and creativity into the invention of a new toy he christened the Erector set, and this ingenious gadget instantly took American boys by storm. In this superb new book, Bruce Watson unfolds the history and phenomenal legacy of one man and one amazing toy.

In a gripping, richly detailed narrative, Watson conjures up Gilbert as a self-created hero blessed with equal parts vision and determination. A product of the Western frontier, Gilbert came of age at the turn of the last century when anything seemed possible. And indeed, for him, anything was-outstanding success in sports, a medical degree from Yale, a flourishing career as a magician. But it was the invention of the Erector set that launched Gilbert on his true mission in life. It was a toy unlike any other, and Gilbert marketed it with a campaign that inspired boys to go beyond play into the realm of pure possibility. Generations of scientists and architects trace their success back to their first Erector set.

Watson re-creates not only the life of a true American genius, but also the world he lived in and the influence he had upon it through his astoundingly versatile invention. The Man Who Changed How Boys and Toys Were Made is a quintessentially American story-a tale of remarkable ingenuity, boundless enthusiasm, business savvy, hard work, and above all the right idea at the right time.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:04 -0400)

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