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Headlines from History

The Toy that Built America

Wednesday, December 7, 7 pm
Le Jardin

This program is offered in person and online. Registration is not required for those attending in person at the Cantigny Park Visitors Center. The program is free with paid parking. Online participants should register below to receive a Zoom link.

Zoom Registration

Imagine a Christmas morning with a toy, weighing 40 pounds or more, sitting under the tree. Then imagine boys of all ages — fathers, sons, uncles and brothers — crowding around to play, and sisters eyeing the toy and knowing they could build with it too, if only the boys would let them.

If you are a certain age, the Erector Set needs no further introduction. From 1913 to the 1960s, Erector Sets built the boys who built America. The man who invented Erector Sets, A.C. Gilbert, became a household name by creating a world of contests, camaraderie, and boyish advice that nurtured millions of American kids.

Bruce Watson, author of an acclaimed book about Gilbert and his toys (The Man Who Changed How Boys and Toys Were Made — Viking) will give an illustrated talk about a remarkable man and his revolutionary toy. As seen last month on the History Channel’s “Toys that Built America,” Watson will explain how Gilbert abandoned his Yale medical degree to become a lifelong boy at play in the world of toy manufacturing.

Meet the speaker: BRUCE WATSON is the author of four well-reviewed books and three dozen feature articles for Smithsonian. Watson’s first book, The Man Who Changed How Boys and Toys Were Made (Viking 2002), explored the life of Erector set creator A.C. Gilbert and the world of contests, prizes, and competition he made for generations of American boys.

Now retired from freelancing, Watson is spending his time in his one-man online magazine, The Attic. Now in its sixth year, The Attic features weekly articles about American dreamers, builders, rebels, wits, teachers… The Attic, found at www.theattic.space, promotes “a kinder, cooler America.”

Are you a teacher?

Illinois teachers can earn 1 PD credits for watching the presentation and filling out a short PD activity.

Step 1: Register for the webinar above.

Step 2: Register to be on the teacher list for the PD activity and ISBE forms.


Questions? Email ccorrigan@fdmuseum.org.

  This program includes built-in closed captioning through Zoom.