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Winning fame and fortune at play

Winning fame and fortune at play

How alumnus A.C. Gilbert made the Erector Set his brand and inspired generations of young people, including seven Nobel laureates.

Alfred Carlton Gilbert, M.D. 1909, won an Olympic gold medal for pole vaulting in 1908; graduated from the School of Medicine a year later; founded a company in New Haven to produce magic tricks that same year; and in 1913, introduced the product for which he is best known: the Erector Set.Throughout his whimsical and wildly successful career, Gilbert had a Mary Poppins-like way of combining work and play. As a youngster in Oregon, he got his friends to help him bring in firewood by saying that they couldn’t play in his barn, which he had rigged up as an athletic club, until the chore was done. “I have never worked at anything to make money unless it was fun, too,” he wrote in his autobiography, The Man Who...

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