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The A.C. Gilbert Collection

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The A.C. Gilbert Collection

A.C. Gilbert

A.C. Gilbert was a man of many talents.  Born in 1884, he would go on to become a world champion pole vaulter and a graduate of Yale Medical School.  In fact, Gilbert worked his way through medical school by performing as a magician.

After graduation, he opted not to practice medicine, but instead began inventing and marketing toys, the first being magic sets.  (You have to wonder what his folks thought of that!)

The "Boy Engineering" Collection

Gilbert is probably best known for his invention of the Erector set, but over the years he marketed a very popular line of toy trains and science sets, as well as small household appliances.  Around 1920, Gilbert produced several science sets centered around science and engineering.  Thanks to Google Books and The Internet Archive, the manuals for several of these sets are available and in the public domain today.

The manuals for the "Light Experiments," "Signal Engineering," and "Hydraulic and Pneumatic Engineering" sets may be found on these sites in PDF or DjVu format.  The "Sound Experiments" manual, as well as many other A.C. Gilbert goodies are available at Jitterbuzz,com.   (And while you are there, check out the site's wealth of information on Dr. Gilbert and his toy company.)  

The Science Notebook has reproduced these manuals in HTML format on this site for your reading pleasure.   (See links below.)

These books were copyrighted in 1920, so some of the material is very dated.  These sets were unabashedly targeted at boys, as most people of the day assumed that girls would not pursue careers in science or engineering.  In addition, with America troops having recently returned from "The Great War" (World War I), much of the practical application was on things military.  Also, while many of the experiments and activities in these books are still being done in schools, a few of the experiments would not be considered particularly safe today, so if you try anything in them, please understand that you do so at your own risk.  Regardless, these are being provided "as is." See our Terms of Use.  

These manuals are broken down into chunks of approximately 25 pages to make them reasonable to load.  The original page numbers were preserved, and the original illustrations were used.  They contain a fair amount of graphics, so please be patient while they load.   Finally, there may be some typos due to the fact that the original text files did contain some significant errors.  Hopefully, most have been caught, but if you discover any errors, please let us know, and we'll try to fix them.  

Gilbert "Boy Engineering" Series Manual Pages

Gilbert Glassblowing

Part I   Part II   Part III   Part IV   Part V

Gilbert Hydraulic and Pneumatic Engineering
Part I   Part II   Part III   Part IV   Part V   Part VI

Gilbert Light Experiments
Part 1    Part II    Part III    Part IV    Part V

Gilbert Mineralogy
Part I   Part II

Gilbert Signal Engineering

Part I   Part II   Part III   Part IV   Part V

Gilbert Sound Experiments
Chapter I   Chapter II   Chapter III   Chapter IV   Chapter V   Chapter VI   Chapter VII   Chapter VIII

Gilbert Weather Bureau (Meteorology)
Part I   Part II   Part III   Part IV

The A.C. Gilbert Chemistry Sets

By 1936, chemistry sets were becoming very popular among (mostly) boys who could afford them, and the A.C. Gilbert Company led the way in their manufacture.  These early sets were were far more adventurous than later sets, since they were manufactured and sold in a time before lawsuits or safety were much of a concern.  In 1936, you could purchase a set containing many chemicals that would be considered dangerous today, and which have not been seen in a child's science set in many years.

In 1936, and for many years thereafter, Gilbert Science sets featured a manual written by Yale University chemistry professor and A.C. Gilbert colleague, Dr. Treat Johnson.  A careful reading of this manual will show that while these sets were a bit less tame than today, a lot of chemistry could be learned by doing the experiments contained in its pages.  The reader will also note that the best science of 1936 had not quite fully figured out the structure of the atom. (For that matter, neither have we today.)  The errors of the time (or perhaps better stated, the best understanding of the time) are reflected in this manual.  Still, this manual was excellent for its time, and it led many young men to Yale to study under Dr. Johnson precisely because it was he who was the genius behind the Gilbert chemistry sets they had played with as boys.

As with the Boy Engineering Series, this manual has been broken down into ten parts of approximately twenty pages each.  Enjoy!

1936 Manual for Several Gilbert Chemistry Sets

Part I   Part II   Part III   Part IV   Part V   Part VI   Part VII   Part VIII   Part IX   Part X

Gilbert Atomic Energy

In 1950, the A.C. Gilbert Company introduced the Gilbert Atomic Energy set.  The cost of the set in 1950 was $50, which was a very large sum at the time, particularly for a single toy.  The set was sold for only a couple of years because it was just too expensive to produce.  However, as you will see, this set came with its own Geiger Counter, cloud chamber, and low level atomic samples to use in the experiments.  It was also a very complicated set, and the young person who did the experiments in this set would have to be very motivated to get them right.  The manual is fascinating reading!

1950 Gilbert Atomic Energy Manual

Part I   Part II   Part III

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