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
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
, 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
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
II Part III Part IV Part V
and Pneumatic Engineering
Part I Part II Part III Part IV Part V Part VI
Part 1 Part II Part III Part IV Part V
Gilbert Signal Engineering
II Part III Part IV
Gilbert Sound Experiments
II Chapter III Chapter IV
V Chapter VI Chapter VII
Gilbert Weather Bureau
III Part IV
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
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