Tuesday, May 5, 2015

V 5 N 38 A.C. Gilbert

Here is a question for our readers of a certain age,  say born before 1950.

What Olympic Champion may have influenced your childhood before you even knew about track and field?  Does the name  Alfred Carlton Gilbert ring a bell?   How about  A.C. Gilbert?

How about the pictures below?

Gilbert was the 1908 Olympic Pole Vault Champ who went on to found the A.C. Gilbert company which probably sold your dads a chemistry set, an American Flyer train set, an Atomic Energy set, or most likely an Erector set.  All you geniuses who became engineers, chemists, or nuclear physicists, or train brakemen,  may have an olympic champion to thank for pigeon holing you into your careers.  None of this worked on me except perhaps in a negative way.  I had the Erector set, a chemistry set, and maybe even the Atomic Energy set and I became a mediator.    How I found out about this story is almost as interesting.   My colleague Roy Mason just bought me a subscription to the newspaper  'Funny Times' and in perusing my first copy in the chapter  News of the Weird, I found the following:

"For a brief period in 1951 and 1952 , an educational kit called the Gilbert Atomic Energy Lab, was for sale in the US even though i came with testable sample of four types of uranium ore and three different radiation sources (alpha, beta, gamma) .  A surviving copy  of the kit has been on display recently at the Ulster Museum in Belfast , Northern Ireland, but the radioactive materials had to be removed before the kit cold be shipped to Belfast.  (The kit had failed to sell well; kids apparently prefered the company's erector set).  So , Roy, your kindness was repaid in spades with this new posting.

Further below is an article I found in the Old Yale website talking about Gilbert's storied past.  I think the only thing we made with the chemistry set were stink bombs and maybe a little gunpowder.  Saw a few titrations go from blue to red or visa versa.  I do remember peering into the spinthariscope in the atomic energy lab and seeing flashes of radiation as I lay in bed at night.
Gave me other things to   ponder besides girls.

The spinthariscope was invented by William Crookes in 1903.[1][2] While observing the apparently uniform fluorescence on a zinc sulfide screen created by the radioactive emissions (mostly alpha radiation) of a sample of radium bromide, he spilled some of the sample, and, owing to its extreme rarity and cost, he was eager to find and recover it.[3]Upon inspecting the zinc sulfide screen under a microscope, he noticed separate flashes of light created by individual alpha particle collisions with the screen. Crookes took his discovery a step further and invented a device specifically intended to view these scintillations. It consisted of a small screen coated with zinc sulfide affixed to the end of a tube, with a tiny amount of radium salt suspended a short distance from the screen and a lens on the other end of the tube for viewing the screen. Crookes named his device from Greek σπινθήρ (spinth´ēr) "spark".

Renaissance man

From Olympic athlete to inventor of the Erector set.
Judith Ann Schiff is chief research archivist at the Yale University Library.


A. C. Gilbert, in 1944, poses with a Ferris wheel made from his most famous invention, the Erector set. View full image

A century ago, a Yale medical student named Alfred Carlton Gilbert won a gold medal at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London. He would go on to become enormously successful -- as neither an athlete nor a doctor, but as an inventive manufacturer of educational toys. His New Haven business became renowned for Erector sets and American Flyer model trains.
Of slight build at 5' 7" inches and 135 pounds, Gilbert developed himself into an outstanding athlete. For two summers during high school, he attended the School of Physical Education in Chautauqua, New York. Its director, J. W. Seaver, also headed the Yale Gymnasium, and he recommended that Gilbert eventually get a Yale medical degree to prepare for a top job as a physical education director. Gilbert first enrolled at Pacific University in Oregon; as a freshman, he was captain of the track team and quarterback of the football team. In 1904, after a single year of college, Gilbert, 20, entered medical school.
While at Yale Gilbert set two world records in the pole vault, once soaring 12' 8". But at the London Olympics, which were marred by international discord and disagreements over judging, he ran into difficulties. Most pole vaulters set their poles in a hole in the ground for stability; Gilbert had been one of the first to adopt this method. Vaulters in England, however, used a spike at the end of the pole, and the English judges ruled the use of a hole illegal.
Gilbert nevertheless set an Olympic record at 12' 2". Yet the judges declared a tie because, in a heat, E. T. Cooke of Cornell had cleared the same height. In his autobiography, The Man Who Lives in Paradise, Gilbert noted that this was "the first, last, and only time in Olympic history that a performance in a heat in the pole vault counted equally with performances in the finals." Cooke refused the gold medal; the Queen presented it to Gilbert.  This may not be true as Cook is reported to have lost his gold medal in Dayton, Ohio during a burglary.
It was also reported elsewhere that he got a lot of grief from the British judges as he was 
competing simultaneously in the 'broad jump' and wasn't allowed to take all of his jumps
and ended up in fourth place in that event.
Edward Cook
After the Olympics, Gilbert returned to Yale to finish medical school. As he was no longer eligible for Yale athletics, he put more time into magic. He was an accomplished performer and while at Yale had put on magic shows in clubs from Boston to New York. Now, he and a partner set up the Mysto Manufacturing Company, concentrating on magic trick boxes. Gilbert's Yale professors tried to persuade him to stick to medicine and use his deft magician's hands for surgery. But business boomed. In 1910, Gilbert opened a magic store in New York City.
During his train commutes, Gilbert observed the electrification of the railroad through the erection of steel girders to carry the power lines. He thought "how fascinated boys might be in building things out of girders." Thus began the Erector set. In 1911, he cut out the first girder patterns in cardboard. His girders fit together more securely than existing construction sets, and the motors he included for action made his toy unique. Gilbert introduced Erector in 1913 at the New York Toy Fair. He placed eye-catching ads in national magazines, headlined with his personal slogan: "Hello Boys! Make Lots of Toys!" In 30 years, he sold 30 million Erector sets.
Gilbert started one of the first radio stations in the country, broadcasting the first infomercials (for his toys). He increased sales through Gilbert books, clubs, and contests and by opening the Gilbert Hall of Science in New York.
Throughout, Gilbert kept his passion for athletics. In 1928, he sponsored and hosted the first national sports radio program, on which he interviewed Babe Ruth and other greats. He served as advisory coach at Yale for 30 years, helping to develop what he called the "Yale dynasty in pole vaulting." He also served on many Yale and national athletic committees, and he managed the 1932 and 1936 U.S. Olympic teams.
The A. C. Gilbert Company closed six years after Gilbert's death in 1961. Today the five-acre complex in New Haven, called Erector Square, provides studios for dozens of artists. The Eli Whitney Museum in Hamden, Connecticut, displays A. C. Gilbert products. MIT's website calls Gilbert "one of the most multi-talented inventors of all time." The Smithsonian Institution's Palace of Progress on the Internet includes two Gilbert artifacts: a 1936 Chemistry Outfit for Boys and the prototype of a heart pump, which Yale surgery professor William Glenn and his student, William Sewell Jr. ’50MD, built in 1950 -- with an Erector set.

A.C. Gilbert
all round stud

Sports Reference wrote the following account of the event.

Five competitors broke the Olympic record, and two more equalled the former
record. The Americans, Alfred "A. C." Gilbert and Ed Cook shared first place at
12-2 (3.71) with Archibald and Söderström tieing with Charles Jacobs (USA) for
third. The closing stages of thecompetition were considerably delayed as they coincided 
with the dramatic happenings at the finish of the marathon. Because of the time factor, the 
officials decided against holding jump-offs for first and third places and, in an unusual decision
, two gold and three bronze medals were awarded.

For the last time in Olympic competition, the "climbing" technique was permitted
although it remained legal in England until 1920. Among their numerous protests,
the Americans argued about the fact that there was no pit or hole in which to plant
 the pole and also that there was no sandpit or bales of straw to break the
competitors falls. This protest was understandable as the organizers were
definitely behind the times in these matters as these facilities had been provided
at the two previous Olympic Games.
Edward Cook was a fine all-around jumper and hurdler. He won the IC4A long
jump in 1908 and 1909, the AAU pole vault in 1907 and tied for first in the AAU
pole vault in 1911. Gilbert spread his athletic talents even farther, winning the
1905 Yale gymnastics championship and was intercollegiate wrestling champion
in 1906. Gilbert earned an M.D. degree from Yale but never practiced medicine. He
 later made a fortune as president of the toy company that bore his name and
manufactured Erector Sets, American Flyer electric trains, and other popular 

Our friend Phil Scott knows more about Ed Cook and will probably fill us in with
more detail after he sees this post.   Cook coached for a long time in Oakwood,
Ohio, a Dayton suburb aswell as spending part of his life in Chillocothe , Ohio,
where farmed and was a banker. His gold medal was stolen in a burglarly
from his home in Oakwood.  This contradicts the report in the Yale site
that states Cook refused to accept the medal.

P.S.  Phil says to add a  22' 11" broad jump to the performances on one day for Mr. Cook
in his comments below.


Phil said...

Ed Cook had the National H.S. Broad Jump record and in the late Craig Whitemore's words may have been the best all around athlete's in Ohio history. In one meet in southern Ohio Cook won 100yd dash 10.0 hj 6"0" scissors 220 21.8 100 LH 11.8 440 51.4 440 relay 1st mile relay 1st pv 11"8" not to bad days work. Come on Cornell coach you ever hear the Decathlon.

Richard Trace said...

Ed Cook was my phys. ed. teacher at Oakwood from K thru 10, when he retired.