A History of Type III Erector
We have received a number of requests for information on the post-Gilbert "Type III" Erector sets. We don't collect these sets, so we turned to our pal Bruce Hansen, who does, for the scoop. Enjoy...
This is an account of Erector history from 1961 - 1988. Why stop at 1988? That is the last year sets with parts originally produced by the A. C. Gilbert Company were made. The widely sold "type II" erector sets (10½ amusement park, 8½ Ferris wheel, etc.) met their demise in 1962. The information below was gathered from a few sources: Gilbert toy catalogs, and Marshall McKusick's book "Discovering Late Erector 1963-1988". Marshall's book goes into great detail on the various sets available and is the only source of type III set inventories. I would put the content on a par with Bill Bean's Greenburg's Guide books. Marshall's book is full of black & white photos of many sets and models. Some of the scarce large model plans are printed on 11 x 17 paper in the back.
A. C. Gilbert, the company's founder and majority stockholder died January 24, 1961 requiring the family to sell stock at low prices to pay inheritance taxes. This left the company vulnerable for a take over. The Jack Wrather Corporation did just that in 1961 or early 1962. Reacting to dwindling profits from year to year (only $21,000 in 1961) and realizing the sets needed updating, all sets but the 12½ Master Builder and 6½ Rocket Launcher were sold as newly named Space Age sets. For example, the 7½ sized Action Conveyor became the Cape Canaveral set. The 10½ Amusement Park set became the Astronaut Set.
At the same time, the Wrather Corp. hired the firm "Product Design and Development Corp." to totally revamp the erector system. In 1963, the new system was unveiled and "type III" erector was born. Though not as widely collected as type I and type II sets, type III did offer some improvements on the older systems. For example, the steel used for baseplates was electromagnetic prepainted and stamped. Gone are the runs typical of Gilbert's process of painting parts by dipping. Axles have a flat on them for a much better grip with pulley and gear set screws.
On the negative side, the 3.0 - 4.8 volt Powermatic motor was a weak replacement for the A49 motor. The plastic wheels didn't stay on the axles like the old MH wheels with a set screw. The square girder patented by Gilbert and prominently featured in advertising for decades is no longer featured. In fact, the only model using a type III square girder is a "Trip Hammer" recycled from the 4½ set circa 1938.
By the way, much type II stock was apparently left over when type III was introduced. A number of "transition" sets were available from Sears, Montgomery Wards and Penney's. The sets were the milk carton #10161 and #10171 sets and the #10181 Action Helicopter. Also produced were 6½ sets.
Type III's debut was in (4) different sets; #10129 Master Power Set, #10128 Planetary Probe Set, #10127 Lunar Vehicles Set and the uncatalogued set #10120 Lunar Crane Set (a Lunar Vehicle set including the hoist and a few extra girders to build the lead model). The instructions were on loose pieces of paper. Space vehicles and cranes were the featured models. A few type II carryover designs continue; the hammerhead crane, floating crane, bulldozer, truck, lift bridge, etc. Gone are the boiler and carousel parts and with them the famous giant power plant, walking beam engines, Ferris wheel, carousel and parachute jump.
The three steel-boxed sets had a lid of clear plastic that slid in place. The sets make for a nice display when standing up vertically. However, once the parts were removed from the display cardboard the box would not longer hold the parts! To make matters worse, the two largest sets were two boxes hinged together, but the hinge was attached on the wrong side of the boxes. The intent was to fold the box open to display all of the parts, but when closed the open sides were to the outside and the boxes wouldn't hold the parts.
The sets were sold by Sears, Wards and Penney's in 1963, but sales were so bad and returns so many that all three retailers dropped them in 1964. Gilbert's marketing mistakenly only introduced the new system in 1963 in only large sets; equivalent 7½ - 12½ sized sets. Perhaps parents were a little hesitant to pay premium dollars for an elaborate set that might not get played with.
The marketing blunder of 1963 was corrected in 1964 when smaller sized sets were produced, essentially 2½ - 6½ sets sold at a reasonable price. Also introduced was the exclusive to Sears 5 in 1 Constructor sets. There were three sets that produced small models in (3) themes: Military, Road Construction and Cars/Trucks. A. C. Gilbert, Jr. had been kept on as the company's chairman when the Wrather Corp. took over in 1962. However, the Gilbert families tie to the Erector business unfortunately ended in June 1964 when A. C. died at 45 of a brain tumor.
The year 1964 was not a banner one for sales either. The large steel boxed #10127 - #10129 sets were dropped at the end of the year. The four cardboard sets from 1964 changed to sets "1 - 4" in 1965. The top set included the hoist, battery case and Powermatic motor. The Constructor sets carried over and a new Powermatic powered Road Building set was added (other three sets continue to make "push" models).
Sales were still not up to a level to keep the company solvent. In 1966, unpaid bills to suppliers lead to massive substitution of materials to produce parts. Yellow plastic used to mold NZ screwdrivers ran out so blue used to mold Powermatic motor cases was substituted. When blue ran out, silver from the Constructor sets was used. ME plates and #30/#31 boiler/cone parts were not the typical blue/yellow. Instead, aluminum blue/red and tan prepainted steel were used. Lastly, square stock for N21 nuts ran out so hex stock was used.
The Gilbert Company went out of business in 1966/7. Gabriel Industries bought the assets in 1967. Actually, the price was a steal, $0.00! Payment was a promised royalty based on future sales. The Gilbert Company became the Gilbert Division of Gabriel Industries. Operations were moved to Gabriel headquarters in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Sets in 1967 were leftovers from the Erector Square production in Connecticut; parts to fill inventories were probably produced in Lancaster. The box covers were changed to the new company name and set numbers changed from "1 - 4" to "10 - 40". The new management dropped the Constructor 5 in 1 sets.
In 1968, the same sets were produced but packaged in new display cartons. The numbers changed to #8101 - #8104. The sets ranged from size 2½ - 7½. See the model gallery under my name for a couple of the #8104 feature models, the Ship Loading Crane and the Mobile Crane.
By 1969, sales and profits were on the rebound and a new large set was introduced, the #8105 Master Engineer set. The Master Engineer's inventory was beefed up with common parts. This was a different practice from what was typical in the type II sets. In the type II era, the large sets had parts unique to them. Large models were reintroduced in this two motor set: Lunar Explorer Module, Hammerhead Crane, Texas Tower, etc.
The year 1969 also introduced a proliferation of sets. Gilbert had historically sold "cut rate" sets through the major retailers. The Sears sets of the 1940's were smaller sets with old parts from the standard Gilbert line. Gabriel Industries had a different approach and knew that marketing and distribution were everything. Gabriel catered to Sears by producing exclusive sets for just that retailer.
Sears sets from 1969-1974 were marketed under the "Powerline" name and contained an old part, the EX 12" wide channel girder. See the model gallery under my name: Mobile Snorkel and 80 ton Crane for a few model examples. The sets are called "49'ers" because they were all catalogued as #49-xxxxx.
The Sears sets did not have "Sears" on the boxes. They came in large white cardboard boxes with a lithographed photo of a boy playing with a feature model in the 1969-1971 versions (Powerline and Senior Powerline). In 1972 - 1974 the boxes were smaller and printed in red/black. The smaller boxes were probably used to reduce shipping and printing costs as the typical set weight dropped by 30%. In 1972 - 74 the lineup included the Powerline, Senior Powerline and the two motored Master Powerline sets. Sets produced are of the 7½ - 10½ sizes.
Gilbert Division became Gilbert Industries of Gabriel Industries in 1971. Presumably the change was made so both companies could use the same "GI" logo. Operations had outgrown the Lancaster facility so offices and production were moved to Hagerstown, Maryland.
One of the biggest improvements in 1971 was the change from fragile cardboard boxes to a blow molded red storage box for the mid-ranged sets (Sears sets are still in cardboard). The sets were renamed Mark 10 - Mark 60 (equivalent sizes 2½ - 8½). The Mark 60 was packaged in a blue steel toolbox. Someone else made the toolbox (storage tray for sockets is still in the top tray) and incidentally it is the last set sold in a standard steel box (accessory steel boxes were sold by Sears in the late 70's).
Gabriel Industries started eliminating the Gilbert Industries name from sets in 1975 and by 1976 the name "Gilbert" was Erector history. The Mark sets of 1971 - 1975 are gone along with the familiar red storage box. Sets are now in a stylish blow molded case embossed with "Gabriel Erector" in blue, yellow and red. The set sizes are old sized 2½ - 8½. The ladder chain and sprockets, which were an excellent method of transferring power, were dropped. Presumably the chain length was too difficult for young children to adjust. Also, 1976 marks the return of a 110V motor in the Erector system. The blue plastic motor has an on/off switch either on the cord or on the motor case depending on the vintage. The motor had one output shaft and was clumsily reversed by stalling the motor.
Gabriel sales must have started tailing off as the company was taken over by Columbia Broadcasting Corporation in 1978. Sets in 1979 were sold as "Gabriel CBS Toys". It is believed that the sets were losing popularity as some of the key components were dropped (hoist, battery case, sprockets) and no new models were introduced. The familiar steel blue/yellow plates were replaced with cheaper blue plastic. Also, the familiar 2½" black wheels were replaced by yellow hubs with black removable tires (recycled 1964 5 in 1 Constructor parts).
Prices started escalating even as the parts quality dropped. An 8½ sized set retailed for $54.99 in a cardboard box from Sears in 1979. The Sears sets were sold in cardboard boxes with blue/red printing labeled as "Gabriel Motorized Erector". Sets for Wards and Penney's still came in the blue, red and yellow plastic boxes.
In 1981, Sears dropped cardboard sets in favor of the plastic boxes. The sets are sized from 5½ - 8½ and contain the EX 12" wide channel girder, the last year of its production. In fact, type III erector essentially ceased production this year. The DC3 motor (introduced in 1957) and the #69 Powermatic motor (introduced in 1963) were dropped. Gone also were the #95 hoist, transformer, #125 battery case and the fine array of mid-sized models built with the system.
New System War Toys (termed by "Mac" McKusick) were introduced in 1981. For eBayer's, these are the sets #200, #375, #500 and #725. Also produced are specialized sets; Maxx Steele robot, Pod Foot Lunar Lander, etc. These sets still include some of the familiar girders of the past. Baseplates and car trucks now come in flat black. A number of plastic parts are introduced and futuristic Space models are the typical building project.
By 1982 the Gabriel Division name disappears and the name on the boxes is CBS Toys with the Ideal logo. In 1984, CBS sold the Ideal Company and Erector to GAF View-Master. Copyrights are held under the name "Ideal Inc., Portland, OR, a subsidiary of View-Master Ideal Group Inc."
In 1987, View-Master Ideal Toys updated the #200, #375, #500 and #725 sets by changing the set names and adding purple and yellow rockets. The largest set (#725) was changed into a war game featuring an electronic battle between a tank and a missile launcher.
"New System War Toys" erector died out in 1988 actually on a high note. The four motor Laser-Plex Combat Station is a large set. The electronically equipped turrets feature flashing LED's, explosions and cannon fire. The EY 6" wide channel girder makes its final appearance in this set after being introduced 60 years before in 1928.
The metal construction toy industry continues today. The Erector name was subsequently sold to the Kenner Corporation who in turn sold the rights to French Meccano. Brio is now producing Erector sets. Merkur is a long time producer of construction toys and still puts out a quality product.
I hope the information presented here answers a few questions on type III erector. For more information, see the Heritage Exchange at the site www.acghs.org to order a copy of Marshall McKusick's book or contact me with questions at BGHansen@voyager.net.
If one were interested in a type III set for building, I'd recommend a Senior Powerline set. If hunting the eBay scene, look for a set with the blue/yellow 12" wide channel girders, #95 hoist, #69 Powermatic motor and a 4.8V transformer. A Senior Powerline set will typically go for under $40 on eBay. Wagner's as usual is the place to go for parts to fill out your set.
One last note: the photos of the sets and parts seen here are primarily from my assortment of type III sets. Other photos used are from set pictures I've "snagged" off of eBay auctions and other Internet sites.