A.C. Gilbert was the inventor of some of the most popular toys in American history, and it all started with magic.
Gilbert helped finance his Yale University education by working part time as a magician.
His other passion was sports, and he was an accomplished athlete. In 1900 he had broken the world record for consecutive chin-ups. He invented the pole vaulter's box and set two pole vaulting records. He even tied for a gold medal in pole vaulting at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London.
Even though he earned a degree in sports medicine, he decided to make a career in magic. Specifically, he wanted to make magic sets. He partnered with veteran magic manufacturer John Petrie to open the Mysto Manufacturing Company in 1907.
Over the next few years, the company produced some of the most wonderful magic sets, from simple collections of pocket tricks to elaborate kits complete with tables.
In 1913, Gilbert came up with the idea for the famous Erector building set. In 1919, Petrie left to form his own P&L Magic Company, and Mysto Magic became the A.C. Gilbert Co.
In 1918, the U.S. Government considered a ban on toy production as part of its WWI austerity measures. Gilbert was successful in persuading the government to back down, and a war-weary, grateful country gave him the nickname "The Man Who Saved Christmas".
For the rest of his life, Gilbert continued to invent innovative scientific engineering toys, such as the Gilbert chemistry sets, microscope sets and the realistic American Flyer trains.
Apparently, Gilbert himself was the important ingredient for the company's continued success. Gilbert died in 1961, the company was sold, and went out of business in 1967.
Credit: This biography originated on MagicTricks.com. Please credit this source if you use this information.