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What Happened to Erector Sets?

What Happened to Erector Sets?

As a youngster of seven or eight, I received an Erector Set for Christmas. It included stamped-metal parts, metal wheels, some pulleys, lots of nuts and bolts, and an electric motor with a rudimentary “transmission” that let the output shaft operate at different speeds and go into reverse. For interesting information about Erector Sets and similar toys, visit: www.girdersandgears.com/index.html.

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My Erector Set looked something like this. Courtesy of the Eli Whitney Museum.

Over the years, the Erector Set got put aside as I used my mechanical knowledge to “design” and build my own projects from wood and metal. My dad set up an account at the local hardware store so I could buy screws, wire, dry cells, and other parts for my inventions. I quickly learned the difference between 4-40, 6-32, and 8-32 hardware, as well as nail sizes, and wire gauges. My brother Chris and I also had an extensive chem lab that outgrew our basement. Those were good times.

Today, kids can still find plenty of interesting kits and hobbies, although components have gotten more interesting–and complex. The field of home-brew robots makes this point. I don’t have any interest in battle-bots that try to destroy each other, but many robotic competitions stress more constructive activities. And kids and parents can find a wide variety of robot kits and materials. Browse through Servo or Robot magazine and you’ll find wireless controllers, motors, servo drives, plastic and metal components, sensors, actuators, small LCDs, microcontroller modules, high-energy batteries, and complete robot kits. Only a few years ago, if a kid wanted to build a robot, he or she had to scrounge for basic components such as motors and batteries. How things have changed.

One thing hasn’t changed though–kids still need encouragement and mentors. Luckily, my parents never told me I couldn’t do certain things or that I would fail, even to the point of letting my brother build a “submarine” in the garage. And dad lent a hand with science-fair projects. The next time you hear a youngster say “there’s nothing to do,” or, “I’m bored.” take them under your wing and find a starter robot kit or something similar that involves mental activity. And by the way, a company called Nikko now manufactures Erector Sets, and you’ll find many on the Fat Brain Toys Web site at: www.fatbraintoys.com/toys/brands/nikko/erector_sets/index.cfm. Summer vacation will arrive sooner than you think. –Jon Titus

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