Erector Set and Tinker Toy–Part 1
I was about nine or ten, a very sensitive period. Can you remember having a fantastic yen for something you wanted? Man, you wanted it! When you get older you become a self-fulfilling agent. If you really want something, you go out and get it. But when you’re nine or ten that’s not very easy to do, especially if it runs into lots of cash. You’re depending on other people to fulfill your wishes. And that puts you in a very vulnerable situation.
The comic strips of that period were an area of downfall because they ran ads at the bottom of the strips. Terrific ads showing kids doing stuff and saying, “Hey, fellows and gals, why don’t you tell your mother and dad what a terrific gift this would make.” It showed these kids playing with a fantastic Erector Set. It said, “Makes Ferris Wheel.” “Makes merry-go-round with genuine electric motor.” Every week they had a different thing you could make. One week they had this drawbridge that went up and down with the motor. Gears and the whole bit. The next week they made a merry-go-round. The week after they made a derrick. “Operates with electric motor. Shows this kid running the controls and it’s picking up stuff. Wow, it’s fantastic!
Schwartz and I both suddenly got bitten by the Erector Set bug. I make a terrible confession—I never was bitten by the electric train bug. A lot of other kids in my neighborhood, I must say, weren’t either, because we didn’t need electric trains. They were all over the place. They’re still all over the place around northern Indiana. We just walked outside and could get run over by a real one any time we wanted to. Nothing like being run over by a big red, white, and blue diesel. So toy trains never really got us. At that period I always wanted to own a gas-model airplane, and I never got that, but the idea of an Erector Set, which was advertised like crazy in the comic strips, began to get Schwartz and me. We would talk about what we were going to build.
So Schwartz and I each laid the groundwork at home—what we wanted for Christmas was an Erector Set. Your mother always said, “Now don’t forget, if there’s anything you want for Christmas, be sure to give us a few clues and hints so we can pass them on to Santa Claus,” so I did. I said, “It sure would be fun if I had an Erector Set. You know what I could do? I could build a crane! With it I could fix our lawn!” I could dig holes and my mother could plant the iris with a crane.
I could see myself building this great stuff with the electric motor and I talked about it. Time went by and my mother would nod: “Mm, very interesting. Yes.” And I showed her the ad, because it said in the ad, “Show this to your mom and dad.” Do they still do that in ads? I remember getting really hung up on that Erector Set, and as Christmas came closer the ads get more spectacular. They were in color for one thing, and the Erector Set showed this merry-go-round and it was all red on top. You saw all these silver bars inside of it and it looked huge. It looked like the kids playing with it could get on it! In the background was a Ferris wheel they made. It was going, and the crane was going up and down. The ad said, ”Build your own electronically-driven automobile!” You could build a little truck with I-beams and stuff and put the little electric motor in it and it ran on batteries. Oh, I could taste it.