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Most of the photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs, 20 to 200 megabytes in size) from the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) Many were digitized by LOC contractors using a Sinar studio back. They are adjusted by your webmaster for contrast and color in Photoshop before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here.

 
 
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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • FLY CANADIAN PACIFIC, c. 1950s

Windmill: 1955

Windmill: 1955

Does anyone remember Erector Sets? I remember this windmill that would turn when the electric motor was plugged in. Although I was only 2, I have pleasant memories of that set. I suspect there was "some assembly required" frustration on the part of Dad or Grandfather, but, oh the memory!

35mm Kodachrome slide, taken near Blandinsville, Ill., Christmas 1955. View full size.

Gilbert Hall of Science

The Gilbert Hall of Science was a wonderful place for a kid to visit back in the 1940s. I believe it was on East 26th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues, facing south onto Madison Square. Gilbert made the American Flyer line of electric trains, which were neat, but I always favored Lionel trains and accessories. I also owned a series of Erector Sets, culminating in one like that in the above photo that came with the motor on which you could shift gear speeds. Along with sets of Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys and "American Bricks", these were the Legos of their day, and they were all manufactured in the USA. Those were the days!!!

Another great kid place in New York in those days was the Museum of Science and Industry, just off the lobby of the RCA building on the 6th Avenue side. The mechanized exhibits were housed behind glass cases mounted in the walls, with a button that allowed you to operate the machinery -- the earliest "interactive" exhibit for kids that I can recall.

Erector sets

I remember Erector sets. I even had one, or maybe it was some British equivalent, like a Meccano set (though Meccano is, strictly speaking French; you can still buy Erector sets but they're really relabeled Meccano). Great fun because even if they did come with instruction booklets that told you how to build some things, you could still "freelance" and build whatever you wanted. Lego used to be that way too. Nowadays when I go to buy a Lego set for my seven year-old nephew what I find are kits to build very specific things often with some sort of commercial tie-in like "Star Wars", and I can't seem to find a set that will let him free his imagination and just build whatever he wants to.

Erector sets

Oh yeah, Erector sets. I had a simple one, no motor that I can remember, and maybe it didn't even come in a metal chest - or did they all? I think I alternately envied and was intimidated by the big sets with zillions of parts - it was like they obliged you to successfully construct some elaborate, fully-operational contraption, or else! Me, I think I was happy just randomly sticking parts together and tightening the nuts and bolts. That indicates either a free-thinking creativity or mere simple-mindedness on my part, I don't know which. You were obviously happy with yours!

AC Gilbert Hall of Science

"You are a lucky boy to receive this fine product of the AC Gilbert Hall of Science, the greatest institution of its type in the world". Or so read the introductory blurb on the late-40's instructions, whether for the Erector set, chemistry set (full of stuff no kid can buy today), or several other "Science products". The Hall of Science was housed in a small 5-story corner building in downtown New York, made to look larger with a dramatic angle. The first and second floors housed AC Gilbert train layouts, with offices upstairs. Their factory complete with smokestack was located in New Haven CT.

 
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Shorpy.com | History in HD is a vintage photo blog featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1950s. The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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