Cast of Thousands

Eli Whitney Museum

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A. C. Gilbert sold toys to boys. The boys who received Kastor Kits were most likely 13 to 15 year olds. America had not yet accustoms itself to store-bought toys. As Gilbert's Erector Set had promised to make a hundred toys, the Kastor Kit was a tool.

The electric melting pot was a modern convenience. In the early 1930's, electricity was still new in many regions. Radios were just being converted from batteries to line electricity. Electric fans were common, the toaster was not yet common. At $6.50, the deluxe Kastor Kit was a luxury... especially in a country strained by the Great Depression. Yet the sets were popular and remain potent in the memories of all who had them.

Look at the Kastor Kit through modern eyes:

  • its molten metal flows at 400°
  • its electrical connection is unshielded
  • its safety feature: a pair of tweezers
  • its lead: toxic to breath and touch

The exhibit asks: Were our grandparents reckless? What in their world allowed them to put into the hands of children a kit that now seems the most dangerous plaything ever?

Remember Prometheus? He stole fire for man... and with fire came industry. The 1930s were a Promethean age in America. In the New Haven area alone, a hundred factories cast parts in metals, rubber, and the new plastics. We were a culture closer to the fires of industry. The Kastor Kit was an initiation. It was a natural and appropriate preparation in the land that aspired to be the world's foundry.

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