Classical Blocks

Eli Whitney Museum

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Blocks from the Gilbert Company, from the Gilbert Era, from before and after Gilbert. Explore the evolution of materials, styles of connection, styles of instruction. Artifacts from the Museum's collection; the Collections of Steve Olin, Keith Rancourt and others.

Anchor Blocks
Recognition Blocks
Erector - Brik
Gilbert Domino Number Blocks
Anne Farrell dominoes

Anchor Blocks
Unit Blocks
Recognition Blocks
Number Blocks

Problems to solve for the young... and the not so young.

Add a digital image of your work to the ongoing electronic catalog which will accompany the development of the exhibition.

Consider reading pictures, the traditional discipline for transmitting instructions. Does not this compressed visual language do work that would require volumes of writing?

Consider the mathematics of blocks. In the simplest of constructions, does not a five your old add, subtract, multiply and divide; might he not derive square of cube roots - all without numbers?

Consider the gender of blocks. Do boys really build towers while girls build enclosures? Are blocks more important to boys than girls? Do girls abandon blocks earlier than boys?

Consider the culture of blocks. Do blocks express for the Western child what origami expresses for the child of Japan?

Consider the philosophy of blocks. In modeling the near and concrete world, does not a child prepare to think about distant or abstract worlds?

It takes a community to build a Castle. Master Builder Jon Parley will lead a 4 month community building project to construct a grand castle in 1/2 inch scale, complete with knights and knaves, with catapults and crenelations, with drawbridges and damsels. During museum hours.

The Museum, with the help of J. K. Harmon, Inc., produces micro blocks, the foundation of our architectures projects. With the blocks, glue and wood scraps, you may construct:
A Castle
A Cathedral
A Temple
A Roman House
An Egyptian House
or projects of your own design.

In 1798, Maria and R.L. Edgeworth introduced building blocks in Practical Education. It's not a simple coincidence that 1798 was the year that Eli Whitney began to construct a factory on the year that Eli Whitney began to construct a factory on the site that has become the Museum.

After all, Whitney would devise systems for producing uniform and interchangeable parts. Whitney would help realize industrial manufacturing's power to create inexpensive goods for households. Handmade blocks were fine for princes. The 19th century would create interchangeable block sets for the growing middle class.

The advent of the Factory, and with it urbanization, redefined the nature of childhood and education. In farm culture, the work of childhood had been work: children were a critical part of the family's survival. Educational reformers like Friedrich Fröebel (1782-1852) proclaimed that the natural work of childhood was learning and that building blocks were a universal tool of that work. Blocks educated the hand and mind.

A. C. Gilbert entered manufacturing in 1909 a creator of products not philosophy. But like Fröebel and Montessori, he was driven by an instinct for the needs of capable young minds in a complex and changing world. Gilbert's Erector Set made him the king of American construction toys.

Gilbert survived the dislocations of the First World War better than his German competitors whose exports had dominated the American toy market. During the war, the American Anchor Block manufacturing facilities of the German company F. Ad Richter were confiscated. Gilbert purchased the Richter assets and by 1919 produced block sets under his name -- a perfect product for the younger brothers and sisters of Gilbert's Erector Set customers.

Older children remained Gilbert's primary market. But in the 1950's, aware of a new giant emerging to compete for the hands and hearts of young children (LEGO), Gilbert tested new block sets including designs by Anne Farrell.

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