The Heps Man Who Saved Christmas


It’s Christmastime and in search for something Christmas-y we are retelling the tale of Yale grad A.C. Gilbert, an Olympic gold medalist in the pole vault.

We told a little bit of it two years ago, but we are adding in different facts this time as I apparently spent more time with the Google search this time around.

So, Gilbert was from the West, where he once set a world record with 39 pull ups prior to his enrollment at Yale. Not terribly germane to this story, 39 pull ups is an impressive feat nonetheless.

Anyway, he was a wrestler and trackman for the Bulldogs. He was also an innovator, designing his own spike-less pole and developing the pole vault box. But in the 1908 Olympics, the London officials wouldn’t allow him to use his implements, so he borrowed a pole and won regardless. [Here’s more about his Olympic experience.]

It was pretty evident that he was both into innovation and risk. And in 1911 he was focused on the girders used to install and house the electrical lines along the train line from New Haven to New York. The Erector Set was born and he became a multi-millionaire toy maker. And in 1917, he apparently saved Christmas.

Phillip R. Devlin of the Manchester Patch recently wrote of Gilbert:

A.C. Gilbert himself took great pride and joy in making toys for children. The title of his autobiography published in 1954 — The Man Who Lives In Paradise — hints at the happiness that Gilbert derived from his work. In fact, it was this delight he took in making children happy that drove Gilbert to argue against the Council of National Defense’s proposed ban on the production of toys during World War I.

Arguing that children most need the distraction and joy of play during stressful times,  his passionate defense of continued toy production during wartime succeeded, and the press began referring to him as “the man who saved Christmas.”

So, there you have it. Heps’ Olympic hero saves Christmas. Beat that PAC-12!

Anyway, I also discovered along the way that Gilbert remained an advisor to Yale track & field athletes for 40 years. Always give back.

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