These weren’t things that you built on tabletops and put in a drawer when you were finished playing. These were items that needed a solid foundation and lots of space. I am almost certain that one of the ads showed a boy on a twenty-foot ladder topping out a Ferris wheel on which his younger brother was already enjoying a test ride.Writes Bill Bryson in his memoir about growing up in the 1950s, "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid." That's a passage I found just now as I search for "Christmas" in my ebooks. There's also this other one about a toy he did get, which in fact "was a game that all boys were compelled to accept as a Christmas present at some point in the 1950s," Electric Football:
What the ads didn’t tell you was that only six people on the planet—A. C. Gilbert’s grandsons presumably—had sufficient wealth and roomy enough mansions to enjoy the illustrated sets. I remember my father took one look at the price tag of a giant erection on display in Younkers toy department one Christmas and cried, “Why, you could practically get a Buick for that!” Then he began randomly stopping other male passersby and soon had a little club of amazed men. So I knew pretty early on that I was never going to get an Erector Set.
It consisted of a box with the usual exciting and misleading illustrations containing a tinny metal board, about the size of a breakfast tray, painted to look like an American football field. This vibrated intensely when switched on, making twenty-two little men move around in a curiously stiff and frantic fashion. It took forever to set up each play because the men were so fiddly and kept falling over, and because you argued continuously with your opponent about what formations were legal and who got to position the final man, since clearly there was an advantage in waiting till the last possible instant and then abruptly moving your running back out to the sidelines where there were no defenders to trouble him. All this always ended in bitter arguments, punctuated by reaching across and knocking over your opponent’s favorite players, sometimes repeatedly, with a flicked finger.