While the “Gilbert Hall of Science” was definitely a marketing device, it was a lot more than that. It was the framework through which Gilbert saw his company. It was a company that honored scientific progress and sought to prepare boys for leadership roles as adults. The fact that girls weren’t included in Gilbert’s vision reflected the fact that he was a man born in the 19th Century who worked most of his life in the early 20th century. While this is completely out of step with current values, he was clearly a product of his times. Of course he wanted to make plenty of money too, but perhaps offered this higher goal as his contribution toward earning it.
Gilbert opened the first actual physical "Hall of Science" in 1941, but it appears that the use of the phrase predated the opening of the actual halls. Bruce Manson, in the second of his two articles about the New York Hall of Science 1 drew our attention to a photo of an advertising display that appeared in the May 1938 issue of Playthings Magazine. The photo at the left appears to be a photo of that same display but with different items. I think it probably dates from the same time period. Bruce also speculated that the science building at the 1939-40 New York World's Fair, called "The Hall of Science" might have inspired Gilbert. In actuality, Gilbert had used that phrase as early as 1938. "Developed at the Gilbert Hall of Science" appears prominently at the bottom of pages 3 and 4 of the 1938 American Flyer catalog. Likewise, Gilbert continued to use the phrase after the New York Hall of Science closed in 1958.
When Gilbert arranged the opening of the Miami Hall of Science in 1945 by his friend Leroy Jahn, that may have been the catalyst that started him thinking of using this marketing device as a link between manufacturer and retailer. The Miami Hall of Science was contained in an existing toy store, so why not let other stores create mini "Halls of Science." In 1948, Gilbert published a guide book "for Building a Permanent Hall of Science in Your Toy Department." Click here to see that guide. In that guide, Gilbert presented a complete line of furniture and display shelving that utilized the same streamline moderne styling of the New York Gilbert Hall of Science. Evidence of the use of this furniture can be seen in some of the photos of the department store layouts and displays, but I haven't seen evidence that any of them billed themselves as "Halls of Science," or were listed as such by Gilbert.
The displays at Freedomland in the 1960's, discussed elsewhere on this website, also document this use of the 'Gilbert Hall of Science" phrase after the physical Halls of Science closed. Even Lionel today uses the phrase in the marketing of its S gauge American Flyer products and has trademarked "Gilbert Hall of Science." So the phrase lives on.
1 The Gilbert Hall of Science - Update and Then Some, by Bruce Manson - Train Collector's Quarterly, October 1992, Vol. 38, No. 5, page 28 Link to this issue and article in the TCQ (available to TCA members only)