Meccano partly-built crane and parts
During the first half of the twentieth century Meccano was the best known and most successful children's construction toy. Invented in England by Frank Hornby in 1901, the perforated metal strips were inspired by full size metal girders which could be joined together and strengthened with cross bracing. Whereas German toy manufacturers of the time were building a range of miniature mechanised lathes, pumps, circuits and engines, Meccano gave boys the components and technology to actually design and make their own machinery, working model cranes, tip wagons, cars, aeroplanes, swing bridges, machine tools and locomotives in miniature. This all appealed to middle-class parents, especially in the industrial areas of Britain, keen to provide children with a technical and mechanical education at a time when mechanical and civil engineering practise was at the peak of its success and popularity. Meccano also occurred at a time when education theorists were beginning to advocate learning by doing and the British were regularly told that their scientific education was lamentably inferior to the German system.
Meccano was exported all around the world, especially to Commonwealth countries, and inspired a worldwide club intended to not only interest boys in engineering but 'to make every boy's life brighter and happier' and 'to foster clean mindedness, truthfulness, ambition and initiative in boys'. Meccano was the first toy company to actively brand their product and went to great lengths to market it through the creation of their own clubs, guilds and, magazines. It is no doubt that Meccano spawned a generation of technically-minded adults and engineers but was also used in engineering firms for model building and by inventors for modelling just as computers are used today. By the 1960s rival plastic construction toys, which were cheaper and appealed to a wider and younger group, took away much of the Meccano market and the firm closed its Liverpool in 1979. Nevertheless it continues to be made off shore in various countries and adult devotees still meet and display their models.
Assistant Curator, Science & Industry