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Meccano is a model construction system created in 1898 by Frank Hornby in Liverpool, United Kingdom. The system consists of reusable metal strips, plates, angle girders, wheels, axles and gears, and plastic parts that are connected together using nuts and bolts. It enables the building of working models and mechanical devices. Meccano maintains a manufacturing facility in Calais, France. [1]

Scale model physical representation of an object

A scale model is most generally a physical representation of an object, which maintains accurate relationships between all important aspects of the model, although absolute values of the original properties need not be preserved. This enables it to demonstrate some behavior or property of the original object without examining the original object itself. The most familiar scale models represent the physical appearance of an object in miniature, but there are many other kinds.

Construction Process of the building or assembling of a building or infrastructure

Construction is the process of constructing a building or infrastructure. Construction differs from manufacturing in that manufacturing typically involves mass production of similar items without a designated purchaser, while construction typically takes place on location for a known client. Construction as an industry comprises six to nine percent of the gross domestic product of developed countries. Construction starts with planning, design, and financing; it continues until the project is built and ready for use.

Frank Hornby English toy inventor, businessman and politician

Frank Hornby was an English inventor, businessman and politician. He was a visionary in toy development and manufacture, and although he had no formal engineering training, he was responsible for the invention and production of three of the most popular lines of toys based on engineering principles in the 20th century: Meccano, Hornby Model Railways and Dinky Toys. He also founded the British toy company Meccano Ltd in 1908, and launched a monthly publication, Meccano Magazine in 1916.


In 1913, a very similar construction set was introduced in the US under the brand name Erector . In 2000, Meccano bought the Erector brand and unified its presence on all continents.

Erector Set brand of metal toy construction set

Erector Set is a brand of metal toy construction sets, originally patented by Alfred Carlton Gilbert and first sold by his company, the Mysto Manufacturing Company of New Haven, Connecticut in 1913. In 1916, the company was reorganized as the A.C. Gilbert Company.

Meccano history

First sets

An early Meccano set on display in the Edinburgh Museum of Childhood Meccano Set, Edinburgh Museum of Childhood.JPG
An early Meccano set on display in the Edinburgh Museum of Childhood

In 1901 Frank Hornby, a clerk from Liverpool, England, invented and patented a new toy called "Mechanics Made Easy" that was based on the principles of mechanical engineering. [2] It was a model construction kit consisting of perforated metal strips, plates and girders, with wheels, pulleys, gears, shaft collars and axles for mechanisms and motion, and nuts and bolts and set screws to connect the pieces. The perforations were at a standard ½ inch (12.7 mm) spacing, the axles were 8-gauge, and the nuts and bolts used 5/32 inch BSW threads. The only tools required to assemble models were a screwdriver and spanners (wrenches). It was more than just a toy: it was educational, teaching basic mechanical principles like levers and gearing.

Liverpool City and Metropolitan borough in England

Liverpool is a city and metropolitan borough in North West England, with an estimated population of 491,500. Its metropolitan area is the fifth-largest in the UK, with a population of 2.24 million in 2011. The local authority is Liverpool City Council, the most populous local government district in the metropolitan county of Merseyside and the largest in the Liverpool City Region.

Patent set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or their assignee so that he has a temporary monopoly

A patent is a form of intellectual property. A patent gives its owner the right to exclude others from making, using, selling, and importing an invention for a limited period of time, usually twenty years. The patent rights are granted in exchange for an enabling public disclosure of the invention. In most countries patent rights fall under civil law and the patent holder needs to sue someone infringing the patent in order to enforce his or her rights. In some industries patents are an essential form of competitive advantage; in others they are irrelevant.

Mechanical engineering engineering discipline and economic branch

Mechanical engineering is the discipline that applies engineering, physics, engineering mathematics, and materials science principles to design, analyze, manufacture, and maintain mechanical systems. It is one of the oldest and broadest of the engineering disciplines.

The parts for Hornby's new construction kit were initially supplied by outside manufacturers, but as demand began to exceed supply, Hornby set up his own factory in Duke Street, Liverpool. As the construction kits gained in popularity they soon became known as Meccano and went on sale across the world. In September 1907, Hornby registered the Meccano trade mark, and in May 1908, he formed Meccano Ltd. To keep pace with demand, a new Meccano factory was built in Binns Road, Liverpool in 1914, which became Meccano Ltd's headquarters for the next 60 years. Hornby also established Meccano factories in France, Spain and Argentina. The word "Meccano" was thought to have been derived from the phrase "Make and Know". [3]

Factory facility where goods are made, or processed

A factory,manufacturing plant or a production plant is an industrial site, usually consisting of buildings and machinery, or more commonly a complex having several buildings, where workers manufacture goods or operate machines processing one product into another.

Trademark Recognizable sign, design or expression which identifies products or services

A trademark, trade mark, or trade-mark is a recognizable sign, design, or expression which identifies products or services of a particular source from those of others, although trademarks used to identify services are usually called service marks. The trademark owner can be an individual, business organization, or any legal entity. A trademark may be located on a package, a label, a voucher, or on the product itself. For the sake of corporate identity, trademarks are often displayed on company buildings. It is legally recognized as a type of intellectual property.

Meccano Ltd was a British toy company established in 1908 by Frank Hornby in England to manufacture and distribute Meccano and other model toys and kits created by the company. During the 1920s and 1930s it became the biggest toy manufacturer in the United Kingdom and produced three of the most popular lines of toys in the twentieth century: Meccano, Hornby Trains and Dinky Toys.

The first construction sets had parts that were rather crudely made: the metal strips and plates had a tinplate finish, were not rounded at the ends and were not very sturdy. But manufacturing methods were improving all the time and by 1907 the quality and appearance had improved considerably: the metal strips were now made of thicker steel with rounded ends and were nickel-plated, while the wheels and gears were machined from brass.

Tinplate consists of sheets of steel, coated with a thin layer of tin. Before the advent of cheap mild steel the backing metal was iron. While once more widely used, the primary use of tinplate now is the manufacture of tin cans.

Steel alloy made by combining iron and other elements

Steel is an alloy of iron and carbon, and sometimes other elements. Because of its high tensile strength and low cost, it is a major component used in buildings, infrastructure, tools, ships, automobiles, machines, appliances, and weapons.

Nickel Chemical element with atomic number 28

Nickel is a chemical element with symbol Ni and atomic number 28. It is a silvery-white lustrous metal with a slight golden tinge. Nickel belongs to the transition metals and is hard and ductile. Pure nickel, powdered to maximize the reactive surface area, shows a significant chemical activity, but larger pieces are slow to react with air under standard conditions because an oxide layer forms on the surface and prevents further corrosion (passivation). Even so, pure native nickel is found in Earth's crust only in tiny amounts, usually in ultramafic rocks, and in the interiors of larger nickel–iron meteorites that were not exposed to oxygen when outside Earth's atmosphere.

A model steam locomotive built with Meccano Meccano locomotive.jpg
A model steam locomotive built with Meccano

The first sets under the new Meccano name were numbered 1 to 6. In 1922 the No. 7 Meccano Outfit was introduced, which was the largest set of its day, and the most sought after because of its model building capabilities and prestige.

In 1926, to mark the 25th anniversary of his patent, Hornby introduced "Meccano in Colours" with the familiar red and green coloured Meccano pieces. Initially plates were a light red and items like the braced girders were a pea-green. However, the following year strips and girders were painted dark green, the plates Burgundy red, while the wheels and gears remained brass. In 1934 the Meccano pieces changed colour again: the strips and girders became gold while the plates were changed to blue with gold criss-cross lines on them, but only on one side, the reverse remaining plain blue. This new colour scheme was only available in the United Kingdom until the end of the Second World War in 1945. The old red and green sets were still produced for the export market and were re-introduced in the UK after the war.

Red color

Red is the color at the end of the visible spectrum of light, next to orange and opposite violet. It has a dominant wavelength of approximately 625–740 nanometres. It is a primary color in the RGB color model and the CMYK color model, and is the complementary color of cyan. Reds range from the brilliant yellow-tinged scarlet and vermillion to bluish-red crimson, and vary in shade from the pale red pink to the dark red burgundy. The red sky at sunset results from Rayleigh scattering, while the red color of the Grand Canyon and other geological features is caused by hematite or red ochre, both forms of iron oxide. Iron oxide also gives the red color to the planet Mars. The red colour of blood comes from protein hemoglobin, while ripe strawberries, red apples and reddish autumn leaves are colored by anthocyanins.

Green Additive primary color visible between blue and yellow

Green is the color between blue and yellow on the visible spectrum. It is evoked by light which has a dominant wavelength of roughly 495–570 nm. In subtractive color systems, used in painting and color printing, it is created by a combination of yellow and blue, or yellow and cyan; in the RGB color model, used on television and computer screens, it is one of the additive primary colors, along with red and blue, which are mixed in different combinations to create all other colors. By far the largest contributor to green in nature is chlorophyll, the chemical by which plants photosynthesize and convert sunlight into chemical energy. Many creatures have adapted to their green environments by taking on a green hue themselves as camouflage. Several minerals have a green color, including the emerald, which is colored green by its chromium content.

Gold (color) color

Gold, also called golden, is a color.

In 1958 the colours were changed slightly to what became known as 'light red and green' but this incarnation had the shortest lifespan as the colours changed dramatically in 1964 to the black and yellow colour scheme. However, this light red and green period did see the introduction of about 90 new parts, more modern packaging, a new cabinet was introduced for the number 10 set, the first plastic parts were introduced, and the "exploded diagram" instructions made their début.

Instruction book for the 1956 Meccano No. 7 and 8 Outfits, showing a model of a walking drag line excavator built with the red and green Meccano pieces of the time. Meccano No7 Instructions (front).jpg
Instruction book for the 1956 Meccano No. 7 and 8 Outfits, showing a model of a walking drag line excavator built with the red and green Meccano pieces of the time.


In 1934 the nine basic Meccano outfits (numbered 00 to 7) were replaced by eleven outfits, labelled 0, A to H, K and L, the old No. 7 Outfit becoming the L Outfit. This L Outfit is often regarded as the best of the largest Meccano outfits. In 1937 the alphabetical outfit series was replaced by a numeric series, 0 to 10, the L Outfit being replaced by the smaller No. 10 Outfit. Although having fewer pieces than the L Outfit, the No. 10 Outfit became Meccano's flagship set and remained relatively unchanged until it was discontinued a half-century later in 1992. Accessory sets were retained, numbered 1A to 9A, that converted a set to the next in the series (for example, accessory set 6A would convert a No. 6 set to a No. 7 set). As had been the case from early days, Meccano Ltd would also supply individual Meccano parts to complement existing sets.

World War II interrupted the production of Meccano in England when the Binns Road factory converted to manufacturing for the war effort. The Korean War in 1950 also disrupted production due to a metal shortage and it was not until the mid-1950s that Meccano production returned to normal with new parts being added to all the sets.

In 1955 outfits 00 to 10 as well as conversion sets 00A to 9A were available. [4] In 1961 a Mechanisms Outfit and a Gears Outfit were added to the range, [5] and in 1962 outfit 00 was withdrawn. [6]


1970s No. 2 Meccano set. 20030514 160101-Meccano set-rt1.jpg
1970s No. 2 Meccano set.

In the early 1960s Meccano Ltd experienced financial problems and was purchased by Lines Bros Ltd (who operated under the brand name "Tri-ang") in 1964. In an attempt to redefine Meccano's image, the colour scheme was changed again, this time to yellow and black plates, with silver strips and girders. The silver was soon replaced by zinc in 1967 when it was found that the silver pieces marked easily. The colours of yellow and black were chosen because they were the colours typically used by most large construction vehicles of the day.

In 1970 electronic parts were introduced, and the current black-coloured plates were changed to blue. The range of sets was reduced by one with the deletion of the old No. 9 set and the renumbering of the old No. 0 to 8 sets to No. 1 to 9. The No. 10 set remained unchanged. [7]

Lines Brothers went into voluntary liquidation in 1971 and Airfix Industries purchased the Meccano business in the UK and General Mills of the US purchased the French business. The French company was known as Miro Meccano. In 1973 outfits 1 to 10 were still available, but new kits were added: Army Multikit, Highway Multikit, Plastic Meccano, Pocket Meccano and two Clock Kits. [8]

In 1978 the range of Meccano sets was further reduced and changed with the replacement of the No. 2 to 8 sets by six completely new sets, labelled A and 1 to 5. The old No. 9 and 10 sets were left largely unchanged. While some Airfix divisions were profitable, particularly their model kits, they needed to save money. With unions threatening all out industrial action if there were any job losses, Airfix shut down the Binns Road factory, [9] bringing to an end the manufacture of Meccano in England. Meccano still continued to be manufactured in France, as the British and French businesses had different owners.

At the time in the seventies Meccano France SA' launched and produced their brand new famous dark blue MECCANO Construction Kits Set 1' to set 10 Boxes Model Range until the early 1990s which was considered by many MECCANO collectors today as the nearest updated model range of the original British made Meccano. These were also sold in conjunction with the smaller "Complementary Sets CX Series" so that the builders could make more technical and more realistic working models with his own existing normal sets, making it more demanding and harder per kit for the builder or owner as the sequence MECCANO Set 1 TO Set 10 was available. These can still be found for sale new and used or even never used on several websites today.

Unusually the last two items of this Range was the rarer MECCANO Set 09 aka as Set NINE which was sold as hinged large wooden box divided in two halves with up to 500 different parts and pieces available inside without manuals for builders to create numerous larger models. Then the most expensive yet impressive MECCANO Set 10 aka Set TEN is a large wooden rectangular crate with 3 sliding drawers and has a reputed 1000 different parts all neatly stored and is considered the top of the range MECCANO Set when available. Today some of these original MECCANO FRANCE SET 01 TO SET 10 Blue Construction Kits can still be found on EBAY. OLX and other similar sales webpages.

Ownership summary

1901–1908Frank Hornby (inventor) and David Elliott (financier)Branded as Mechanics Made Easy
1908–1936Meccano Ltd, UK. 100% owned by Frank HornbyFrank Hornby bought David Elliott out and rebranded the business.
1936–1964Meccano Ltd, UK. 100% owned by Frank Hornby's familyFrank Hornby died in 1936
1964–1971Lines Bros Ltd, UK (quoted on London Stock Exchange)Argentinian rights licensed to Exacto in 1966
1971–1980Airfix Product Ltd, UK (quoted on London Stock Exchange)Commonwealth rights only
1971–1980General Mills Inc, USA (quoted on New York Stock Exchange)Rest of world rights except Argentina
1981–1985General Mills Inc, USA (quoted on New York Stock ExchangeGlobal rights except Argentina
1985–1989Meccano SN, France (Owned by Marc Redibo)Revoked Argentinian licence to secure global rights
1989–2000Meccano SN, France (Owned by Dominique Duvauchelle)
2000–2007Meccano SN, France (Owned 51% by Dominique Duvauchelle and 49% by Nikko Toys of Japan)Nikko distributed Meccano outside France during this period.
2007–2013Meccano SN, France (Owned 51% Ingroup and 49% by 21 Centrale Partners [10] )21 Centrale Partners: Owned by the Benetton family. Ingroup: Owned by the Inberg family who ran Meccano.
2013–Spin Master Ltd, Canada (Quoted on Toronto Stock Exchange from 2015)Design and marketing in US and Canada.

New versions

In 1981, General Mills bought up Airfix Products and with it what was left of Meccano Ltd UK, giving it complete control of the Meccano franchise. All the existing Meccano sets were scrapped and a totally new range of sets were designed for production in Calais, France called "Meccano Junior", a new product range consisting of plastic construction kits with tools included, although these new sets would only allow the young builder to make small models.

Meccano model motorcycle built with the Meccano Motion System 50 set. Meccano motorcycle3.JPG
Meccano model motorcycle built with the Meccano Motion System 50 set.

In 1985 General Mills left the toy business completely, selling off their toy divisions. Meccano was sold out to a French accountant, Marc Rebibo, and, once again, all existing Meccano sets were scrapped. The "Meccano Junior" sets were replaced with three "Premier Meccano" sets and two "Motor" sets (including a six-speed motor) were introduced. Due to high demand, the old Meccano No.1 to No.10 construction sets from 1981 were re-introduced.

In 1989 Marc Rebibo sold what remained of Meccano to Dominique Duvauchelle. Allen head zinc plated steel bolts replaced the original slot-headed brass-plated bolts and the "Plastic Meccano Junior" sets were brought back. With younger model builders in mind, many theme sets were also introduced, including the "Construction and Agricultural" 200-Series & 300-Series, the "Space" 100-Series and the "Dynamic" 400-Series minisets. The old-style No. 5 to 10 sets remained in production until 1992.

In 1994 additional theme sets were introduced and a pull-back friction motor was added to the Plastic Meccano System. In 1996 "Action Control" sets with infrared controls were added and 1999 saw the introduction of a "Motion System" range of sets that changed the look of Meccano completely. There were six one-model sets, two five-model sets, and five new sets numbered 10 to 50, the 20 to 50 sets being motorised. A complete change from the normal practice (sticking to a single majority colour) was that every set had its own colour scheme, often in bright neon colours.

In 2000 Nikko, a Japanese toy manufacturer, purchased 49 per cent of Meccano and took on its marketing internationally through its established channels for radio-controlled toys. Development and design remained with Meccano SN, based in Calais, France. Nikko launched a successful range of new sets, including "Crazy Inventors" and the "Future Master" range. Significantly, Nikko radio control and programmable electronics started to appear in the System. However, under commercial pressure, Nikko sold its interest in the Meccano name and System back to Meccano SN, the French parent company, in August 2007. Meccano is now manufactured in France and China. [11] During 2013 the Meccano brand was acquired in its entirety by the Canadian toy company Spin Master. [12]

Meccano today is very different from its heyday in the 1930s to 1950s. The target market of youngsters has not changed significantly; however, the mass market, instant-appeal approach does not always satisfy serious Meccano enthusiasts. For example, it is often difficult to obtain original spares.

Many parts were introduced since the Liverpool factory closed under the French-and-Japanese running of the company. These included plastic parts, can motors, and modern battery holders. Metal became an expensive raw material to work with and many of the metal parts were replaced with plastic parts. Allen (hex-headed) zinc electroplated steel bolts replaced the slotted bolts. Some Meccano modellers enthusiastically embrace the changes and new parts. However, the "purists" look down on these new parts. Some enthusiasts set self-imposed limits on using only parts deemed to be traditional and steer clear of those parts viewed as “not truly Meccano”.[ citation needed ]

Original specialist parts, such as very long (up to 2 foot) angle girders, loom shuttles, printing rollers, etc. often required for large Super Models are becoming more difficult to obtain. There are replica manufacturers who satisfy the needs of enthusiasts who wish to build models requiring these parts.

What has remained the same during all these years is the Imperial ½ inch perforation spacing and the 5/32 inch whitworth thread for nuts and bolts (and other threaded parts). These unchanged standards and complete interchangeability of parts results in many modern models functioning perfectly with Meccano components that are more than 100 years old and vice versa. Indeed, old and new parts can be intermixed with impunity, the only problem being the odd mixture of colour schemes.

Further developments

In 2013, Meccano launched "Meccano Evolution", a new "back to basics" iteration of Meccano, which allowed smaller and more detailed models to be built using simpler and more "functional" parts than were supplied in previous "new Meccano" sets. Meccano Evolution has narrower strips, with holes spaced at twice the density of the original system. In late 2013, the company also opened a public "Meccano Lab" play space and R&D centre, in Calais, France. [13] [14]

In 2015 Spin Master launched Meccanoids, Meccano modular robots. [15] [16] [17]


The current range of Meccano electric motors are small DC types designed to run on domestic batteries. These are low-torque high-speed "can" motors. These are inexpensive and suitable for small models that a child might construct from the standard range of sets. Adult enthusiasts tend to use a wider range of high-performance motors that are better suited to powering large models. During Meccano's heyday, the electric motors available were universal wound (for use on DC or AC supplies) that were called the MECCANO MOTOR M-Series in the 1970s; these electric motors ranged from 3 volt to the E20R 20 volt Electric Reversible Motor depending on the motor model. They became better known as the M1, M3 and M5 Electric Motors. Particularly well known were the E020, E20R and E15R universal motors, issued after the Second World War. These could be run from a mains Meccano Transformer No.T20 1 AMP 20 Volts Set or, in the case of the E15R, a 12 V car battery. Earlier there had been short-lived (and potentially lethal) mains motors designed for DC mains with a domestic lightbulb in series to drop the voltage, followed by motors of the post-War pattern but wound for 4.5 or 6 V DC and suited to lead/acid accumulator power. These, as well as the latter accumulator are now rare if in good condition.

A Mamod made Meccano steam engine, 1965-1979. Rew7a20-597 meccano steam engine.jpg
A Mamod made Meccano steam engine, 1965–1979.

For many years, live steam engines were made and sold under the Meccano brand, although they were not made by Meccano. Earlier examples were just vertical steam engines, typical of the time, sold under the Meccano name. The first to be specially designed for Meccano was introduced in 1929. This was a vertically boilered engine in a chassis designed to facilitate it being integrated into Meccano models. From 1965 to 1976, Mamod made a steam engine for Meccano, the design of which was based on the 1929 version, with a similar chassis but using a standard Mamod horizontal boiler and engine parts. The model had no official model number, being known simply as the Meccano steam engine. However, it has since become generally known as the MEC1. Even after it was no longer being sold under the Meccano name, Mamod continued to manufacture the same model (with minor differences) until 1985, under their own name with the model number SP3.

Compatible kits

Some model construction kits are compatible with Meccano. One example is the Swiss brand Stokys  [ de ], which has been manufactured since 1941. Their elements are mainly made of thick stable metal in order to fit to the general approach of Swiss Quality. Other examples are Exacto and Metallus (construction kits)  [ de ].

Meccano has always had several compatible products on the market (such as X-Series Meccano, Plastic Meccano, Mogul Toys and Speed-Play). In 2007, a plastic robot named "Spykee" arrived. The robot is controlled using a WiFi interface and has a webcam but cannot climb stairs as is sometimes claimed. It can also be controlled over the Internet and configured as a security camera. The robot is primarily packaged in a single plastic base component and comprises additional bolt-on plastic parts that are present for aesthetic purposes only (i.e. the arms do not function). The robot base does include some standard Meccano hole spacing. By September 2008, the Spykee robot family numbers five, with each robot having different capabilities.

Since the 1920s, construction kits compatible with Meccano were manufactured in the Soviet Union.[ citation needed ] They did not have a uniform colour scheme, parts could be in any color. Usually the strips and girders were not painted, and the plates could be either unpainted or painted in red, yellow, and blue. In the 1970s, plastic parts were introduced. The "Krugozor" (English: "Outlook"; Russian: "Кругозор") plant in Moscow produced some sets which included electrical motors and gears. The largest set of the 1970s–1980s was called "Yunost-3" (Russian: "Юность-3") and contained about 200 parts. The "Yunost" ("Adolescence") series were practically identical to Meccano sets with the same number,[ citation needed ] but there is no evidence of larger sets (equivalent to No. 4 or larger) being produced. There were instructions for building 44 models. Today, many similar kits, mostly Russian and Chinese-produced, are being sold in Russia.[ citation needed ]

Unlike the Czech Merkur sets, the Soviet ones used mixed Metric and Imperial measurements despite the latter having been abandoned in Russia since the 1920s. The spacing between holes was 12.7 mm, or 1/2 inch, and the hole diameter was 4.3 mm, or 1/6 inch, but the nuts and bolts included were Metric.

Erector history

Erector was first envisioned by Alfred Carlton Gilbert (A.C. Gilbert) in 1911, as he rode the train from New Haven to New York City. This section of track was being converted to electrical power, and Gilbert watched as steel girders were erected to carry the power lines, inspiring him to develop the toy. Gilbert was a skilled magician and manufactured magic tricks and magic sets with his existing company the "Mysto Manufacturing Company". The first Erector set was made there in 1913, called "The Erector / Structural Steel and Electro-Mechanical Builder", and claimed to be "Educational, Instructive and Amusing". The toy was first introduced and sold to the public in 1913 at the Toy Fair held at the Broadway Central Hotel in New York City.

Erector quickly became the most popular construction toy in the United States, most likely because it was the only construction set at the time to contain a motor. In 1914, the name was changed to "The Mysto Erector, The Toy That Resembles Structural Steel". In 1916, the company was reorganised and became the A.C. Gilbert Company. The product was renamed "Gilbert Erector, The Toy Like Structural Steel". [citation needed] In 1924, more changes occurred, as the entire Erector system was completely overhauled to include over 70 types of parts. Erector was now called "The New Erector, The World’s Greatest Toy".

Through 1932, Erector was sold in wooden boxes, but 1933 through 1962 the sets would be sold in colourful boxes made of painted steel. Early boxes were coloured red, green, or blue; by the 1950s all set boxes were painted red. As the company grew, the area around the Gilbert factory became known as "Erector Square".

A.C. Gilbert died in 1961, and the company went into decline, filing for bankruptcy in 1967. The product was redesigned, adding many plastic parts, but the "clunky" looking models failed to compete with the new, more-realistic scale plastic models coming onto the market. The Gabriel company of Lancaster, Pennsylvania bought the "Erector" name and continued to market the recently redesigned system. Sales were slow and by the 1980s the trademark Erector was acquired by Ideal Toys and then Tyco Toys. In 2000, Meccano bought the Erector brand and unified its presence on all continents.

An extensive collection of A.C. Gilbert Company scientific and educational children's toys is housed at the Eli Whitney Museum, in Hamden, Connecticut.

Applications of Meccano + Erector

With a Meccano set there was a wide range of models that could be built. Here are the models for which instructions were given in the largest set of the late 1950s, the "Outfit 10":

"Railway Service Crane", "Sports Motor Car", "Coal Tipper", "Cargo Ship", "Double Decker Bus", "Lifting Shovel", "Blocksetting Crane", "Beam Bridge", "Dumper Truck", "Automatic Gantry Crane", "Automatic Snow Loader", "4-4-0 Passenger Locomotive"

On top of these there were instruction leaflets available for:

"Combine Harvester", "The Eiffel Tower", "Showman’s Traction Engine", "Twin-Cylinder Motor Cycle Engine", "Trench Digger", "Bottom Dump Truck", "Road Surfacing Machine", "Mechanical Loading Shovel"

It has been said that the instructions sometimes contained deliberate errors to challenge the ingenuity of its users. [18] However, those involved in their production maintain such errors were accidental, and are no more common than the unintentional errors in other modelling plans.[ citation needed ]

Since this time, enthusiasts such as G. Maurice Morris and MW Models have taken to publishing their own model plans, ranging from small models up to large and complex machines.

MOTAT's Meccano differential analyser in use at the Cambridge University Mathematics Laboratory, c. 1937. The person on the right is Dr. Maurice Wilkes, who was in charge of it at the time. DA Cambridge c1937.jpg
MOTAT's Meccano differential analyser in use at the Cambridge University Mathematics Laboratory, c. 1937. The person on the right is Dr. Maurice Wilkes, who was in charge of it at the time.

In 1934, Meccano began to be used in the construction of differential analysers, a type of analogue computer used to solve differential equations which has long since become obsolete. Though invented on paper in the 19th century, the first such machine had only been built in 1931, and normally they would be built by specialist manufacturers, at great cost. [19] For example, in 1947, UCLA in the US installed a differential analyser built for them by General Electric at a cost of $125,000. [20] However, a "proof of concept" model of a differential analyser which made extensive use of Meccano parts was built at Manchester University, UK, in 1934, by Douglas Hartree and Arthur Porter: use of Meccano meant that the machine was cheap to build, and it proved "accurate enough for the solution of many scientific problems". [21] This machine is now in the Science Museum, Exhibition Road, London, England. A similar machine built by J.B. Bratt at Cambridge University in 1935 is now in the Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT) collection in Auckland, New Zealand. [21] A memorandum written for the British military's Armament Research Department in 1944 describes how this same machine was modified during World War II for improved reliability and enhanced capability, and identifies its wartime applications as including research on the flow of heat, explosive detonations, and simulations of transmission lines. [22] After a lengthy period of neglect, a restoration effort began in 2003, and a successful "full run through" of this machine was completed on 16 December 2008. [21]

In 1949, an Erector set was used to build the precursor to the modern artificial heart by William Sewell and Dr. William Glenn of the Yale School of Medicine. The external pump successfully bypassed the heart of a dog for more than an hour.

In the 1970s, information theory pioneer Claude Shannon constructed a bounce-juggling machine from an Erector set.

In the late 1980s, with an Erector Set, various old toys, and bits of jewelry, Dr. Kevorkian jury-rigged a machine he called the Thanatron (later renamed to the Mercitron.) Three bottles were suspended from a rickety beam, one filled with a saline solution to open a patient’s veins, another with barbiturates for sedation, and a third with potassium chloride to stop the heart. After the Doctor connected the patient to an IV, he or she would pull a chain on the device to start the lethal medications flowing. He called it his “Rube Goldberg suicide device.” [23]

In 2005, Tim Robinson displayed his own Meccano differential analyser at the Computer History Museum, at Mountain View, California, US, and Robinson has also built and exhibited two models of Charles Babbage's difference engine, also using Meccano. [24]

In 1990 Meccano S.A. built a giant Ferris wheel in France. It was modelled after the original 1893 Ferris Wheel built by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. at the World's Columbian Exposition at Chicago and was shipped to the United States to promote "Erector Meccano" after Meccano S.A. had bought out the "Erector" trade name and began selling Meccano sets in the U.S. It went on display in New York City after which it was purchased by Ripley's Believe It or Not! and put on display in their St. Augustine, Florida museum. The model, the largest at the time, was 6.5 metres (21.3 ft) high, weighs 544 kilograms (1,200 pounds), was made from 19,507 pieces, 50,560 nuts and bolts, and took 1,239 hours to construct. [25] At this mass and size, some deviation from Meccano-only parts was a necessity, to prevent it collapsing (mainly in the structural spokes). The largest model by mass would certainly be in contention but some models have topped 600 kg.[ citation needed ]

In the late 1990s, engineer Mark Sumner utilised Erector to create a working model for "Soarin’”, an attraction at Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim, California and Walt Disney World's Epcot near Orlando, Florida.

A large model, weighing approximately 500 kg and 23 m long, was built in September 2009 by TV presenter James May and a team of volunteers from the engineering department of the University of Liverpool, who created a Meccano bridge spanning the Leeds and Liverpool Canal in Liverpool. As with other models of this size and weight some non-Meccano parts were used. It was built from "[about] 100,000 pieces of real Meccano", taking 1,100 hours, and consisted of a 9-metre (29.5 ft) "swing bridge" section, and a 12-metre (39.4 ft) "drawbridge" section. [26] [27] A contender for the largest model on record was built in 2014 by Graham Shepherd of Grahamstown, South Africa. The fully motorised Krupp 288 Bucket Wheel Excavator (as used on large opencast mining) is complete with auxiliary conveyors. Construction utilised Meccano parts as well as replica and strengthened parts (thickened profile plates and high tensile bolts in areas carrying large loads). Shepherd reports the model as being 1,335 kilograms (2,943 pounds) in mass and 17 ft tall. It required substantial timber support frames to facilitate final assembly. [28]

Meccano and Erector remain very versatile constructional mediums. Almost any mechanical device can be built with these systems, from structures, to complex working cranes, automatic gearboxes or clocks. They are frequently used to prototype new ideas and inventions. Model realisation using Meccano and Erector is limited only by the imagination and ingenuity of the builder.


Meccano Centennial poster and sticker issued in 2001 to celebrate one hundred years of Meccano, showing the Meccano block-setting crane with a portrait of Frank Hornby, Meccano's inventor. Meccano Centennial Poster.jpg
Meccano Centennial poster and sticker issued in 2001 to celebrate one hundred years of Meccano, showing the Meccano block-setting crane with a portrait of Frank Hornby, Meccano's inventor.

Frank Hornby launched the Meccano Guild in 1919, to encourage boys of all ages—as well as early clubs—to become part of a central organisation, which oversaw club formation, and set guidelines for club proceedings. The Meccano Magazine was used as a means to keep Guild clubs informed of each other's activities (as well as encourage the sales of Meccano).

The International Society of Meccanomen was founded in 1989 in England, nine years after the Liverpool factory closed. This organisation is considered the modern replacement of the Guild system and now has some 600 members in over 30 countries.

Today, over one hundred years since its inception, there are thousands of Meccano enthusiasts worldwide, many clubs and hundreds of websites covering Meccano history, model building instructions and nostalgia. Individuals and companies worldwide still manufacture parts, some long out of production. There are annual Meccano exhibitions around the world, notably in France (at a different venue around May each year) and at Skegness in England (around July every year). Many notable shows also take place in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand each year, to name a few.

Publications devoted fully or in part to Meccano included Meccano Magazine from 1916 to 1981, and numerous Special Model Leaflets aimed at serious enthusiasts, on how to construct very large, complex models and machines. Some models use many more parts than an entire Set 10. The original large models from the 1930s model leaflets are called the Meccano Super Models, often popular at Meccano and other model engineering exhibitions and sometimes used as nostalgic showpieces by retailers. Modern dedicated publications include: Constructor Quarterly , The International Meccanoman and the ModelPlans series of instructions. These feature large model instructions and ideas for enthusiasts. There are also a myriad of club-generated periodicals, featuring Meccano content and keeping enthusiasts in touch.


Pierre Bastien with his instruments made from Meccano Pierre Bastien-6.jpg
Pierre Bastien with his instruments made from Meccano

The careers many people chose were influenced by their experience and knowledge gained from using the product. [29] [30]

Meccano is mentioned in the first chapter of Graham Greene's novel The Power and the Glory . [31] It also mentioned at some length in J. J. Connington's 1928 detective novel, Nemesis at Raynham Parva (U.S. title, Grim Vengeance, 1929). [32]

Pierre Bastien is a French musical artist who has created a large collection of kinetic experimental musical instruments constructed with Meccano.

In Sydney, Australia an overhead gantry with directional signs and traffic lights erected in 1962 gained the Meccano Set nickname. [33] [34]

Liver bird sculpted in Meccano at Liverpool Shopping Park, on the site of the former Meccano factory on Binns Road Meccano liver bird 4.jpg
Liver bird sculpted in Meccano at Liverpool Shopping Park, on the site of the former Meccano factory on Binns Road

See also

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  12. Strauss, Marina (13 August 2013). "Spin Master acquires iconic Meccano in bid to take on Lego". The Globe and Mail . Retrieved 25 February 2014.
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  14. Calais : Meccano Lab, pour les (grands) enfants adeptes de jeux de construction L Voix du Nord , 6 November 2013
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  18. "James May's Top Toys". South East Meccano Club. 17 December 2008. Retrieved 22 November 2018.
  19. Robinson, Tim (June 2005), "The Meccano Set Computers A history of differential analyzers made from children's toys" (PDF), IEEE Control Systems Magazine , 25 (3): 74–83, doi:10.1109/MCS.2005.1432602 .
  20. "UCLA's Bush Analyzer Retires to Smithsonian" (Google News). Computerworld. 9 January 1978. Retrieved 22 July 2010.
  21. 1 2 3 "Differential Analyser". Auckland Meccano Guild]. Retrieved 21 July 2010.
  22. Cairns, W. J., Crank, J., & Lloyd, E. C. Some Improvements in the Construction of a Small Scale Differential Analyser and a Review of Recent Applications, Armament Research Department Theoretical Research Memo. No. 27/44, 1944 (see Robinson, Tim (7 June 2008). "Bibliography". Tim Robinson's Meccano Computing Machinery web site. Retrieved 26 July 2010.). The memorandum is now in The National Archives, UK: "Piece reference DEFE 15/751". The National Archives. Retrieved 26 July 2010. For the "Armament Research Department", see Fort Halstead, and cf. the entry for 1944 in "MoD History of Innovation" (pdf). Ploughshare Innovations Ltd. Retrieved 26 July 2010. It has been said that this machine was used in preparation for Operation Chastise, otherwise known as the "Dam Busters raid" (e.g. in O’Neill, Rob (16 July 2007). "Meccano 'Dam Busters' computer stars at MOTAT". Computerworld . Archived from the original on 17 August 2007. Retrieved 17 July 2007.), but see Irwin, William (July 2009). "The Differential Analyser Explained". Auckland Meccano Guild. Retrieved 21 July 2010. It is rumoured that a differential analyser was used in the development of the "bouncing bomb" by Barnes Wallis for the "Dam Busters" attack on the Ruhr valley hydroelectric dams in WW2. This was first mentioned in MOTAT literature in 1973. However after extensive enquiries and literature searches over the last few years, no evidence can be found that the [differential analyser held by MOTAT], nor any other differential analyser, was used for this purpose. Considering the secrecy surrounding war time activities at the time it could still be possible, but most people from that era are now deceased. Two remaining personalities still alive from that era were consulted, namely Arthur Porter and Maurice Wilkes, but neither could substantiate the rumour
  23. "A Very Still Life: Jack Kevorkian and the muse of genocide | Bidoun". Bidoun. Retrieved 2018-04-10.
  24. Robinson, Tim, Tim Robinson's Differential Analyzer (10 February 2005), Robinson's Difference Engine #1 (3 April 2006), Robinson's Difference Engine #2 (7 May 2006). Tim Robinson's Meccano Computing Machinery web site. Retrieved 29 July 2010.
  25. "Greatest Meccano Models of the Twentieth Century". The New Zealand Federation of Meccano Modellers. Retrieved 17 July 2007.
  26. "Meccano bridge challenge". 8 August 2009. Archived from the original on 24 August 2010. Retrieved 6 February 2013.
  27. "May builds Meccano canal bridge". BBC News. 8 August 2009. Retrieved 12 May 2010. See James May's Toy Stories.
  28., 14 October 2014
  29. "Harry Kroto Nobel Prize autobiography" . Retrieved 17 July 2007.
  30. "Meccano Magazine story". Culture Shock. Retrieved 5 January 2010.
  31. Greene, Graham (2003) [1940]. The Power and the Glory. Penguin Classics. p. 12. ISBN   0-14-243730-1.
  32. Connington, J. J. (30 November 2012). Nemesis at Raynham Parva. Orion. ISBN   978-1-4719-0600-8.
  33. Consultation on the future of the Meccano Set Archived 20 October 2016 at the Wayback Machine Roads & Maritime Services
  34. Meccano set future on hold Daily Telegraph 9 June 2015

Further reading