Photos courtesy of Rob Tysall of Tysall’s Photography
Ann Evans reminds us of the absorbing activity of Meccano – but it’s not just a childhood memory.
Do you remember playing with Meccano as a child? Remember bolting together the strips of metal and making a crane or a truck? I remember how Meccano would keep my brothers and I entertained for hours on end. And while most children grow out of their childhood toys, for some, the passion for Meccano has never left them and today there are many Meccano Clubs and Societies throughout the UK and overseas. Here the adults aren’t so much as playing with Meccano but constructing the most amazing Meccano models.
Going back to the beginnings of Meccano, it was the brainchild of Liverpool-born inventor, Frank Hornby (1863-1936), who also invented the train set, Dinky Toys and Scalextric. He worked as a bookkeeper for a meat importer and was a shrewd businessman. In his spare time, he would enjoy making toys to amuse his own three children. Working from his garden shed, he came up with a construction game for his children using screws, nuts and strips of metal with uniformed holes in them which allowed the children to build things and then take them apart and build something else. He called his invention Mechanics Made Easy, and in January 1901, just a few days before the death of Queen Victoria, Frank Hornby patented Mechanics Made Easy – making this the last great Victorian invention.
The name Meccano was registered in 1907. Its popularity took off and the first Meccano factory opened Liverpool that same year. To meet the rising production demand, that factory was soon replaced, and two new factories opened, one in Berlin in 1912, and the other in Belleville, France in 1920. The success of Meccano spread throughout the world. These factories in turn were replaced by one in Bobigny which in 1951 was manufacturing more than 500,000 Meccano sets a day.
This iconic toy has taught basic engineering principles to generations of children, as they build all kinds of constructions and contraptions from perforated metal strips, wheels, pulley, nuts and screws. Ask any of today’s Meccano enthusiasts and they will tell you that Meccano challenges children’s problem-solving capabilities, as well as developing manual dexterity and encouraging creative play. The beauty of it being that you can take the whole lot apart and transform into something new. Meccano hasn’t only found uses as a toy however, in 1937 Meccano was used to build the world’s first programmable industrial robot, called Robot Gargantua.
With every kind of public event currently put on hold due to the Covid-19 outbreak, all the Meccano shows and exhibitions and even club nights have been cancelled or postponed throughout the UK, but once life gets back to normal, no doubt Meccano fans will be meeting up to show what they’ve been creating during the lockdown.
It’s certainly one way of passing the time as we stay indoors, and Meccano enthusiasts will, I’m sure be getting stuck into creating the most amazing constructions. Just take a look at some of the models we’ve seen over the last few years. Many are complex working and interactive constructions that include huge scaled bridges and Meccano steam trains, working clocks, fairgrounds, all kinds of vehicles including radio-controlled models.
So, if you’re looking for a new hobby, Meccano could be just the thing. Look online for second-hand sets or buy new, which although now made from plastic is interconnecting with the original Meccano. It could bring back happy childhood memories – or if you or the children have never tried it, this could be a whole new experience for everyone.