Meccano is to toys, what clay modelling is to adults. A building pursuit that doesn’t always lead to something you expected, or even something useful. But it does lead to a a glow of of achievement and you enjoy the journey getting there!
Originally patented in 1901 under the name “Erector sets” by Frank Hornby (yes, that famous toy related name!), it was manufactured by the British company, Meccano Ltd, between 1908 and 1980. Indeed, "Erector" se are still sold by Meccano S.N. of France, part of the Japanese Nikko Group.
To put it plainly (and a little dully, I'm afraid), Meccano is a model construction system comprising re-usable metal strips, plates, wheels, and gears, with nuts and bolts to connect the pieces. With a set you can build working models of actual objects like trains or cars etc.
In reality Meccano is more than a toy, it’s educational, it teaches basic mechanical principles like levers and gearing.
Study the face of a child working on one of these sets, and it’s a portrait of concentration. Working to the paper plans, like they will 20 years hence after a visit to IKEA. From plan, to pieces, to plan to pieces. Bottom lip half bitten in confusion, always with one bit left over at the end.
In the early 1960s Meccano Ltd experienced financial problems and was purchased by Lines Bros LTd. They introduced electronic parts for the first time in 1970.
Lines Brothers went into liquidation in 1971 and Airfix Industries bought Meccano Ltd in 1972
Airfix shut down the Binns Road factory around 1979, ending the manufacture of Meccano in England. Although Meccano was still being made in France, for General Mills, a US toy manufacturer that alos owned play-doh and monopoly.
In 1981 General Mills bought up complete control of the Meccano franchise.
Amazingly you could build a huge range of different models. These are the models you could make with the old "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"
in 2000 Nikko bought 49% of Meccano and started making truly extra ordinary kits. In 2007 they released a plastic robot named "Spykee". You can control the robot through WiFi it has a webcam and it can climb stairs. It can also be controlled over the Internet and configured as a security camera!
If I had made that when I was 10 years old, I would have been hailed as a child genius. (And would have been bullied even more than I already was). Still maybe with such a robot I would have been able to evade them through surveillance.