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Meccano


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(established 1901)

Frank Hornby of Liverpool, England, patented this internationally celebrated metal construction educational toy in 1901 under the name Mechanics Made Easy. Early sets were quite expensive and made of tinplate, consisting of perforated strips and plates that could be bolted together with nuts and bolts, a range that soon expanded to include brass gears, wheels, and axles. In due course the Meccano system was able to build bridges, cranes, military tanks, carousels, and countless other mechanical products that built on Edwardian children's fascination with construction and engineering feats. The educational toy's remarkable popularity was reflected in the establishment of a new factory in Liverpool in 1907 and, in the following year, its name was changed to ‘Meccano’, a title that was to become virtually a household name when the product was at its height of popularity. It was soon exported to many parts of the British Empire, in many ways symbolic of the influential developmental role that Britain sought to play in such countries as Canada, Australia, and India. In 1914 the company again moved to new premises in Liverpool and continued in production there until 1980. Further inspirations for use of the product were disseminated through the Meccano Magazine, commencing publication as a single sheet in 1916 but becoming a fully‐fledged magazine with many pages and full‐colour covers in the 1920s, a period in which many adult model makers also began to show a keen interest in Meccano. The product became more visually attractive from 1926 when the sets were produced in burgundy red, dark green, and brass finishes in addition to the customary nickel plate finish, a colour range that was further again changed in 1934 when dark blue and gold components were introduced. During the Second World War the Meccano Factory was devoted to war‐related production, not resuming full production until 1950. After the war sets were again produced in red, green, and brass although, from 1964, silver, yellow, and black components were introduced with further colour changes in 1970 and 1978. However, this period also saw many challenges in the constructional toy field and Meccano found it difficult to reposition itself in a world of more sophisticated alternative products, including the increasingly ubiquitous Lego, as well as the allure of television with its increasing range of children's programmes. In November 1979 the Meccano company went into receivership and the factory was demolished in the following year. However, Meccano Ltd. was purchased by its former French subsidiary (established in 1912) and relaunched by Meccano SA, based in Calais, France. The company bought the rights to the American Erector constructional toy in the late 1980s, but Meccano SA was itself purchased by the Japanese company Nikko Toys in 2000.

Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.


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