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Link - article by Simon Rose

In the age of LEGO, this reads like a blasphemy

We all have our own vivid memories from our childhood – family vacations, friends long gone from our social circle, siblings we now see only once or twice a year, TV shows and movies we followed avidly and of course, toys. For many boys growing up in the era before the advent of video games, construction toys were always popular. Here’s a look back at those far away days.

(1954 Meccano set, image via)

The Erector Set was first manufactured in 1913 and remained in production until 1967. Similar to the older British product Meccano, the set had a collection of small metal beams, with holes for screws, nuts and bolts and for attaching devices such as pulleys, gears and even small electric motors.

Here’s an early version from the early 1920’s:

(images via 1, 2)

These are from the decades following World War Two:

(images via 1, 2, 3)

Ideal’s Klikit products date from the late 1960’s, with Super City appearing in 1967:

(images via Jon Knutson)

Kenner Products was a founded in 1947 in Cincinnati, and introduced its popular Girder and Panel building sets in 1957. Kenner was one of the first companies to recognize the potential of TV for advertising their toy products in the USA, the first ads airing in 1958, when these two sets first appeared:

(image via)

Here’s the Bridge and Turnpike Building Set, also from 1958 (the Freeway USA sets from 1966 invited you to "design and build the great highway and bridge systems of tomorrow.") -

(image via)

Kenner’s Skyrail offered you the opportunity to “Build and Operate Sky Rail Systems of Tomorrow”, or at least the tomorrow that was envisaged in 1963:

(image via)

These pages from the Kenner catalog date from 1966:

(images via)

This Girder and Panel Building Set from 1974 contained 340 pieces for your building pleasure (left). That same year, if you could handle 1100 pieces, you could even construct your very own five foot tall version of the recently completed Sears Tower (right):

(images via)

Here’s a collection of Kenner magazine ads from the sixties. This set was promoted as the very latest thing in construction toys way back in 1961:

(image via)

The 1964 Modern-As-Tomorrow Girder and Panel set:

(image via)

The Hydro-Dynamic building set with motorized pump, also from 1964:

(image via)

And if you preferred to concentrate on residential buildings, Kenner even had a product for you too, the Build-A-Home and Subdivision Set from 1962:

(image via)

In Britain, Meccano was invented in 1901 and enjoyed great popularity in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. Meccano was manufactured in Liverpool from 1914 until 1980, and is now made in France and China.

(images via 1, 2)

Here are some Meccano ads from the late 1930’s:

(images via 1, 2)

Meccano was advertised as “the world’s greatest toy” in this 1949 brochure (left). On the right is Meccano brochure from 1955:

(images via)

This 1956 instruction book depicts a model of an excavator, built from the familiar green and red pieces Meccano utilized for many years:

(image via)

Bayko was one of the earliest plastic toys to be marketed and was sold worldwide brand between 1934 and 1967. The company was bought by Meccano in 1960:

(images via 1, 2)

So there you have it – blasts from the past to be sure. I hope you’ve enjoyed this nostalgic look at vintage construction toys here at Dark Roasted Blend. In our final image you see puzzled Nazi soldiers getting ready to construct a tank from a "readily provided set":

(image via)



Simon Rose is the author of science fiction and fantasy novels for children, including The Alchemist's Portrait, The Sorcerer's Letterbox, The Clone Conspiracy, The Emerald Curse, The Heretic's Tomb and The Doomsday Mask.

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Anonymous soundchaser said...

Great article!

But look closely at the Sky Rail picture. The monorail vehicle is too large to fit through all the gaps in its course :) .

Blogger Enrico S said...

Makes me think of how few kids over the last 20 years actually had toys like this. Toys you had to build with your brain and hands rather than just wiggle your fingers playing with a game controller. Thank goodness Lego's are still with us.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "Tank kit" looks a lot more like a knocked out armoured car.

Blogger Kristi Bernard said...

Very cool stuff.

Blogger dennis.tang said...

Oh man I totally had that 'Girder and Panel' set.

I would build skyscrapers and then knock them over because of a "freak tornado".
Totally prepared me to become an architect.

Anonymous Jesse Walker said...

You'd probably love this recent episode of BBC's 'Toy Stories with James May' where they build a real bridge out of Meccano... its a blast


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You'd probably love this recent episode of BBC's 'Toy Stories with James May' where they build a real bridge out of Meccano... its a blast



Anonymous kim lyvang said...

I had a Meccano set as a kid in Denmark in the fifties. It also had the 220v. motor. Got electrocuted many times. Wish I still have it.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must have had one of the last Erector sets. And a Girders and Panel kit.

Good times.

Blogger david said...

Thank you for posting pics of the Klikit kit! I've been trying to describe that toy to friends for over 25 years and they all looked at me like I was nuts! I used to play with that and the girder and panel kit for hours at a time.

Never knew the name til now. Thanks!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Kenner toys were great (the hydraulic set was, for me, the most fabled toy of my childhood) and, even better, remakes are available:


Anonymous Smerky said...

I'm not sure I understand the 'blasphemy' reference at the start. Is it because Mechano and Erector predated Lego? Is plastic more religious than metal?
I don't get it.

Anonymous Stalker said...


you can read David's comment on the reason of blasphemy..

they were so awesome that no one would believe today that those existed!

Anonymous Patron Zero said...

Super City was truly cool, it could be used with Ideal's Motorific car sets and Boaterific too !

Anonymous Richard Kirk said...

I used to have that exact Hydro-Dynamic kit when I was about ten. I remember it well. Happy days.

Anonymous lejon astray said...

The Tank Kit is a wz34, Poland 1939.


Blogger Avi Abrams said...

Thank you for all the comments!

about the tank... must the vintage, highly collectible "construction set", then :)

Blogger Barry said...

I HAD the Kenner Hydro-dynamic set when I was a kid. It was great - til I burned out the pump motor.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Meccano is still awesome! I got to play with my grandfather's kit as a child and nowadays if I come up with some mechanical idea I'll test it out in meccano and toy with ideas in that.

Best real-life mechanical design mockup tool ever. It's not just a toy, it's a tool.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I've seen those Girder and Panel sets used in some really bad science fiction movies

Blogger GMpilot said...

I received an Erector set one Christmas; I loved it so much that the following year I got a bigger one, with a real electric motor! My proudest achievement was the conveyor I made with it.

Building stuff really is more fun than blowing it up. We seem to have forgotten to teach our kids that.

Anonymous Daap said...

Another cool construction toy was the German made Plastikant. Not as cool as Lego, but close...

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where are the girls in the images?Would not be politically correct today I'm sure. Had to smile at the pipe smoking dads and what's up with the tie and suits the kids are wearing! Must say do miss the imaginative play opportunities available vs the flat screen "toys" our kids play with today, but thank goodness for including girls and losing the cigar.

Anonymous Mary said...

Erector refreshes good memories from years ago. Nice review, thanks. I would love to visit old construction toys museum if such one exists.


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