Meccano memories: remembering Frank Hornby’s creation

15 May 2014

Today marks the 151st anniversary of the birth of legendary toy maker Frank Hornby, who aside from being known for his model trains, was also the creator of the engineering toolkit Meccano.

Starting in 1901, Meccano has, for the last 113 years, been the toy set that could only be considered a toy set in name only and is perhaps better defined as an engineer’s starting kit.

Starting its life as Mechanics Made Easy, Hornby wanted to make a kit that would allow kids to figure out how to build absolutely anything from the ground up with a collection of thin metal plates, screws and bolts.

Fans would be familiar with the little cars, planes and buildings, but as time went on, it developed into something that Hornby himself, if he were alive today, would be amazed to see.

Kids who grew up with the basic kits, who are in many cases engineers, have continued their love of the kits with their own mind-boggling examples that incorporate everything from robotics technology to large-scale electric models.

Of course, the models and kits have developed significantly over the course of a century, with new additions and abilities, but the core idea still remains: build anything you want.

Here are a few examples that show how the limitation of imagination is the only thing holding someone back when building with Meccano sets:

Meccano train

An early example of a train all Meccano lovers dreamed about making with Meccano at the height of its popularity during the 1930s

Meccano pump

Here, a Meccano enthusiast has made a moving steam engine

Meccano bomber

Second World War aircraft have always been popular models to work on and this yellow version of the Avro Lancaster bomber was popular with kids after the war and beyond

Meccano spider

A simpler idea: Not all ideas have to be large in scale, such as this Meccano creepy crawly


What is it about watching a machine move items around that many find so fascinating?

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic