Anchor building blocks are made of natural materials, chalk and linseed oil, and have the feel of building in real stone. They were developed in Germany by Otto and Gustave Lilienthal in 1875 and sold in 1880 to the German industrialist; Friedrich Ad. Richter, who made and marketed them as Anchor Stone Building Blocks, Anker-Steinbaukasten, in Rudolstadt, near Nuremberg. The purpose of Anchor Blocks was to enable children to construct buildings including fortified churches, castles, and bridges in a traditional German Gothic style, using simplified, basic architectural principles.
The Anchor Stone Building Sets became synonymous with creative and educational play and with a sophisticated system of conversions sets provided a very wide range of building possibilities. It was said to be the world's first systematic toy. Other German companies copied Richter and developed sets with architectural detail particular to their own towns, and the well-known Bing company, had their own version. But it was Richter's Anchor Blocks, recognised by their anchor-shaped trademark, that were the most famous. They were exported to countries in Europe, Britain and America and some sets made there way to Australia.
The Anchor Stone Building Sets achieved considerable popularity throughout the late 19th and mid 20th century. The company survived two World Wars but was closed down by the East German authorities in 1963. It is estimated that between 1880 and 1963 about 5 billion Anchor stones were sold. Richter developed about 400 different construction sets with an approximate total of about 1200 different stone shapes. Manufacture of the sets was revived 30 years later in 1995 and is now produced in Germany by Anker Steinbaukasten GmbH.
The basis for the first children's toy building blocks made of wood was developed in 1840 by Friedrich Froebel, founder of the kindergarten movement. He recognised the value of geometric figures for the education and development of children's minds. Froebel's work encouraged numerous designers and manufacturers to produce construction toys, and alphabet and numerical play, to combine education and play.
Assistant Curator, Science & Industry