NotesMeccano was invented in England by Frank Hornby. The first Meccano sets were marketed in 1901 as 'Mechanics Made Easy' and comprised 16 tin-plated pieces. They cost the equivalent of half a week's wages for a labourer. Despite this, the basic concept of using perforated strips and plates that were fastened together with nuts and bolts quickly became very popular. Over the next few years a number of different sized sets were introduced and new pieces such as brass gears were added.
By 1909 Meccano set Nos 5 and 6 came in wooden cabinets containing 168 perforated strips, and 245 angle brackets. The tin-plate pieces gave way to nickel-plated ones and the famous Burgundy red and dark green colours were introduced in 1926. A large number of new parts were developed including bevel gears, motor tyres, channel bearings, ball races, crane grabs, digger buckets, pulley blocks, signal arms and circular saws. In 1929 cabinets for the larger outfits were changed from a stained finish to two-toned green enamel and the Depression saw a decrease in the number of pieces in the famous No.7 outfit. Meccano colours changed again in 1934 to plates with blue with gold cross-hatching, although the ones for overseas markets such as Australia were still green. During the 1930s flexible plates were introduced which made the models look less skeletal and more realistic. Also in 1934, Meccano introduced a construction toy for younger children in the hope of appealing to young girls, a hitherto neglected market. This was 'The Dinky Builder', a system of rapid and simple assembly composed of rectangular and triangular shaped parts in enamelled green and pink.
By the time of Frank Hornby's death in 1936, Meccano had grown to become a highly-sophisticated construction method with the capacity of reproducing virtually every known mechanical device. Remarkably complex models were possible, including the Meccano clock which kept accurate time, the loom which wove material for ties and hat bands and the motor chassis, with Ackerman steering, gearbox and clutch. This so closely resembled a car it was used to teach students the principles of motor mechanics. The only tools required were a tiny screwdriver and spanner. At its peak the Meccano system comprised over three hundred parts, including a range of prime movers to drive models including clockwork motors, battery driven and low-voltage mains power and lastly steam power.
Meccano Ltd was then taken over by Frank's son, Roland and some speciality sets were introduced over the years including the Aeroplane Constructor, Motor Car Construction sets, Electrical sets, Army sets, Combat sets, Highway Vehicle sets, Crane sets and much later the Meccanoids.
During the Second World War the Meccano factory went over to producing war-related materials and Meccano production did not resume until 1950. Even during the Korean War metal was in short supply and there was a continual production slowdown. Manufacture eventually resumed bit-by-bit and all new sets were again produced in red, green and brass, and the blue and gold colours were discontinued. Television, and later LEGO, took traditional Meccano markets nevertheless new parts were introduced together with instruction manuals with exploded diagrams. Plastic Meccano was used in primary schools while a last attempt saw the range come with Space Age Meccano and miniature monsters known as Meccanoids. By the early 1960s the firm, like many others was in financial difficulties struggling with high labour costs and different, newer competitors producing cheaper toys, usually in plastic. The firm was taken over by Lines Bros and their Tri-ang range of toys in 1964. However, Frank Hornby's legacy did not end there as the first adult Meccano Club was formed in 1968. In 1964 another colour change took place, the pieces changed to silver, yellow and black until 1970; blue, yellow and zinc until 1978; and dark blue, mustard yellow and brass from 1978. Electronic Meccano parts were introduced in 1970 and the sets renumbered from No. 1 to No. 9, replacing the No. 0 to No. 8 sets. (The No. 10 set remained).
Lines Bros went into liquidation in 1971 and Airfix Industries bought Meccano Ltd in 1972. The old outfits, Numbers 1 to 10, were still available but new kits were added, including the Army Multikit, Highway Multikit, Plastic Meccano and Pocket Meccano. In 1978 the sets, Nos 2 to 8, were again reduced and changed to set A and Nos 1 to 5. (The old 9 and 10 outfits were left unchanged). In 1979 Airfix closed the Binns Road, Liverpool, factory which ended the manufacture of Meccano in England but it was still made in France, owned by General Mills, a toy manufacturer from the USA. In 1981 General Mills acquired Airfix Industries and what was left of Meccano Ltd in England. All the Meccano sets were discontinued and a new range of outfits designed for production in France, called 'Meccano Junior' were produced. These featured many plastic parts and only small models were capable of being built.