History of Meccano

 Part 27f, multpurpose gear Part 27f     Part 195 - original Part 195

By Wes Dalefield

Many thanks to spanner for the help in making this page.

In 1901 Frank Hornby took out patents for Meccano.  It was called Mechanics Made Easy at first and the name was later changed to Meccano.  Hornby teamed up with David Elliott, who provided much of the required venture capital, and started producing sets.  These early sets contained about 15 different pieces and were made of tinplate.  The basic concept of using perforated strips and plates that were fastened together with nuts and bolts was very novel and the company steadily grew.  For more on the early years go here.

Over the next few years, a number of different sized sets were started and new pieces were introduced, for example brass gears.  In 1907, a new factory was established on Duke Street.  The company invested in new commercial equipment leasing and had several employees.  A few years later they moved again to larger quarters on West Derby Road. In 1908, Frank Hornby bought out his partner and changed the name of his building sets and company name to "Meccano". Meccano in this era was mostly nickel plate and brass.  The company exported to many countries, e.g. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and other parts of the British Commonwealth. In later years, Meccano was manufactured in other countries as well, e.g. France, Spain and Argentina.  For a few years, there was a Meccano factory in New Jersey, U.S.A. but this was eventually closed down.  The Gilbert Toy Company's "Erector" sets captured much of the U.S.A. market.

1914, a large new factory was constructed at Binns Road in Liverpool.  This was to become their home for 66 years. Meccano production was not interrupted by the 1st World War. The first issue of "Meccano Magazine" was published in 1916.

Below: An artist's impression of what the Binns Road Factory looked like in 1916

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In 1926, "Meccano in Colours" was introduced. The colours of Meccano pieces were changed to red, green and brass. Nickel plate Meccano continued to be available.  In 1934, the colours were changed again, at least in Great Britain. Strips were now finished in gold paint and flat plates were finished in dark blue with gold cross-hatching as shown above with part 195. Sets with this finish were not normally exported however, the red & green sets were still produced for the export market (e.g. Canada).

There was a short period when an attempt was made at a crossover between Meccano and Hornby Trains. But this period was short and not much effort was put into the concept.

Frank Hornby was elected M.P. in 1931. In 1936, Frank Hornby died, his company was taken over by his relatives.

Meccano production was halted during the 2nd World War. The Meccano factory was used to produce war related materials.  There was a further slowdown during the Korean War as metal was in short supply.

Packing Meccano at Binns Road in the 1950s

Part 118

 

After the war, production slowly resumed, bit by bit.  All new sets were once again produced in red, green & brass - the blue-gold colours were discontinued in England.

Here are some images provided by Daryl Anderson that show various views of the Binns Road Factory.  If you want a larger image click on the thumbnail images  below:

The Company was not well run and Lines Brothers bought the Meccano company in 1964 and this included both British and French factories.  The French factory had been fairly independent, still using the blue and gold colour scheme.  Lines Bros. brought them closer together by standardizing on colour schemes, namely zinc/yellow/blue, although different shades, and uniform sets and manuals from 1969/70.  However when Lines Bros. collapsed in 1971 the British factory was eventually absorbed by Airfix at the end of 1972, and General Mills purchased the majority of shares of Meccano France S.A.  A close relationship was maintained by Meccano France S.A. with the Miro Company S.A. concerning financial, production and marketing levels.  The organization therefore became known as Miro-Meccano.  Headquarters were in Paris and the factory in Calais.  The Binns road Meccano factory closed in 1979 a year after they had introduced a colour change to dark blue, yellow and brass.  Airfix battled on until 1981 till it also went under, and Meccano Ltd U.K. was purchased by General Mills.  General Mills now owned both Meccano U.K. and France so it made sense to shift all Meccano operations to France, hence the Miro-Meccano packaging of Action Packs, Dragsters and subsequent sets 1000 to 5000, which had originally been designed by Airfix.  Miro-Meccano had introduced the additional yellow box sets A, B, C, M1 and M2 by the time Marc Rebibo bought Meccano S.A. from General Mills in August 1985.  The headquarters was moved from Paris to Calais.  Miro-Meccano thus lasted from 1972 to 1985.  The word Miro-Meccano was dropped from trade literature in 1982 in favour of Meccano S.A.  From 1986 the blue box "enthusiast" sets were re-introduced all the way up to set 10.

One small part of the Binns Road factory remained in 1989 as the photo below taken in 1989 shows.  However all that remains there now is a car park.

What remained at Binns Road in 1989 - photo by Neville Bond.  This photo is taken at much the same position as the third image above.

Here are some images provided by Roland Jaggard of the 1989 Sale Brochure for the Binns Road Site.  If you want a larger image click on the thumbnail images  below:

The original French subsidiary, now an independently owned company under Marc Rebibo, still produced Meccano in France.   He was bought out by Finamec (Financière de Serbie) in 1989.  Around 1990, Meccano France purchased the rights to the "Erector" trademark in the U.S.A. and started selling Meccano sets marked "Erector Meccano" in the U.S.A.  To advertise this Meccano France built a huge model of the Eiffel Tower in New York and also a model of a Ferris wheel.  The Eiffel tower model was on permanent display at SciTrek, The Science and Technology Museum of Georgia, located in Atlanta. The model's future is unknown, however, because the museum suspended operations in August 2004 due to financial difficulties.  The Ferris Wheel model was purchased by Ripley's Believe It Or Not and is displayed at their museum in St. Augustine.  The author was employed in 1999 to reengineer it and get it working again.

Exacto S.R.L. of Buenos Aires, Argentina was formed by Alberto Richini in November 1959 to overcome import restrictions of Meccano into Argentina at that time. Four outfits and about 100 different parts were manufactured.  In 1966 an agreement was signed with Meccano Ltd. of Liverpool, and in 1967 they commenced manufacturing under the name "Meccano - Industria Argentina".  It was therefore not a bootleg operation, but an officially recognised Meccano factory.  They eventually marketed all sets up to no. 8. All parts were stamped "Meccano Argentina".  This continued into the 1980s as the licence was never revoked.  However when Marc Rebibo took over the Meccano trade mark in 1985, Meccano S.A., who now owned the trade mark, revoked the license and Exacto had to drop the Meccano name.

Meccano France did not succeed and sold its US marketing to Brio.  This was the writing on the wall for this company and it was soon bought out in May 2000  by a Japanese company called Nikko.  This is the present situation.

The various new owners had retained the old parts numbering system and produced some good new parts as can be seen below:  However Nikko has just introduced a new numbering system.

Part 46aPart 46a

Part 51aPart 51a

Part 38aPart 38a

Part 9l

Part 37hPart 37h

Part 23c

Many thanks for contributions to this page from spanner, particularly Roland Jaggard, Daryl Anderson and William Irwin.

For a Brief History of English Meccano 1901-1981 by Graham Jost Click here.

 

Part 48e

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