Meccano Crane, Lorry and Barge

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Meccano Crane, Lorry and Barge
One of the many superb Meccano Models on display in the Models section.  In 1901 Frank Hornby, a clerk from Liverpool invented and patented a new toy called "Mechanics Made Easy" that was based on the principles of mechanical engineering.  It was a model construction kit consisting of perforated metal strips, plates and girders, with wheels, pulleys, gears and axles for mechanisms and motion, and nuts and bolts to connect the pieces. The perforations were at a standard ½ inch (12.7 mm) spacing, the axles were 8-gauge, and the nuts and bolts used 5/32 inch BSW threads. The only tools required to assemble models were a screwdriver and spanners.  It was more than just a toy, it was educational, teaching basic mechanical principles like levers and gearing.

The parts for Hornby's new construction kit were initially supplied by outside manufacturers, but as demand began to exceed supply, Hornby setup his own factory in Duke Street, Liverpool.  As the construction kits gained in popularity they soon became known as Meccano and went on sale across the world.  In September 1907, Hornby registered the Meccano trade mark, and in May 1908, he formed Meccano Ltd.  To keep pace with demand, a new Meccano factory was built in Binns Road, Liverpool in 1914, which became Meccano Ltd's headquarters for the next 60 years.  Hornby also established Meccano factories in France, Spain and Argentina. The word "Meccano" was thought to have been derived from the phrase "Make and Know".

The first construction sets had parts that were rather crudely made: the metal strips and plates had a tinplate finish, were not rounded at the ends and were not very sturdy. But manufacturing methods were improving all the time and by 1907 the quality and appearance had improved considerably: the metal strips were now made of thicker steel with rounded ends and were nickel-plated, while the wheels and gears were machined from brass.

The first sets under the new Meccano name were numbered 1 to 6. In 1922 the No. 7 Meccano Outfit was introduced, which was the largest set of its day, and the most sought after because of its model building capabilities and prestige.

In 1926, to mark the 25th anniversary of his patent, Hornby introduced "Meccano in Colours" with the familiar red and green coloured Meccano pieces. Initially plates were a light red and items like the braced girders were a pea-green.  However, the following year strips and girders were painted dark green, the plates Burgundy red, while the wheels and gears remained brass.  In 1934 the Meccano pieces changed colour again: the strips and girders became gold while the plates were changed to blue with gold crisscross lines on them.  This new colour scheme was only available in Great Britain until the end of the Second World War in 1945.  The old red and green sets were still produced for the export market and were re-introduced in Great Britain after the war.

In 1934 the nine basic Meccano outfits (numbered 00 to 7) were replaced by eleven outfits, labeled 0, A to H, K and L, the old No. 7 Outfit becoming the L Outfit.  This L Outfit is often regarded as the best of the largest Meccano outfits.  In 1937 the alphabetical outfit series was replaced by a numeric series, 0 to 10, the L Outfit being replaced by the smaller No. 10 Outfit.  Although reduced in size from the L Outfit, the No. 10 Outfit became Meccano's flagship set and remained relatively unchanged until it was discontinued a half-century later in 1992.  Accessory sets were retained, numbered 1A to 9A, that converted a set to the next in the series (for example, accessory set 6A would convert a No. 6 set to a No. 7 set).  As had been the case from early days, Meccano Ltd would also supply individual Meccano parts to complement existing sets.

World War II interrupted the production of Meccano in England when the Binns Road factory converted to manufacturing for the war effort.  The Korean War in 1950 also disrupted production due to a metal shortage and it was not until the mid-1950s that Meccano production returned to normal with new parts being added to all the sets.

In the early 1960s Meccano Ltd began experiencing financial problems and was purchased by Lines Bro's Ltd (Tri-ang) in 1964.  In an attempt to redefine Meccano's image, the colour scheme was changed again, this time to yellow and black plates, with silver strips and girders.  The silver was soon replaced by zinc in 1967 when it was found that the silver pieces marked easily.  The colours of yellow and black were chosen because they were the colours typically used by most large construction vehicles of the day.  In 1970 electronic parts were introduced for the first time and the current black coloured plates were changed to blue. The range of sets was reduced by one with the deletion of the old No. 9 set and the renumbering of the old No. 1 to 8 sets to No. 2 to 9.  The No. 10 set remained unchanged.

Lines Brothers went into voluntary liquidation in 1971 and Airfix Industries purchased Meccano Ltd in 1972.  In 1978 the range of Meccano sets was further reduced and changed with the replacement of the No. 2 to 8 sets by six completely new sets, labeled A and 1 to 5.  The old No. 9 and 10 sets were left largely unchanged. By 1980 Airfix themselves were in financial trouble and, in an attempt to cut their losses, they shut down the Binns Road factory, bringing to an end the manufacture of Meccano in England.