Engineering Toy Hall of Fame — Construction Edition

December 13, 2011 by Darren Architecture, Design, Engineering, Hobbies 1

Erector Set 3 construction engineering toys

Where do future engineers, designers, and architects come from?

Why from the same place, of course — childhood!

As we get closer to Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s and the winter holiday season, we figured it was time to rustle up a few memories of some classic toys of yesteryear.

As vintage advertising documents, every little boy's life was not complete without an Erector Set.

Although it’s our gut instinct to give DraftSight Premium Service Packs for the family, a warm wave of nostalgia pushes us to go for the toys.

The National Toy Hall of Fame, located at the Strong Museum in Rochester, NY, pays tribute to the first four classic construction toys on our list. But we’d humbly suggest it is time to search the toy box for more engineering and design playthings to honor.

Most of these toys are still available on the market, with earlier incarnations living on eBay, of course.

Without further ado, here are our 5 Favorite Construction Toys of All Time:

1. THE ERECTOR SET

For more than 50 years before 2D CAD came into the picture, building an ERECTOR Set crane was a male rite of passage in the United States. The metal beam and bolt kit was invented by A.C. Gilbert in 1911, and was the first commercial toy to launch a national advertising campaign. “Hello Boys! Make Lots of Toys!” was the slogan in Popular Mechanics ads, illustrating how girls simply weren’t encouraged to develop engineering skills at the turn of the 20th Century.

Amazingly, parts from an ERECTOR Set were used by artificial heart pioneer William Sewell Jr. to build an early version heart bypass pump at Yale Medical School!

2. LINCOLN LOGS

Named after President Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln Logs have another famous namesake behind their birth: Architect Frank Lloyd Wright (have you taken the Frank Lloyd Wright DraftSight Tour yet?)

It was Frank’s son, John, who created the interlocking building toy in 1916, inspired by his dad’s Imperial Hotel design in Tokyo. Astoundingly, John Wright didn’t have tremendous financial faith in the log cabin premise. He sold his idea to the Playskool toy company for a mere $800, according to Mental Floss magazine.

3. TINKERTOY SETS

(Click drawing for larger image).

Don’t Tinkertoy parts just look like a DraftSight screen come to life?  It’s very easy to envision using all those thin colored wooden rods to layout a typical wiring diagram.

They’ve been around since 1914, after creators Robert Pettit and Charles Pajeau observed children amuse themselves for hours with pencils and spools of thread (today’s children would go bonkers playing with yesterday’s children).

The ratio of stick lengths and angles of holes in the wooden circles were designed to allow kids to make Pythagorean right triangles (45-45-90 degree angles). Like nearly every other toy today, the wood parts have been replaced with plastic.

If you click on the advertisement above, you’ll see that the early Tinkertoy sets had motors to run pulleys or a Ferris Wheel, similar to the competing ERECTOR Sets.

4. LEGO BRICKS

According to the National Toy Hall of Fame, there have been more than 320 billion individual LEGO pieces manufactured since 1950. Based on an estimated global population of 7 billion, that’s 46 LEGOs each for any man, woman and child on the planet.

Did you know that the original LEGOs were made out of wood?  No longer just the simple snap-together blocks from childhood, the LEGO Empire now includes video games and amusement parks with larger than life size sculptures of every cartoon and movie character you can imagine. Personally, I cannot wait to go on LEGOLAND Florida‘s “Conquer The Dragon” roller coaster!

5. GIRDER AND PANEL BUILDING SETS

(Click picture for larger image)

For future architects and civil engineers, this 1950s and 1960s kit was a godsend for building modern skyscrapers and bridges. Instead of building each wall with blocks, kids would erect the beam framing and then attach the windows and exterior panels. The only thing missing was a construction worker action figure with a little lunch box to precariously balance on a steel beam suspended amongst the clouds.

Kenner Toys CEO Albert Steiner was inspired to make the sets after watching new construction of office buildings in 1956. He later introduced interstate highways, rail stations and “Hydro-Dynamic” sets that could pump oil, hydraulic fluid, or chemicals (all just colored water for obvious safety reasons) at toy industrial plants!

After Kenner stopped producing the kits in the 1970s, a small Massachusetts company called Bridge Street Toys started making small quantities of the sets based on the original designs.

**

So, DraftSighters, what are some of your earliest construction toy memories as a kid?  Is there any particular toy you can credit for your engineering, design, manufacturing or architectural career?

Drop us a line at draftsight.news@gmail.com.  We’d also love to hear how you are instilling a love for building and engineering in your own children.

Comment

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  1. Ken Stokley says: February 15, 2012

    I just now found this article on old construction toys.
    I am one of those that had one of the old Erector sets when I was a kid. We, my brother and all of the neighbor kids played with the set for several years until most of it got destroyed from use!
    Since that time, I’ve always wanted to find a second hand set like the one I had when I was a kid. Well the internet made that possible about ten years ago. I now have three sets like the one I had when I was a child, 12-1/2 size sets, one of the biggest made, completly restored, along with about thirty other sets I have collected. I am a member of the AGHS that supports and promotes the collecting and preservation of the products that the A.C. Gilbert Co. sold many years ago!
    Ken Stokley

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