Generations of kids have loved Meccano construction sets; how did it all start ?
Meccano has been going for over a hundred years since Frank Hornby came up with his brilliant idea in 1898. He was an English businessman who had seen children being fascinated by the cranes in the port of Liverpool. His idea was to create a metal construction kit so children could build scaled-down versions of these cranes and other things. He patented his invention which he called Mechanics Made Easy. Finding it not to be a very marketable name, he changed it to Meccano in 1907. Meccano is a contraction of Make and Know. The toys soon became a big hit in many parts of the world. They still are today!
So how has this inspired idea changed in the past hundred years ?
Meccano was a product of the industrial revolution, when children were enthralled by heavy machinery. The early Meccano sets were metal to resemble their models (cranes, steam engines, etc.).
There have been other revolutions since: the advent of plastics, computers, robotics...We have adapted while staying true to our original purpose – giving children an opportunity to build what gets their imaginations going.
And plastics do that ?
To say that plastic fires children’s imaginations might be a bit much!
Seriously, plastic has let us to develop new products that do stir children’s imagination, though. It has let us create new pieces in all shapes and colours more in line with what younger children want, and can manipulate.
Didn’t Meccano diehards see it as a betrayal ?
Absolutely not! If Frank Hornby were still alive, we believe he would have moved into plastic sets because he drew inspiration from real life.
Plastic is everywhere nowadays, so why not in our boxes? That said, when we started developing plastic ranges, we stuck rigidly to the brand’s DNA, which comes down to parts you can assemble with screws using tools (spanner and screwdriver).
When did the first plastic kits appear ?
Way back in the 1970s. Because we’ve been going for so long, we are plugged firmly into the game and toy market. And we knew that metal parts were quite difficult for children under 7 to handle. So we had to come up with something else to reach that audience. And we had to get a move on because competition in the construction set market was heating up and some of our rivals had already brought out new educational toy ideas for very young children. So we launched our first plastic range: Junior Meccano. It was such a big hit that it prompted us to go further down that avenue.
So what did you come up with ?
As I said, we are constantly analysing the toy market. And we found that since the 2000s, children had been losing interest in traditional toys at an increasingly younger age. Not many still play with this kind of toy past the age of 14 nowadays. This is partly due to the rise of video games. Clearly, this could have been a problem.
But we went proactively into developing ranges for younger children: Kids Play (from age 2) and Build & Play (from age 5). The latter is an evolved version of Meccano Junior, but the former is a real innovation.
Can you tell us more ?
With Kids Play, we developed a construction set that sticks with the brand’s fundamentals but adapts them to very young children (from age 2). Toddlers get tools and parts that are perfectly suited to their hands and dexterity. Plastics made the job much easier, because current moulding techniques let us create all possible forms from flexible to more rigid parts like the contrasting colour “bug eyes” that brighten up the models.
Plastics also make these pieces very robust and stable. So the range is safe to use for children under 36 months because there are no small breakable parts that they can’t handle.
Where does Meccano go from here ?
We currently hold a good ten percent market share, which is encouraging. We have a good reputation and excellent image, which open up good prospects. We are now looking to develop more products under licence, something we’re already doing with Tintin. Here again, we know we can build on the qualities of plastic to create new models (of cartoon characters, for example) at reasonable development and production costs. And for some years now we’ve been seeing parents coming back to brands they know and trust for quality…And obviously, Meccano is one of those.
Florence Pilard, Marketing Manager, Meccano.
Florence Pilard has made most of her career with international toy manufacturers like Ouaps and Zaft Creation.
The Meccano group comprises two brands: Erector for the U.S. market only, and Meccano for the rest of the world. The company currently operates in 50 countries.
Meccano is the longest-lived toy: none have been going for as long as it has. Over a hundred and ten years and still counting!