MECCANO and the Exhibitions. (Part 1, 1901 to 1914).


Fred Peskett


            When Frank Hornby first patented his construction toy in 1901 and called it “Mechanics Made Easy” he advertised it as Engineering in Miniature. It was fairly slow to take off, but sales were sufficient to keep his new company running with a small profit. A change of name to “Simplified Mechanics” in 1906 made little difference to an increase in sales, but when he changed the name in




               Model No. 70. Flying Machine                               Model No. 105. Big Wheel

   Made with Meccano Outfit No. 4 or No. 3 & 3a    Made with Meccano Outfit No. 6 or No. 5 & 5a


1907 to MECCANO, sales and profits rocketed. The name MECCANO is thought to be derived from one of Hornby’s favourite sayings “Make and Know” little did he know that the word would become a household name and even be included in the Oxford English Dictionary.

            By 1909 the MECCANO system had expanded to have six numbered outfits, each being larger with an accessory to convert to the next larger set. Frank Hornby was keen to put in as much engineering knowledge into his instruction books as possible and included in the 1909 manual for outfits 4 to 6 were several models of engineering constructions to be seen at the Great Exhibitions.

            Hornby wanted movement in his models and right from the start a clockwork motor and a steam engine were available as an extra, so it comes as no suprise to see models included such as The Big Wheel from Earl’s Court, The Hiram Maxim Flying Machine from the Crystal Palace and the Flip Flap from the White City exhibitions. All of these models do bear some resemblance to their original counterparts, however, his early model of the Eiffel Tower is somewhat poor and could have been made a lot nearer to the actual shape with the number of strips and girders that were included in the number 6 outfit.

            The illustrations are from the 1909 instruction book. The Flip Flap continued to be included until the 1916 manual when it was replaced by a similar device called the Aeroscope used to elevate an observer above the battlefields during the First World War. The Maxim Flying Machine was not included after 1911. The Eiffel Tower was replaced with a Helter Skelter in 1912, but a better looking model was featured in 1926. The Big Wheel was improved and was featured in most of the larger set manuals until the MECCANO Company ceased in the U.K. in 1980.

            In Part 2, MECCANO from 1915 to 1933, it will be shown how the system expanded with many new parts, new sets and electric motors to produce models of a far more realistic appearance. It was also during this period that Frank Hornby started to introduce new products, such as Hornby Trains, and to exhibit his range at the major exhibitions such as The British Empire Exhibitions 1924-5 and the British Industries Fairs.




                        Model No. 102. Flip Flap                                       Model No. 108. Eiffel Tower

       Made with Meccano Outfit No. 6 or No. 5 & 5a                      Made with Meccano Outfit

                                                                                                            No. 6 or No. 5 & 5a


© Exhibition Study Group 2009