Meccano in Germany

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German metal toymaker Märklin produced clockwork motors for Meccano Ltd. in the days before World War One, and Frank Hornby set about setting up a local offshoot of the company in Germany, just as he had been doing in France with Meccano France. The master-plan seems to have been for his sons Douglas Hornby and Roland Hornby, who'd been educated in Germany and in France, respectively, to head up the German and the French operations.

Märklin

Hornby had already struck up a working relationship with Märklin in Germany to distribute Meccano in Germany and Eastern Europe, and Märklin also produced Meccano Ltd.'s early clockwork motors. Meccano parts weren't difficult to make, and Märklin started local production of German Meccano parts at Göppingen (stamped with both the Meccano name and the Märklin crest).

Hornby set up Meccano-Gesellschaft mbH. a German offshoot company with rights to "do things" with Meccano (similar to Meccano France), and since local manufacturers were quite capable of producing the parts, the German office was principally office space and warehousing.

Frank Hornby probably gained considerable satisfaction from bringing his metal construction sets into Southern Germany and the toymaking heart of Nuremburg, but the timing of his plans to set up the company in Berlin was, with hindsight, somewhat unfortunate.

World War One, and Märklin Meccano

Hornby hadn't imagined that Britain and Germany would be active participants on opposing sides if war came, and had left the German operation's assets exposed. The outbreak of war meant that from Germany's point of view, the company was owned by an enemy power and could be taken over. Märklin continued selling Meccano from the existing stockpile (as Märklin Meccano), and acquired the Berlin-based Meccano company offshoot.

Post-WW1, Märklin-Metallbaukasten

After the war, Märklin successfully argued that as the owners of the German company, they now had the rights to produce and Meccano. However, a court did rule that Märklin couldn't then sell the resulting sets using Hornby's "Meccano" trademark, since this would have implied that the sets were being made with Meccano Ltd's blessing and agreement, which wasn't the case.

Märklin Meccano became Märklin-Metallbaukasten, and the original German translations of the Meccano manuals were rewritten and redesigned to make them look progressively less like the originals, although since the manuals were such a big part of what made Meccano, there was a limit to how for the German manuals could easily diverge, if they were showing most of the same parts and models.

Inter-war Years: Metall, Elex and Minex

The Märklin product became Märklin Metall, and more effort was made to distinguish it from its British origins, and add new "German" parts that hadn't been included in the original system.

Märklin also produced the Märklin Elex Meccano-compatible electrical component sets (comparable in concept to Meccano's Elektrikit), and a half-size aluminium and bakelite "mini-Meccano" reinvention of the Meccano concept, Marklin Minex.

Post-war

Marklin continued developing and extending the Metall system, with high-profile custom model sets appearing every few years until production finally ceased in 1999.

"Clone" sets of the Metallus range (and of other Meccano derivatives) are currently produced in Germany by Metallus.

Frank Hornby, 1921:

" During the whole of the time that the German manufacturers were struggling here to get into the constructional toy market and steal some of the Meccano business, we were rapidly extending our own business in Germany, and we found it necessary to take offices in Berlin, with large store rooms attached, to take care of the rapidly increasing business in that country. We sent over our own representative who got together an efficient organization, and we commenced a campaign of advertising and demonstrating on the lines familiar to all Meccano boys in this country, and soon Meccano Outfits and models were a familiar sight in the leading shops throughout the country. Even in Nuremburg, which up to then had been considered the home of the toy manufacturing industry, we had customers who purchased heavily from us. Many German toy dealers spoke enthusiastically of the business they were doing in our goods, and of the wonderful way in which the German boys were fascinated with the possibilities of Meccano.
My last visit to Berlin was during the week before the war broke out. It had been a most successful visit, and promised to be followed by even further extensions in the Meccano business. At that time the War cloud was hanging heavily over Europe, but I had never thought that England would be drawn into any struggle that might take place. For several reasons I had to hurry back to England, and this was most fortunate as it happened, as I got out on the last train which left Germany before all Englishmen remaining in that country were interned.
The War, of course, put an end to our German business for the time being. Our Manager was interned in Ruhleben, and the business was taken over by the German government, who placed an official in charge. The stocks of Meccano on hand were sold, and the proceeds appropriated by the German government, and finally, what remained of the business, including patents, trade marks, good will, etc., was sold to a German house.
It was a great disappointment to me to have our German business, started under such promising and encouraging conditions, brought to an end so suddenly and completely, but the only thing to be done was to concentrate our energies in other directions, and wait patiently for the time when we could again give German boys an opportunity of coming under the happy and stimulating influence of the Meccano hobby. "

External links and further reading

  • Helmut Schwarz, Ansgar Henze and Marion Faber, Eisenzeit Geschichte Des Metallbaukastens (Tuemmels W., 1995) ISBN 3921590396 (German)