Frank Hornby 1901 patent

From The Brighton Toy and Model Index

1901 patent || Loco prototype || The Hornby Train || Tin printed train

An extract from Frank Hornby's 1901 patent, "Improvements in Toy or Educational Devices for Children and Young People", for what would later become Meccano.


It's notable that the suggested uses of Meccano in the patent were almost completely the construction of trains, track, stations and other railway-related items, with other types of model relegated to the status of "various other objects". The included drawings show how to build a set of railway points, and a crane ... but the crane is mounted on a set of railway wheels.

Given that the patent suggests that Hornby was always keen on model railways, it may seem surprising that it took until 1920 for Hornby's company to start producing their first proper trains, but this may be an indication of the degree of dominance of German companies Marklin and Bing in the British model railways market before World War One.

A few other things are notable from the patent:

  • The patent describes the original method used for fixing wheels and pulleys to rods, in which rods and wheels both had a groove cut into their mating surfaces, and were fixed together with a metal shiv.
  • The description envisages that the sets would likely be supplied with additional tools (e.g. for cutting rods to a convenient lengths.
  • It was envisaged that users would most likely be using cardboard add-ons for coloured parts (Meccano didn't gain gained coloured, painted pieces until its 25th anniversary, in 1926).
  • The diagrams show the original incarnation of Meccano strips, with right-angled ends, rather than the more familiar rounded shape normally now associated with the product.


Date of Application, 9th Jan., 1901

Complete Specification Left, 9th Oct., 1901—Accepted, 30th Nov., 1901


"Improvements in Toy or Educational Devices for Children and Young People"

" I, FRANK HORNBY of 10, Elmbank Road, Sefton Park, Liverpool in the County of Lancaster, Manager, do hereby declare the nature of this invention and in what manner the same is to be performed, to be particularly described and ascertained in and by the following statement:—
This invention has for its object a toy or educational device for children.
There has been a long felt want among young people for some device which will enable them to construct mechanical objects without the laboriousness of turning, boring, and careful adjustment. The present invention, is designed to meet this want, and provide means whereby the interest in mechanical construction from an elementary point of view, is enhanced in addition to providing an interesting means of mechanical education.
It comprises a series of pieces so made that they can be built up and fastened together to form various objects, such as railway lines, railway curves, points, inclines, bridges, tunnels, stations, signals, signal boxes, warehouses, hoists, cranes, pulleys &c, a certain amount of study, ingenuity, or intelligence being required to fit them together, so that the invention while being a toy is also a useful educational device. The pieces are made of metal of various shapes and sizes, such as flat strips of various lengths and. widths, angle pieces also of various lengths and widths to form framings, railway sleepers and other structures: rounds pieces or rods to form axles and shafts &c: discs for forming wheels: tubes for forming chimneys, wires for suspension bridges and so on. The straight pieces are perforated with round holes preferably about half an inch apart each way, and a: quarter of an inch or thereabouts from the edges. The angle pieces are also pierced with holes but these angle pieces have the holes in one arm of the angle preferably elongated so as to admit of adjustment. By this means the pieces can be fastened together by bolts and nuts, into a great variety of structures, or screws may be used in which case the holes or some of them are tapped. The discs are perforated in the centre and around the edge to the centre at suitable distances. The wheels or discs have a slot at the centre hole, to admit of their being keyed to a rod or shaft.
The flat strips are uniform in thickness. The metal rods are grooved longitudinally to admit of the wheels being keyed on by a child by an arrangement as follows. This comprises a small piece of thin flat steel, bent to grip the shaft. One side of the key is bent and shaped in such a manner as to fit in the groove of the shaft, and at the same time to fit into a slot in the wheel.
The other side of the key is straight and prevents the wheel sliding along the shaft when not required to be keyed on to it. In the equipment, a small file may be included so as to cut the metal rods to the desired length, also a screwdriver, round nosed pliers to work wire into certain simple designs, and screws and bolts. Cardboard can be employed for the roofs and floors etc. of warehouses, platforms and tunnels and will lend itself to painted designs. By providing various pieces of different shapes provided with a. series of holes, they can be so assembled and fastened together that a child of ordinary ingenuity can build a toy railway station, signal boxes, lines, points and other railway accessories without the use of special tools. Also various other objects can be assembled or built up by the exercise of a certain amount of study and ingenuity, and consequently the invention constitutes an educational device for the young as well as a toy. "

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