Meccano Ltd timeline
This page gives a decent overview of some of the key dates in Meccano Ltd.'s history. It could probably do with some additional detail for the "Hornby Hobbies" era.
- 1863 - Frank Hornby born, to John Hornby (a provisions merchant) and Martha Hornby, Liverpool.
- 1887 - Frank Hornby marries Clara Walker Godefroy, the same year his father dies and he goes to work for David Elliott
- 1889 - Roland Hornby born
- 1890 - Douglas Hornby born
- 1899 - Frank Hornby starts experimenting with a modular system of punched metal strips and rods, as an easier way to make metal toys for his children.
- 1901 - Hornby gets his patent, with financial help from Elliott "Improvements in Toy or Educational Devices for Children and Young People".
- 1901/1902 - Mechanics Made Easy - An Adaptable Mechanical Toy ("Elliott and Hornby")
- ~1902 - Hornby writes to Hele-Shaw at Liverpool University, and uses the written reply as an endorsement to persuade retailers to stock the new set.
- 1903 - competition in Model Engineer magazine kickstarts sales, encouraging Meccano Ltd. to successfully engage with users via clubs, magazines and competitions (forerunners of today's "social media")
- 1904/5 - a range of sets, expanded
- 1905 - Hornby's daughter born, Patricia Elliott Hornby
- 1906 - The project finally turns a small profit. Hornby quits his day job with Elliott, and works full-time on the project
- 1906 - US patent granted
- 1907 - the system appears in Gamages and Army and Navy catalogues. Hornby decides to move towards self-manufacturing, leases a workshop at 10 Duke Street, Liverpool, starts to raise capital to form a limited company and registers the trademark, "Meccano"
- 1908 - David Elliott's shares are bought out, and Meccano Limited is founded. "Meccano" sets are now numbered rather than lettered
- 1909 - "The Hornby System of Mechanical Demonstration"
- 1910 - the "Meccano" logo
- 1912 - German office opens, Marklin supplies clockwork motors for Meccano.
- 1912 - Frank starts an offshoot Meccano company in France, with his son Roland, at 17, Rue Bleu, Paris
around this time, Meccano Ltd. gets new premises at 274 West Derby Road
- 1913 - Patricia dies
- 1913-1914 - Improved cashflow allows purchase of a new site and the building of a new factory - Binns Road, Liverpool.
- 1914 4V electric motors (by Lionel?). Meccano Ltd starts to make its own clockwork motors.
1914-18 - World War One
- 1914-18 - war shortages of supplies, Meccano Ltd does some munitions work
- 1915 - Publication of "Frank Hornby: The boy who made $1,000,000 with a toy"
- 1916 - Meccano Magazine launched, initially as small black-and-white freesheet, starting in the US.
- 1918 - Meccano Magazine stops being a free giveaway
Between the Wars
- 1919 - Meccano Guild founded
- 1920 - Having recovered from the War, Hornby finally launch their first proper train set, "The Hornby Train" (they also launch a less successful tinplate loco)
- 1921 - "constructional" Lattice Girder Footbridge accessory
- 1921 - French factory opens, in Paris, Belleville
- 1922 - Meccano Magazine becomes a monthly
- 1924 - Meccano Magazine gets colour covers
- 1925 - The Hornby Book of Trains, first issue
- 1925 - Hornby's first electric train, a high-voltage gauge 0 Metropolitan underground loco and carriages, later reduced to low-voltage DC
- 1926 - Hornby's continental Riviera "Blue Train" Set, along with the "Metropolitan", marked a move to more realistic, less generic models
- 1926 - "The New Meccano" - Meccano progressively introduces coloured parts in red and green to mark its 25th anniversary (Meccano had previously all been metal-coloured)
- 1929 - Meccano "Standard Mechanisms" booklet
- 1931 - "How to use Meccano parts" booklet
- 1931 - Hornby Modelled Miniatures first appears as a name in a Meccano accessories advert (for No.1, Station Staff)
- 1931 - Aeroplane Constructor
- 1932 - Motor Car Constructor
- 1932 - Hornby Speedboats
- 1933 - Two-seater Sports Car (non-constructional)
- 1933 - Meccano Elektrikit electrical accessory set, based on a French product
- 1933 - Elektron electricity sets
- 1933 - Kemex chemistry sets
- 1934 - UK Meccano briefly changes to blue and gold, and set identifications change from numbers back to letters (A-L). This doesn't last long.
- 1934 - "Hornby Modelled Miniatures" diecast toys and metal trackside accessories are expanded and rebranded as Dinky Toys.
- 1936 - Frank Hornby dies, son Roland takes over running the company
- 1937 - Hornby's new gauge 0 "flagship" loco, LMS Princess Elizabeth 6201
- 1938 - Hornby launch their new 00-gauge model railway brand, "Hornby Dublo", with a range of accessories and two locomotives - a tank loco and the streamlined A4 "Sir Nigel Gresley"
- 1939 - Hornby Dublo Duchess of Atholl train set EDP2 launched, but due to the outbreak of war, the prestigious set doesn't actually go on sale until after the war, in 1948
1939-45 World War Two
- Production ceases as the Binns Road factory switches to war work
- 1945 - Meccano reappears after the cessation of WW2, with a reversion to red and green
- 1947 - Dinky Supertoys
- 1951 - French operations consolidate at Bobigny
- 1954 - Dinky Toys range reorganised and renumbered
- 1957 - Dinky Toy Club
- 1958 - Switch to brighter shades of red and green coinciding with a switch to lead-free paint.
- 1959 - after some preparatory work in the preceding years, Dublo switches to a two-rail system
- 1959 - Meccano France open a new factory in Calais
- 1959 - Meccano Ltd buy the existing Bayko brand
- 1962/63 - In the UK, a loss-making Meccano Ltd. is taken over by Lines Bros (owners of the Triang brand). Meccano switches to yellow and black and blue. Lines Bros also repackage the numbered sets with themes.
- 1971 - Lines Bros go into liquidation, and are bought by Airfix
- 1979 - The Binns Road factory closes
- 1981 - Airfix then also goes bust
After the Lines Brothers takeover of Meccano Ltd, things become very complex. Under Lines Bros, the company needs to switch to plastic-bodied trains, and adopts the Rovex Triang production methods. Some machine tools are sold off to smaller companies who start making their own modified versions of Binns Road items, before also being taken over. Independent of Meccano Ltd. (and not affected by their financial problems) Meccano France keeps going, and is subject to a different set of takeovers. Meccano FR's owners buy the Gilbert "Erector" name, and Meccano France continues production in Calais, producing Meccano sets for the UK market, which are marketed as Erector sets in the US, and in other regions where that brandname is better-known.
Another "branching" of Meccano happens earlier on in Germany, when Marklin, having produced clockwork motors for the company before WW1, decide to produce their own "Märklin Meccano" sets. It is not clear to outsiders whether these are entirely authorised or not, but since Britain and Germany are now at war, the conventional rules probably don't apply anyway. Märklin develop their own sets (which include new parts) and after lawyers are involved, it's decided that Märklin have the rights to manufacture "old" Meccano and dertivatives, as long as they don't sell it under the Meccano trademark. Original Meccano Ltd manuals and colour schemes are quickly phased out from the German products When Märklin eventually stops producing the system, Metallus starts producing reproductions of the German sets.
Currently (as of 2013) Hornby (aka "Hornby Hobbies") produce modern 00-gauge Hornby trains, and have also absorbed many of the other European model railway marques (including Bassett-Lowke), Meccano France are still happily producing Meccano in Calais, and are now owned by Nikko.
- A Brief History of English Meccano 1901 - 1981 (internationalmeccanomen.org.uk)
- History of Meccano (dalefield.com)
- Meccano History (meccano.com)
- Meccano History