Meccano Ltd timeline

From The Brighton Toy and Model Index

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

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.

External links


Hornby Trains

Dinky Toys