The Life Story of Meccano (1932), Part 8

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"The Life Story of Meccano", by Frank Hornby (Part 8), transcribed from Meccano Magazine, 1932

Part 8: Meccano Magazine

LAST month we told the story of the growth of the Meccano Guild, the first of the service organisations connected with the Meccano hobby, and of the development of the Hornby Railway Company, which brought together Hornby Train enthusiasts in all parts of the world in the same manner as the Guild united Meccano boys. The greatest of all service organisations, however, is the "Meccano Magazine," which made its appearance in the modest form of a four-page leaflet that was distributed free, postage only being charged. Its expansion into a 6d. monthly with a net sale of more than 70,000 copies is one of the romances in the Life Story of Meccano.

The Magazine owes its wonderful success partly to its position as the organ in which Meccano boys and Hornby Train enthusiasts throughout the world the connecting link between their hobbies and true engineering, and partly to the opportunities it affords its readers of discussing not only their models, but also their own aims and ambitions, with the Editor and his staff, whose interest in their lives has given the Magazine great social importance.

The beginnings of the Magazine can be traced to the letters that boys who possessed Meccano outfits were encouraged to write to Headquarters. These letters dealt with model-building problems and difficulties, and for some time readers showed little or no interest ín the activities of others. Then. gradually there came a change. Boys who had built models of particular machines began to show curiosity as to whether other boys had built such models, and how these compared with their own. This spirit developed rapidly, and there arose a widespread demand for the publication in some form of a series of photographs and descriptions of models of special interest for circulation among Meccano enthusiasts generally. It became evident that something had to be done to satisfy this demand, and eventually it was decided to publish experimentally a paper under the title of the "Meccano Magazine".

The first number appeared in September 1916, and consisted of four pages. Its success exceeded all expectations, and a second number was published two months later. From that time the Magazine appeared regularly every two months until July-August 1922, by which time it had grown to eight pages and had attained a steady circulation. It continued to be issued free, postage only being charged, until 1920, when a price of 1d. per copy was fixed. In September 1922, it was decided to publish the Magazine monthly and it has appeared monthly ever since.

By the end of 1923 the number of pages had increased to 28, and in January 1924, the price was raised to 2d. In May of that year the Magazine appeared in the of the series of coloured covers that still continues. These three-colour covers, each representing some engineering feature of outstanding interest, are unique and they give the Magazine a strikingly individual appearance. A further increase in size to 52 pages was made in January 1925, and at the same time the price was raised to 3d.

So far the increases in price had been gradual, January 1927, the bold step was taken of doubling it. It is always a risky proceeding to make so great a change in the price of a publication, and there have been instances where such a policy has proved disastrous. The position in regard to the "Meccano Magazine" was that there was an insistent demand on the part of readers for developments in various directions; that these demands could not be satisfied without the addition of a considerable number of pages; and that this necessitated an increase in price. It would have been possible, of course, to raise the price to 4d, but after consideration it was decided to make it 6d., and to give correspondingly increased value. This experiment proved fully justified. An immediate drop in circulation was expected and occurred, but after a few months the circulation rose steadily to its former level and then went beyond it. Today, still at the price of 6d., the Magazine consists of a minimum of 80 pages, rising to over 100 pages for the December number; and its net sales are over 70,000 copies per issue. Some indication of what this means is obtained from the fact that for a December issue some 20 tons of paper are required; one month's issue, if stacked in one pile, would rise higher than the Eiffel Tower.

The early issues of the Magazine were devoted entirely to Meccano. New models were illustrated and described, suggestions from readers were commented upon, and brief extracts of general interest from readers' letters were published with suitable replies. These early issues were, in short, designed solely to show Meccano boys how to get more fun out of their hobby and to encourage them to build new models of their own invention.

Until 1921 the character of the Magazine remained practically unaltered, but in that year a change came about. Boys who had built models of large machines began to express a desire for information about their prototypes. They wanted photographs of these machines and descriptions of their construction and operation written in simple language. At that time information of this kind was not available. There were, of course, the engineering papers, but these were far too technical, and their general style was unattractive to boys. At the other extreme were articles on big engineering undertakings published from time to time in various popular papers. These were almost entirely devoted to picturesque descriptions of the spectacular side of such Work, and gave no details of the machinery employed. It seemed clear that here was a wide for exploitation, and as an experiment an article was published giving a photograph and a brief description of a large pontoon crane belonging to the Admiralty. This article met with general approval, and it formed the starting point of the long process of development that has resulted in the "Meccano Magazíne" becoming recognised as the boy’s Magazine of engineering - the only one of its kind in the world.

In comparing the "Meccano Magazine" with other boys’ papers one is immediately struck by the entire absence of the familiar tales of adventure and school life. At one time well-wishers of the Magazine urged the inclusion of fiction, on the ground that no paper had ever succeeded, or could succeed, without it. This view had been proved to be completely wrong for when one or two short stories were published with the object of ascertaining the views of readers, a deluge of letters arrived protesting strongly against valuable space being wasted on fiction. Nowadays the only fiction that is published is an occasional story with a strong engineering interest, or still less frequently, one with natural history interest.

A special feature of the Magazine is that every possible encouragement has been given to readers to write to the editor. and to regard him as a personal friend interested in their daily life. Today the editorial correspondence is immense - the editor’s average is over 200 letters a day all the year round - and unique in its intimate character. Correspondents are of all ages, living in all parts of the world. Many of them write monthly, or even weekly, and their letters make it clear that this correspondence plays an important part in their life. Naturally, many of the letters are written with the object of seeking definite information or advice on some particular matter but a large proportion of the letters have no such practical purpose. They are written simply in the spirit in which one writes to a friend-that is, to tell of one’s everyday doings, and of little personal incidents that may be of interest.

Many of these "correspondence friendships" have gone on for years; and some of them have been converted into personal friendships by a visit to the editorial office. The secret of this wonderful correspondence is simple - an individual reply to each letter. Each boy is replied to in the spirit in which he writes - and, equally important, in his own language - no matter whether it be to ask for advice in some difficult situation that has arisen, or merely to announce the arrival of a family of baby rabbits!

In addition to forming friendships between writers and editor this correspondence has the important result of indicating the views of readers upon the various contents of the Magazine. Many of the features that are now most popular have been introduced directly as the result of readers' suggestions, and other features that were less popular have been modified, or in some cases dropped altogether.

The secret of the success of the "Meccano Magazine" lies in the fact that it deals with subjects that are of interest to intelligent boys, and deals with those subjects seriously. It provides articles that, whilst technically accurate, are at the same time written in an interesting style, free from all unnecessary complications and technicalities. Month by month it surveys the engineering undertakings in progress in different parts of the world, and gives detailed and fully illustrated descriptions of the most interesting of them. The history, construction and operation of machines of all kinds are dealt with, along with biographies of great engineers and inventors, past and present.

The value of the Magazine from an engineering point of view has been freely recognised by leading engineers, whose general attitude may be summed up in the following extract from a. letter from Dorman Long & Co. Ltd., the famous engineering company who undertook the colossal task of constructing the Sydney Harbour Bridge: "We know your Magazine well and appreciate its educational value to those who, as you rightly remark, will become the engineers of the next generation."

It may be said without hesitation that the influence of the " Meccano Magazine " on the next generation will go far beyond this, however. The intimate contact that has been established between the editor and his readers provides countless opportunities of giving boys helpful advice and encouragement at important periods of their lives. Full advantage is taken of these opportunities, the most direct example being the introduction of a section under the heading; "What Shall I Be? " The articles in this section deal month by month with the different branches of various professions; the prospects in each are reviewed, and advice is given as to the best method of entering upon it as a career. This feature has been greeted with great enthusiasm, and of it Lord Baden-Powell wrote recently: "With your widespread inñuence on youth you have an unrivalled opportunity of giving sound advice to boys as to shaping their futures. I am therefore glad to see that you are doing this and cordially wish you a full measure of success.”

As it is impossible to deal with individual cases in the course of a general article, it often happens that readers interested in any particular profession are in need of further details on some point. These may be obtained by simply writing to the editor, and the manner in which readers in all parts of the world have written to seek advice suited to their particular circumstances is the best evidence that the articles are really helpful. The correspondence arising from them is dealt with by members of the staiï who, during the past three or four years have been steadily accumulating information regarding occupations suitable for boys and are thus in a position to answer the many questions that are asked.

Although the Magazine circulates in the United Kingdom, many thousands of copies go overseas every month, in particular to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The Magazine has, in fact, readers in every civilised country in the world. even in such far away places as Siberia, Labrador, Fiji and Tierra del Fuego.

Naturally the early issues of the MM - four pages devoted entirely to Meccano modelbuilding - did not often attract "grown ups." Now, all that is changed and in many thousands of homes the "M .M is welcomed and appreciated as much - sometimes even more! - by adults as by the most enthusiastic Meccano boy. Indeed, we receive many letters from boys complaining that father gets hold of the Magazine first, and keeps it until he has read it from cover to cover! Others complain that on the first of the month they notice they are always sent to bed early, so that father can have the “MM”! In such cases we point out that as " Dad usually pays the subscription he is entitled to whack at the Magazine and that in any case there is always a remedy for this state of affairs-to order two copies!

Almost from the first the "Meccano Magazine" had a small circulation in certain foreign countries. It was not long before many foreign readers began to clamour for a Magazine in their own language and the first step towards meeting their demands was taken when publication of a French Magazine was decided upon. This also began as a four page leaflet issued every two months. It progressed steadily and now it appears every month and consists of at least 24 pages, with a coloured cover on similar lines to that of the English issue. Later a further step forward was made by the publication of a "Meccano Magazine" in Spanish to circulate through Spain and South America. This has already achieved marked success, and gives every indication of becoming as popular in its own sphere as its English and French contemporaries are in theirs.

The development of the Meccano Magazine " from a mere leaflet to a well-established sixpenny monthly added a new branch to the activities of Meccano Limited and next month we shall explain how the Magazine is prepared and printed, and finally despatched to its thousands of readers in all parts of the world.