The Last Meccano Factory Is To Close. Will We Miss It?

If we were to talk to engineers about the childhood toys which most inspired them, it’s likely that the older among them would mention either Meccano or Erector Set. These similar construction toys using metal components originated independently around the turn of the 20th century in both Britain and America, and eventually became part of the same company.

They were a staple of toy shops through the middle of the century, but have steadily declined in popularity over the past few decades. Now news has emerged that the last dedicated Meccano factory, in Calais, France, is to close. The products will still be made, but in other factories alongside other toys. It’s not the end for Meccano or Erector Set, but it’s clear that they are both toys whose time may have passed.

It’s fair to say that the possibilities of those perforated metal sheets and myriad nuts and bolts might seem a little limited for the 2020s child, but it opens the age-old question of what remains to interest young minds in engineering or technology. The obvious answer to that question comes in the form of Lego, evidently so much more fun can be had with plastic bricks.

Did you have Meccano or Erector Set when you were a kid? If so what did you do with it? We’ve seen a few projects using it here over the years.

Header: Alf van Beem, CC0.

63 thoughts on “The Last Meccano Factory Is To Close. Will We Miss It?

  1. I’m not going to lie – I had some erector set pieces and some lego. The legos were a lot more fun. Flame on, but remember I’m a CS guy who operates more or less on the computer engineering side. Maybe there’s a connection? I really don’t know. Then, decades later, the VeX robotics kits hit the shelves at Radio Shack and I fell in lust on the spot. Who knows?

  2. I had it as well as Lego. I found Lego Much faster to build with, and whilst it was initially more limited, Lego quickly added lots of extra parts which brought it up to the same level.

    Got some mechano kits for our kids, and they keep falling apart. Don’t know if they’ve changed something but the bolts just don’t stay done up in play.

    1. I agree. The threads are too ‘coarse’ so little movement is needed for them to undo.
      So, finer threads say metric and the little bolts should have been ‘Phillips’ head. They were not in my day. Loved the meccano and you could buy up-grade kits to take a basci kit up to a next level.

  3. I had an erector set as a kid. I was fascinated when my friend got Legos. As I got older, the erector set became the base for many projects. I actually purchased an erector set from the college surplus awhile back for $5 to use on projects that need a a quick bracket.

      1. I’d argue Lego can be too, not for all the same problems of course but I’ve used the crappiest most ruined second hand bricks I’ve picked up as the walls to pour silicon moulds for instance. And on occasion used the Lego Mindstorms to aid in some task or other (long before the Pi or Ardunio even existed, and of course as I had the Lego I used them even after I knew Arduino could be used).

        There there is Martin/Wintergaten’s original marble machine – sure it could technically be considered ‘playing’, as its a music playing device, but I’d argue it is more than simply playing. And that and made good use of some Lego parts.

          1. Done that sort of concept as well – the Lego method has the advantage you can make moulds that are really too thin to use stand alone and reassemble the Lego form around them for each cast so they keep their shape, and the studs make pretty good registration dimples for multi part.

            I do tend to use cereal box card myself – it is a free resource with a glossy side so you can often use the form a few times. But I’ve also used slices of cardboard tubes and all sorts of other things when they are a good size/shape and available at the right time.

  4. Back in the 70’s my older brothers had a slot car set from the 60’s with speed controllers that were meant to be screwed down to a flat base of some kind (protruding brackets at the ends of the housing)
    My mind was blown when I realized that the holes in the brackets lined up exactly with the hole pattern on my Erector set base plates – Sure enough, both were made by Gilbert!

  5. I didn’t have my own set, but I remember building and playing with a set at my Grandmothers house. I remember building a crane and attaching a magnet to it. I made a number of other items, but don’t remember them.

  6. What’s killing building toys like this is not other building toys like LEGO.

    It’s Minecraft. I’m a booster for building toys and talk to every kid I meet about them, including my nephew whom I could never interest in LEGO even though he loves building things. He’s in to Minecraft and so are all his friends. Every construction-oriented kid I talk to has that itch scratched by Minecraft.

    Whether this is good or bad, I leave to the history books to figure out.

    1. You mean you put bricks infront of them and they didn’t take to it? Or they didn’t sound interested by the abstract idea of it?

      With the number of parents saying my Kid likes building stuff in Minecraft specifically so it can be 3D printed I’ve seen mentioned I’d have thought given a supply of bits having your idea come to life in the real world would still grab a young audience.

      For me it seems like what is killing the toy industry and rather more widely than just construction toys is just how expensive a quality toy is and how much space is needed to play with them. The computer is these days a requirement for every home, and practically it seems every child is expected to have their own now too for their school work. When you already have the computer, the computer game even at the £70 some are getting up to now is cheap for the hours of enjoyment, and with no floor space requirement. Where even buying second hand you need a much bigger investment in construction toys to really have enough bits on hand to allow the kid to be particularly creative and then the floor space to play with it! (That last one in Europe at least is likely to be a bit of a killer – I know I found playing with my Lego difficult once I started hitting something around my full growth – lack of space on the floor for me and the bits, and with giant feet its tricky to keep a pathway you can walk through too!)

      1. I think you hit on a good point… electronics for example requires a decent bench. No necessarily loaded with equipment, but were you can leave a work in progress for days or even weeks. Even as an young adult living in an appt it got old working on the kitchen table, then having to pack everything up when done. But my C-64 on it small computer bench in the corner was just fine.

        Once I got my first home I had a corner workshop in the basement. And still have one.

        1. Sounds like that child is broken…

          Or perhaps you happened to buy sets that really don’t have lots of versatility in them, just not enough bits you can really use. Unfortunately IMO Lego recently has tended towards sets with relatively few more basic bricks that are good for building anything in a rather Minecraft boxy style towards parts that are good for pretty builds with really clever potential techniques but tend to require a larger collection of other parts to really make use of them.

          In the old days any Lego part pretty much fit to any other in quite a few positions and sometimes entirely different ways, now so many parts are relatively limited without one of the right combination parts, or the set only comes with one or two of these really useful but fancy offset stud or SNOT bricks – not enough to do a great deal else with on their own.

          Not all sets or new Lego parts are all that bad for this sort of problem of course. You can still get basic brick sets and some sets have such an abundance of whichever more specialist part they are using you can really do alot with them, especially if you have a few other bricks.

  7. I built a mini guillotine from Meccano, a rubber band and a razor blade back around 1980. My mom was horrified by the danger it posed, my dad commandeered it for clipping his cigars. We had lego too but it never really did it for me.

    1. I had an erector set, one that came with a motor. made a number of fun gadgets.

      They probably should of continued down that path, of adding electrical bits that would have appealed to robotics makers.

      1. ^^^ Yeah, this. If the Meccano folks had kept adding functionality and capability to their offering, I’m sure they’d have a much stronger following.

        Lego, in my childhood was for making houses -yawn- . With Meccano you could build machines and vehicles – kinetic stuff.

      2. Like all parts in Erector sets, the motors became weaker and flimsier over time. In 1956, an Erector set came with a sturdy motor whose cord plugged into a wall socket. In 1982, an Erector set came with a pair of tiny battery-powered gearmotors, and if you were lucky they’d both work. I think you are correct that some controllers for those motors would have been good.

  8. Erector (and Meccano, though I don’t think I’ve ever seen that brand in the US) always struck me as more like engineering prototyping tools than building toys. They take way too much sophistication (and are way too fiddly) to really be effectively used by pre-teens. Lego has a much lower barrier to entry, and with Technic beams and pins, is capable of similarly sophisticated builds at the high end.

    1. “…They take way too much sophistication (and are way too fiddly) to really be effectively used by pre-teens…”

      An absurd generalization. Kids have never been more sophisticated. Perhaps Lego’s nature appeals more to modern kids’ notoriously short attention spans.

      Back in the day, I actually preferred Erector to Lego (though to be clear, O had both, and they are both awesome.)

      1. So true…Meccano and Erector are far, far superior in every way to crappy Legos…I can’t even believe this conversation going on here. Brass gears, belts, metal rods, you can build auto universals and cranes with working jib, etc. Lego crap falls apart and is so childish compared to the other systems. Really no comparison.

  9. Erector Set and Tinker Toys. The steel was a bit soft, and the square nuts would come loose often. I tried making a robotic hand, but just about the only thing I could do with it reliably was make a rude gesture, which my mother and I found hilarious.

  10. I never had Lego but did have Lincoln logs, Erector sets (yup plural cuz one wasn’t enough) and a chemistry set. Lots and lots of fun and many “constructive” hours! Many mistakes but lots of learning!

  11. Mechano was useless in a house with no heating – it just went rusty! But I learnt a lot about problems caused by corrosion. Lego was certainly much more fun, particularly when combined with substances such as petrol and gun powder.

  12. I so wanted an erector set when I was a kid. We couldn’t afford one so I was limited to making things out of shingles, nails and wood scraps. I made a lot of paddle wheel boats, powered with rubber bands, water wheels that used sand as the medium, kites made with newspaper and sticks and other simple gadgets. My toys and tools now are so much better, just catching up with childhood fantasies.

  13. I had Erector sets when I was young, both of the steel variety and from the plastic era. I also had Lego, and I used the both, sometimes at the same time. I definitely preferred the Lego, but looking back I can see that I definitely learned skills from both that benefited me in my career as an all-around fixit.

  14. There was no Lego when I was a kid. I had Tinkertoys that I wore out and then a No. 8 Erector set that could build a Ferris wheel. I learned a lot of basic mechanics from playing with them. My fingers would get sore from holding those little square nuts. I was too impatient to use the little wrench that came with it.

  15. Well, for those saddened about this news. There is another product from Czechia called Merkur still in production. Not an ad, I have many lovely memories to it. Its basicaly same think (but cant say if its compatible). Its not end of the times just yet :)

    1. Oh, thats great to hear that there are alternativs. From what i know, there’s also Stockys from Switzerland which are still alive. Quite recently, they had a successful crowdfunding campaign to revive and modernize the system. So there are stll long time fans around.

  16. A huge Erector Set that was left in the house we bought was my favorite toy while I was in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades. It included a powerful AC gear motor, which I used, of course, to twirl sharp metal rotors. I spent many, many hours on the floor assembling stuff, until my fingers were bloody from tightening those square nuts. Ah, those heady days before the lawyers ruined childhood! I went on to get a mechanical engineering degree.

  17. They serve different purposes. I only had one or two of the very small “airplane model” kits from Meccano/Erector. Oddly enough Erector sounded a bit tumescent for my tastes, why they named it that I have no idea. I learned about slop tolerences and the difficulty of holding fasteners from both sides. I learned from LEGO that tolerences can be extremely good and precise. Also helped by having Mega Blok and Tyco “fake legos”, with worse tolerances. Tyco was actually almost as good honestly, but still discernably less precise.

  18. I had a Märklin Baukasten from the 1930s. All elements have been black coated. Later I got an additional Märklin in 1962 with green, red and blue elements and wheels with rubber coating. It was tremendous and I built a lot of contraptions with it. Impossible wirh Lego.

  19. The last time I played with my Erector set, I was cobbling together a mount to put an extra hard drive in an Athelon4 box. I loved them, but they don’t achieve the same convenience that Lego does for prototyping an idea. And now with 3d printing, I don’t see ever needing mine ever again. Even my box of K’nex is not long for this world.

  20. I remember my Dad using a couple of Meccano pieces as brackets for a set of shelves once – bend the long straight section to the right angle and cut a bit off… Then he would anchor the bloomin’ thing to the wall with a couple of woodscrews! :)

  21. For my 7th birthday my father gave me a big old box of all the meccano bits he had acquired as a kid during the 1930s and 40s. From that day on the wooden blocks and plastic contrucion blocks gathered dust and I entered the metal age.
    There seemed nothing it couldn’t do. A go-kart base powered by a tiny glow plug engine, an equitorial mount for my small telescope, even some ninja stars that, after suitable filing, left some pretty deep scars in the furninture. Marvelous stuff.
    For my kids though and theirs, it is lego all the way.

  22. Hi to everybody,

    I had Lego and Merklin Metall (maccano). Lego was for playing with friends, quite boring. But Meccano was so much more sophisticated and sturdy when building things, especially mechanisms. I even built a typewriter with a ball-printing head. It taught me so much about technical mechanics. Lego just imitated things, Meccano worked!

    Sad to hear again about a step back for Meccano. But I doubt that I would be professor in mechanical engineering now without Meccano. Technical mechanics has always been my strength, I experienced it from childhood thanks to Meccano.

    It also thought me how to use my hands! Many kids nowadays cannot tighten a screw any more.

    I feel sad about the news.


    1. > Lego just imitated things, Meccano worked!

      That’s so true. Also spot on being comfortable with ones hands, and using screwdrivers and such. Thanks to Meccano I understood that screws get loose, and that you can put two to make the lock each other, and even had an intuitive idea about levers and pulleys at a very young age. Don’t see it happening with purely software toys.

  23. Back in the early 90’s when Meccano Erector made a comeback followed by Steel Tech. My parents bought me a set for Christmas. When my kids turned 8 I bought them erector kits as well, was surprised that 5 bellow sold it.

  24. Check out the Meccano programs hosted by James May. The instructions had purposeful errors to teach kids to pay attention and build properly. May be purely anecdotal, but the series are a good watch.

  25. Had a fairly robust Erector Set has a lad, and built many expected items (like Eiffel Tower) and many of my own creations. I still have a few of the perforated plates and angles for building things in the garage. The stuff was lost when my parents sold their house. An adult friend had a large virgin set of Meccano, but he never wanted to crack the seal since he knew they’d be collector’s items. I had a lot more fun with my AC Gilbert Chemistry Lab, exploding stuff and filling the room with toxic smoke. Of course I did become an engineer…

  26. The earliest toy I can remember was a set of rubber bricks similar to Lego called Minibrix, followed by Meccano with motors and a Philips electronics set with spring posts to connect components and wires. I never had a Lego set though my kids thrived on Lego and especially Technics and Mindstorms. So I did eventually get to play with Lego since they needed “guidance”.
    It is a crying shame that Lego are ditching Mindstorms

  27. After a lot of pleading, I received the “Musical Ferris Wheel” Erector set for Christmas in 1959 , despite my parents’ fears that I was “too young”. Dad and I spent Christmas afternoon assembling a 2 foot long conveyor powered by the AC motor with the finger-eating gear box. Mom sewed the fabric ribbon into a loop for the belt. I was fascinated for hours, transporting my wood letter blocks from one end to the other.

    In my head, I can still hear the carousel organ music from the little 4 inch record that came with the set. I’ve never figured out what piece of music the 40 second fragment came from. The other side of the disc just had the sound of a steam engine.

    Dad bought me a couple hundred stainless 6-32 hex nuts and pan head screws to supplement the cheap stamped square ones that came with the set, and even machined a couple of open ended box wrenches to make tightening them easier. I built all sorts of things up to a 3 foot tall dragline crane till I was nearly in 6th grade. I learned an awful lot about mechanics from that set.

    Wonderful memories of the very best Christmas present ever.

  28. I owned LEGO, Erector, K’nex, and Lincoln Logs (still have my LEGO and K’nex) and played with Tinker Toys at my grandparents house growing up. As a young adult, I even got myself a Vex robotics kit. Never did get myself a LEGO Mindstorm kit, but got one for my kid one year. Not sure whatever happened to it since they lost interest in it quickly. Sad to see LEGO is no longer supporting it.

    1. I can confirm the eitech set is really good, but note that the hole pattern is not compatible with meccano (patents I think). The quality is much, much nicer than erector (I think erector and meccano are the same company a this point thanks to some M&A). I mentioned Mercur in another comment, but I’m pretty sure it’s either eitech (or mercur is made by eitech or something).

      When I bought it, I was able to buy an open ended set; last I checked on Amazon I could only find targeted sets (this is an airplane, this is a car, and so on…).

  29. One of the first engineering-type projects I worked on with my dad was a solar tracker, and because he was used to erector sets, that’s what he used to build it: solar cells with a little shading device, and discrete transistor h-bridges to drive the motors. Once he’d done that I built my own version with LEGO, because that’s what I used for prototyping.
    Not too long ago, I built a new one using 3d printed parts. Evolution of prototyping tools, I guess.

  30. I had tons of fun with my Meccano set from back in the day (purchased in Egypt in the late 80s), and I think it played a large part in me being comfortable with mechanical things as an adult.

    A few years ago I bought another set in the US, but the quality was simply atrociously bad. Metal pieces had basically no strength, the plastic pieces were not very useful, no cranks, no metal wheels with the set screw, just sadness all around. No wonder nobody wants to play with it anymore, and I’m not surprised it’s going out of business (again).

    I discovered a similar set from a company called Mercur. Quality felt similar to what I remembered from the Meccano from my childhood, but the hole spacing was different (I presume because Meccano has a patent on the spacing). Later, I wasn’t able to find Mercur on Amazon either.

  31. I bought a large set with a motor for pennies when I was very adult just to tinker with it… Unfortunately, the tolerances where much too big for the things I tried to do with it – it worked, but rather inefficiently.

  32. offers Meccano compatible parts and an assortment of quality epicycloid Delrin and brass gears.

    For building “real” machines there’s (or was) the “FAC System”: and “Philips VBS”. Both are not constricted by a fixed pitch or grid spacing, using 6mm steel rods and clamps as basic elements. Axels have ball-bearings. Great thing about metal construction kits is the indepence from a particlular manufacturer – the ease of integrating Real World parts like stepper motors, servos, microswitches etc. Try that with Lego,.. :-)

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