CONSTRUCTION: SYSTEMS (Metal)                                          1  2  3  4  5






Meccano box - small pic

see linkbase - - Meccano Web Ring - 98 sites - “It’s a kids toy ... it’s an adult hobby.” - many examples of Meccano constructions incl robots, difference engine



4 Spreads from The Book of Hornby Trains & Meccano Products, 1935, from King, courtesy of New Cavendish Books


Meccano crane

Meccano crane - line art -


Meccano thingy

Meccano thingy - line art -


Meccano crane on wheels

Meccano crane on wheels - line art -


Meccano armored motor car

Meccano armored motor car - line art -


Meccano gears

Meccano gears - line art -


Meccano spring

Meccano spring - line art -


Meccano set

Meccano set - line art -


Meccano (England and France)


Meccano was invented by Frank Hornby in England in 1901, and it quickly spread throughout the world. By 1910, Meccano sets were being imported into the United States, and a U.S. Meccano Company was formed in 1913. Coincidentally, A.C. Gilbert created his famous Erector system at this same time.


In 1922, a new Meccano factory in Elizabeth, New Jersey began manufacturing the sets. In 1929, Gilbert purchased the U.S. Meccano Company, and the factory closed shortly thereafter when Gilbert moved Meccano production to his Erector factory in New Haven, Connecticut. The new Meccano sets, which Gilbert called “American Meccano”, continued in production until 1938. It is unclear why Gilbert decided to cease production of his Maerican Meccano, commonly known today at Gilbert-Meccano.

Meccano continued to be marketed and sold outside the US by Hornby’s manufacturing plant in England. At some point, importation of Meccano into the U.S. began again, at least in limited quantities, and sets began to appear in Sears and Roebuck catalogs around 1960.


The original Meccano plant in England closed its doors in the late 1970’s, but Meccano continued to be manufactured by a plant in Calais, France. In an ironic twist of fate, the Meccano company acquired the Erector name and trademarks in the late 1980’s. Meccano SA itself was purchased by Nikko Toys of Japan in May, 2000.

Modern Meccano

In the early 1990’s, Meccano sets bearing the Erector name were imported into the U.S. by Irwin Toys. By 1999, Irwin had ceased importation of Meccano-Erector into the U.S. except for the plastic Erector Junior. Today, many of these same Meccano-Erector sets, along with several new ones, are being marketed in the U.S. by the Brio Corporation.

Today, the name Meccano has practically become a household word. Meccano clubs exist in many parts of the world, and exhibitions are regularly held. In addition, Meccano is probably the most documented metal construction toy system on the Web.











Erector set wrench gun



Erector girders - square girder



Erector No 1

col scan: original Erector No 1 box front and inside, Arlan Coffman coll


Mysto Erector ad, 1913

b/w scan: Mysto Erector ad, 1913 “Hello Boys! Make Lots of Toys”


1913 Erector cover

- - R.F. Giardina Co.-


1913 No 1 set

- Bruce Hansen’s 1913 No 1 set - A number of the parts are unique to that year making them scarce. The girders had the edges flanged with a single bend and no simulated rivets (like on the 1914 - 1923 girders). The pulleys were in pieces and were snapped together. There were steel tires which were placed between the pulley halves during assembly to make small wheels. - displayed on


Teeter-totter from 1913 set

- Bruce Hansen example built with 1913 set - displayed on


Gilbert Erector ‘30s

Gilbert Erector ‘30s box - “Hello Boys! That’s a fine Model!” - small pic


Gilbert Erector

Gilbert Erector box - “build this exciting action rocket launcher! - small pic


Erector Set

A.C. Gilbert Co, 1935 - illus Vermont p49


Gilbert Erector Set # 10 1/2 Amusement Park Set - 1949

(ebay, 12/19/04 sold $255, another 186.50) A.C. GILBERT ERECTOR SET # 10 1/2 AMUSEMENT PARK SET - 1949



Gilbert Erector

(ebay, 12/19/04 sold $22) Gilbert Erector No. 10053 The Rocket Launcher Set - no pic


Gilbert Erector Master Builder Set - 1959

(ebay, 12/19/04 sold $677) 1959 10093 GILBERT ERECTOR MASTER BUILDER SET - “Builds the Mysterious Walking Robot”



Gilbert Erector

8 1/2 set, never played with - $805


Gilbert Erector - Misc

Greenberg’s Guide to Gilbert Erector Sets Vol 1.  This is a hardback book which retailed for 59.95 and is now out of print.  It traces in detail how A C Gilbert’s Erector Sets evolved from 1913 to 1933. The book also includes inventory lists that list what parts were packed in each set, and a complete pricing guide.  Over 120 striking photographs, dozens in color. - BIN $69.95


Gilbert Catalog, 1959

AC Gilbert 1909-1959 Golden Anniversary Catalog: Erector Sets, Rocket Launcher, Automatic Conveyor, Automatic Radar Scope, Ferris Wheel, Amusement Park, Master Builder, Chemistry Sets, Microscope & Lab Sets, Lab Technician Sets, Telescope & Star Finder, Physics Sets, Tool Chests, Puzzles. Starting bid $25, went for BIN $50.


Gilbert Erector Sets

1950 Gilbert Erector Sets Ad [shows other educ stuff adjacent; other pages show 1950 Lionel trains, dolls; wonder what catalog?


Gilbert Erector (USA)


sections on these, plus pictorials on various sets. Excellent quality

Gilbert Erector Sets Through the Years

A Brief History of Gilbert Erector [see below]

History of the Erector Motor

A History of Type III Erector

The Erector Hudson, Past and Present

History of the Parachute Jump

Set No. 10/12 Special Models

Art Gallery

Where Can I Buy an Erector Set?


1914-1-lid - Mysto Erector No 1 1914 box lid artwork

1915-mysto-ad.jpg - full page color Sunday magazine advert

1919-gilbert-wheel-toy - Sears catalog full page advert - make scooter, wheelbarrow, etc.

[see also Photos section of toybase for other Gilbert scans]


Erector & Meccano History

by Robert Lian

Being a short history of the intertwining of the two major metal construction toys sold in the US for many years.


Several people have asked me over the last few years if Erector sets are still made. My answer has always been: “Well, Yes and No.” People much younger than myself (47 years) do not remember the bright red metal boxes of A. C. Gilbert’s New Erector of the post WW II era. Even fewer people in the US remember Meccano sets.


Meccano was the first metal toy construction set of any note sold in the western hemisphere. It was first produced about 1900 in England by Frank Hornby. It consisted of (and still consists of) metal strips of various lengths with equally spaced holes in them so they can be connected by nuts and bolts.


Erector was first produced by A. C. Gilbert about 1913 and consisted of metal toy girders with a lip on the edge of the girder which gave it the capability of making a square girder. Gilbert also included an electric motor in many of his sets - He was apparently the first to do this.


Both toys competed for the American toy construction market from 1913 on, along with a few others most notably American Model Builder. (AMB went out of business about 1920 due to litigation with Meccano.) Erector held the majority of the American market in the 1920’s. I have heard various figures anywhere from 60-80%.


In the 1920’s Meccano was being produced under license in Elizabeth, NJ. Around 1930 Gilbert purchased the rights to produce Meccano in the US and moved the manufacturing of Meccano to New Haven, Connecticut alongside his Erector manufacturing plant. Meccano continued to be marketed and sold outside the US by Hornby’s England manufacturing plant. The Meccano sets produced in the US from 1930 - 1938 are often called Gilbert - Meccano sets and featured many obsolete Erector parts. I do not know why, but after 1938 Gilbert seems to have stopped manufacturing Meccano. Soon WW II was going to stop all steel toy manufacturing.


After WW II Gilbert resumed manufacturing Erector sets (but not Meccano). Meccano seemed to be imported into the US in some very limited quantity and started showing up in Sears catalogs about 1960.


In 1961 A. C. Gilbert died. In order to settle estate taxes his majority holding in the company that bore his name was sold off. Although A. C.’s son remained as head of the company, the real power rested with the new majority owners who had big ideas about the direction that Erector and the A. C. Gilbert company’s other toys should take. By 1966 the A. C. Gilbert toy company was bankrupt. The A. C. Gilbert and Erector names were acquired by Gabriel Toys, then Ideal Toys and went through several other hands before the Erector name was eventually purchased by Meccano in the late 1980’s. I’m sure A. C. Gilbert is still spinning in his grave at about the speed of light.


The original Meccano plant in England closed its doors in the late 1970’s but Meccano continued to be manufactured by a plant in Calais, France. Meccano SA France was purchase by Nikko Toys, Japan in May 2000.


In the early 1990’s Meccano started selling its sets in the US as Erector sets. Those sets are just Meccano sets with the Erector name and have been imported by Irwin Toys. About 1999 Irwin decided to stop importing Meccano-Erector into the US except for the plastic Erector Junior. You can still find some of the metal Meccano-Erector sets at Toys R Us, most recently the Millennium Set, but basically no other new sets are due to be imported. What will Nikko do? They are not saying, so only time will tell.


This information has been gathered from a number of different sources most notably Bill Bean’s two volumes on Erector Sets. Any mistakes are mine, and I welcome any constructive input.










 Ami-Lac (Italy)


Ami-Lac: Metal construction sets were first produced in Italy in 1920 by Bral. By the early 1930s, a competitor appeared bearing the name AMI. Then, in 1954, Dante Alemanni, head of the company founded by his father Leonida Alemanni in 1908, acquired the firm of Fratelli Comerio, the maker of AMI sets, and began to manufacture new metal construction sets under the name Ami-Lac.

Ami-Lac is a two-part acronym. The first three letters are the initials of Articoli Metallici Ingegnosi (ingenious metallic articles); this slogan appears on set packaging to this day. The second three letters are the initials of Leonida Alemanni Casalpusterlengo, where Leonida Alemanni is the name of the company (and its founder), and Casalpusterlengo is the name of the town in northern Italy where the factory is located.

According to the current head of the company, Ausonio Alemanni, “We have produced metal construction sets since the mid-1950s, deviating very little from making the basic outfits, numbered 2 through 8, and only recently introducing monothematic sets. We were the first in 1980 to use powder-painting, making many colored parts. We produce good quality for a good price. In reality, metal construction toys have a limited market, but we have chosen to maintain the tradition, that is to say that practically all our parts are metal, and we still use the British Standard Whitworth 5/32 thread in our nuts and bolts.”  [article first appeared in a slightly different form in the 4th Quarter 2003 issue of the SCEMC Newsletter. It is used here by permission of the author, Anton Calleia.]


anilac manual-cover.gif - retro looking cover of manual

anilac modelpage.jpg - page from the Anilac instruction manual

anilac manual-cover.gif

anilac modelpage.jpg

 The Constructioneer (USA)


“Construction Toys Make Better Boys” -

In 1946, a new and unlikely player in the construction toy hobby emerged in the U.S.A. In the years immediately following WWII, steel was in short supply. However, the Urbana Manufacturing Company of Urbana, Ohio found itself with an available supply of the metal. For reasons now lost in the mists of time, the company decided to make use of this steel to create a new construction toy system. The result was the interesting but short-lived system that they named The Constructioneer.

Constructioneer sets were manufactured for only about 6 years. Their demise, it seems, was due to a combination of commercial reasons and pending legal action by the A.C. Gilbert company, reportedly for patent infringement of some kind. Two different motors were featured in Constructioneer sets. The smaller sets came with a wind-up clockwork motor, similar to the Erector A48. The larger sets included the “Wasp” 110V electric motor.





Exacto (Argentina)


Exacto, a manufacturer with a unique history in the field of metal construction toys. In the mid-1950’s, Alberto Richini and Carlos Rovetta founded Exacto in Argentina to manufacture both automobile parts and Meccano spare parts. The details of Exacto’s history can be read on their Web site but in short, the company eventually became an officially recognized Meccano factory, manufacturing and marketing both parts and sets under the brand name “Meccano - Industria Argentina”. This business arrangement lasted into the 1980’s, when the agreement was terminated by new owner of the Meccano trademark. Since that time, Exacto has continued to manufacture and market both parts and sets under their own name. Today, Exacto is known primarily for its parts and electric motors.



Merkur (Czech Republic)


Sold in Europe, Canada, and elsewhere for many years, Merkur metal construction sets are a relative newcomer to this country. Merkur was first introduced in 1920; in their current incarnation, the sets are manufactured in a completely refurbished factory in the Czech Republic by the Merkur Division of Cross-Merkur, a well-known and respected European toy company.

Although there are some similarities between Gilbert Erector and Merkur, the two systems are based on different scales, with Merkur being slightly smaller than Erector. Merkur is based on a hole spacing of 10mm, while Erector and Meccano have 12.7mm (½”) hole spacing.

It seems clear that A.C. Gilbert designed his sets from the very beginning to focus on the engineering of what in the real world would be large, girder-based construction projects (bridges, towers, buildings, large mechanical structures or facilities, etc.). In contrast, the Merkur system focuses for the most part on all types of vehicles (cars, trucks, airplanes, helicopters, etc.), machines, machine tools, and so forth. Girders as an entity are smaller and fewer than their Erector counterparts, and secondary to the other parts, the opposite of what we find in the typical Gilbert Erector set. Instead, specialized plates of all shapes and sizes, a variety of sophisticated wheels and tires, etc., and other parts make up the bulk of a Merkur set (see photo below). The advantage of this for those of us who love to build with our sets is that we can now build a large variety of more realistic designs than were possible with Erector (with the exception of the special Classic Period sets).

Almost all components of a typical Merkur set are made of steel of a thickness and weight comparable to Erector in its heyday. Most of these parts are formed, punched, and/or machined, rather than cast. All larger parts such as plates and girders are painted; only smaller holed strips, brackets, screws, nuts, connectors, and other similar parts are plated.



It all began in the year 1920, when the founder of the company Jaroslav Vancl in a small Czechoslovakian town called Police nad Metuji started producing the Merkur sets. The original name of the metal construction sets was the Inventor. Originally, the parts of the sets were connected by small hooks which was insufficient, and in the early 1930s the designers began using nuts and bolts to connect the intricate pieces of the sets.


Once they began using this innovative new system the creators of the product changed the name from Inventor to its present name Merkur. The manufacturer also made the Metropol which was the set for buildings. At the beginning of World War II, production was halted, it began again in 1947. In 1948, the Communist Revolution took place this is when everything good turned to hell and four star backwards were drunken by their power. As a result of overlooked crime, all private companies became controlled by the government. In 1950, Merkur was stolen by the communists. It is unknown what may have happened to Mr. Vancl.


In 1960s, the sets began to be sold all around the world. As a result of the 1989 revolution, communism ended and in 1990, the company went from being a communist controlled company to a privately owned business. Unfortunately, three years later they filed for bankruptcy. A new chapter in Merkur’s history began when Mr. Jaromir Kriz purchased rights to Merkur, which took him three years because of post communist bureaucracy. Today the sets are manufactured in a completely refurbished factory in the Czech Republic by the Merkur Division of Cross, a well-known and respected European toy company. Finally in 2001, Merkur began selling their one of a kind sets in the United States through the CCZ Group Inc. We are pleased to be able to offer them to you here at Girders & Gears in our Online Store.



 Metalcraft (USA)


During the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, the Metalcraft Corporation of St. Louis, Missouri was producing a line of unique metal construction sets. They are probably best known for their airplane sets based on Charles Lindberg’s Spirit of St. Louis. But, fans of A.C. Gilbert’s Erector will appreciate what may be their most impressive sets, those based on famous airships of the period.


At least four of these “Zeppelin” sets were produced. The largest was the #880 (shown below), which first appeared in 1928. It was based on the famous Graf Zeppelin, designed by Dr. Hugo Eckener, Friedrichshafen, Germany, in 1928. The model was made from tinned sheet steel, and measured an impressive 27 x 5½ x 7 inches (68.6 x 14.0 x 17.8 cm). In later years, the #880 reappeared as the #962. Two smaller sets were also produced, the #960 and #961.





Home                       Descriptions/compilation ©2005 Tim Walker. Direct quotations and images cited under fair use remain the property of original copyright holders.