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MECCANO - HISTORY

Learn about the History of Meccano from the time Frank Hornby invented it up until the closure of the Binns Road Factory and Beyond to Today



1901 - 1908 MECHANICS MADE EASY

Meccano was invented by Frank Hornby a Liverpool office worker. He had been making metal models for his two sons in his garden shed. However he realized that if he used strips perforated with holes at a set distance and a system of standard size clips or bolts to make up a model then that model could be taken apart and used in another model. Hornby eventually settled on strips of 3 sizes, 2.5, 5.5 and 12.5 inches long with a hole every half inch. 8 Gauge wire served as Axle Rods followed by clips, angle brackets and wheels.
By 1900 Frank Hornby had enough pieces to consider marketing his idea. Interestingly most of the models that Frank Hornby envisioned for his new Educational Toy as he saw it where connected to railways, however non railway Bridges and Cranes where an option. By 1901 a 18 page instruction book had been prepared with the title, 'Mechanics Made Easy - An Adaptable Mechanical Toy'. The 'toy,' being primarily aimed at parents who wanted to broaden there child's education. In fact Mechanics Made Easy was the original name, the name Meccano was not introduced until 1907.
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The Original Box contained a very limited variety of parts in comparison to later Meccano, just containing 3 size of perforated strips, 12.5 inch, 5.5 inch and 2.5 inch actually having 12 of each. The sizes will be very familiar to later Meccano users being the main sizes throughout Meccano's history, however the actual parts where different being thin metal folded at the edges to give it strength. 

The next part was an angle bracket, the original was crude but the design of the later angle bracket can be seen, the box contained 18 of these. Next came 3 sizes of Axle Rods, 12 inch, 5 inch and 2 inch, these unlike most later rods where grooved to take keys to lock wheels. The box contained 1 of the largest axle and 2 each of the others. The Box had a crank handle also grooved.

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Wheels consisted of 5 flanged and grooved wheels, perhaps the part most influenced by railways and a bush wheel. After this there was a spanner, 12 keys for locking wheels and axles, which can best be described as extended spring clips and a screwdriver. Then the parts Meccano would be useless without 48 nuts and bolts. The set was completed with a hank of cord and a wire hook.tes responsive, retina and mobile friendly websites in a few clicks. Mobirise is one of the easiest website development tools available today.

Although we have not as yet been able to find a manual as far back as this, it is very likely the earliest manual would be similar to models 1 to 10 of the 1904 manual. It is noticeable that a lot of the models where railway related, however with the 12.5 inch strips quite large models could be made as shown by models 9 & 10 the crane and the warehouse.

The contents did not change through 1902 the first full year of the set, However in 1903 the first changes came in the the number of flanged and grooved wheels where reduced to 4. To replace these 2 1 inch pulleys where introduced, a half inch 20 tooth pinion was introduced along with a pawl. The nuts and bolts where increased to 50, an extra Hank of Cord was added.

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By 1904 the number of parts where expand and new sets where introduced adding sets B & C. The sets where so organized by building larger sets on the smaller ones. In other words Set B contained all the parts of set A the original Box plus more parts, set C contained all the parts of set B plus extras. This meant that a purchaser of Set C could also make all the models from sets A & B. Also it meant that conversion sets could be marketed adding the extra parts for the larger set. By 1904 conversion sets A1, B1 and curiously C1 where marketed.Sets D and E where added late in 1905.
Set B introduced an extra perforated strip at 3.5 inch, 2 new sizes of axle rod 6 inches long and a 3.25 inch a curious size which was later lengthened to 3.5 inches. A new 1.5 inch pulley along with several gears, a 25 tooth 0.75 inch pinion, a 50 tooth 1.25 inch gear wheel, a 25 tooth 0.75 inch contrate wheel and a worm wheel, all these where key fitting. A ball or card of cord, a single bent strip and a 2.5 x 1 inch double angle strip at the time called a large bent strip. Finally some wood screws where included to bolt the model to a wood base where necessary. unusually for the largest set, set C had only one extra new part a 3 inch perforated strip. 
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1905 saw the introduction of set D and a conversion set to set E which was not introduced until 1906. Set D added 2 new perforated strips a 9.5 inch and a 2 inch, a free running 0.5 inch pulley and a 50 toothed 1.7 inch contrate wheel, The final introduction was this curious Sheet of Xylonite a very early plastic, Set E's only introduction was a 12ft Chain.

In 1906 the original Box A was no longer the smallest set, a much smaller X outfit. This had reduced parts on the A for example it had 4 12.5 inch perforated strips compared to Box A's 13 the year before, and 26 nuts and bolts compared to 50 in Box A. The larger sets where unchanged.

In similar vain 1907 saw the introduction of an even smaller set called Kindergarten with just 10 nuts and bolts, its name would suggest that it was aimed at younger children with a special manual which was easy to understand. However a piece that would become a mainstay of later Meccano the 12.5 inch angle girder, this like the strips where made with tinplate and folded edges.

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1906-8 saw the introduction of parts that would become familiar to Meccano users for generations to come the folded perforated strips where replaced with a thicker nickel plated strip as was the angle girders by 1908, whilst grooved rods where fazed out in favour whole rods whilst the longest rods where shortened from 12 inches to 11.5 inches.

 

By the end of the Mechanics Made Easy Period, things had come a long way in 7 years from a box of crude strips and wheels, to Nickel strips and Angle Girders, Pinions, gear, contrate and worm wheels had been introduced. There was still a long way to go but many of the basic Meccano pieces that would be used for more than a 100 years had arrived. Sets had gone from the original box to a range of sets some smaller than the original but 3 much larger sets, capable of making some very large models

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  1. SETS IN THIS PERIOD - Browse through details of the Sets in the Mechanic's Made Easy .
  2. PARTS IN THIS PERIOD - Look up what parts where introduced and when,  there sizes, along with part numbers and  changes  
  3. MANUALS FOR THIS PERIOD - Download Digital Copies of all the major manuals along with Meccano Magazine and other Liturature 

1909 - 1926 NICKEL PERIOD 

By 1908 Mechanics made easy was going from success to success, At this point however a new name was coined. Mechanics Made Easy was a bit of a mouthful. The name was shortened to one word 'Meccano.' The biggest immediate change at the time was that the sets where changed from letters to numbers.
Out went letters x, a, b ,c, d & e in came numbers 1 to 6. It was becoming a regular event for the set contents to be slightly adjusted, new parts where also introduced but at this early stage in the nickel period they where few, in 1909 a 1.5 inch Perforated Strip was introduced along with a propeller blade at around the same time the Xylonite Sheet a very short lived part was deleted, it would be the 1960's before plastic was reintroduced into the meccano system.
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By 1909 Numbers had been introduced to the Meccano parts with the odd adjustment these where kept beyond the end of Binns Road into the Meccano that is into todays shops. New parts started to flow at a faster rate. In 1910 an 8 inch Axle Rod was added along with a tension spring, a double bent strip, whilst the single bent strip and the 1 x 2.5 inch Double Angle Strips where introduced. Around this time the Kindergarten set was dropped, it would be the 1960's before Meccano would try sets that where aimed at very young children.

n 1911 several more parts the 5.5 inch Angle Girder, a 4.5 inch Axle Rod, 3 flanged plates a 2.5 x 1.5 inch, a 2.5 x 3.5 inch and the 2.5 x 5.5 inch which became a mainstay part of the meccano system, particularly in the smaller sets. The flanged sector plates where introduced the height being 4 inch. For the first time rubber bands where also used. 1911 was the Coronation Year of King George V. To celebrated this a special set called, 'Meccano Royal,' was introduced, a small set which was later renamed Set 0.

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1912 saw the introduction of one part the collar, however this marked a change for the Meccano system, shaking off the last vestiges of Mechanics Made Easy and transformed into the Meccano system that would be known for more the 100 years. With the introduction of the collar, the wheel boss was also introduced replacing the key system of the previous period. 

Pulleys, Bush Wheels, Pinions and gears where redesigned to take the new boss, whilst the flanged and grooved wheel needed to be completely redesigned. 1913 saw a few new parts as well, the spring cord, a 2.5 inch double bent strip and a windmill sail. 1914 saw a raft of new parts the fishplate, double bracket, a 8 inch axle rod, a loose 1 inch pulley, a single bent strip (stepped) a crank, a coupling, a funnel and a center fork. 

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With World War 1 raging little changed in the Meccano range until 1922, Meccano was sold throughout the war with shortages only affecting the company in 1918. However there where still a few new parts, a 1 inch Axle rod, a 1.5 inch 56 tooth Gear Wheel which would become the most common gear and the sprocket chain. Towards the end of the war, the No 20a 2 inch pulley, the No 22 1 inch pulley where made of silver and given an open boss to cut down on metal because of wartime shortages as was several other parts. 

In 1922 the number parts where doubled with the introduction of different lengths of strips, angle girders and axle rods. Washers were introduced that year as was flat plates, couplings, triangular plates, screwed rods, curved strips, braced girders, flat girders, trunions and a host of special parts. This was to coincide with the introduction of a new largest set Number 7 housed in a large wooden box. This massive set contained 50 12.5 inch perforated Strips, 96 angle brackets, 594 nuts and bolts, 55 collars amongst other items. This was to become the largest set ever to be made by Meccano, the Set 10 of later years had more variety of parts, however this set 7 have a much larger quantity of parts. 

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From the outset meccano was about movement., Models where meant to have working parts, so it was that in 1912 that this movement could now be motorized be means of 2 new clockwork motors No1 and No 2. Battery operated motors where added in 1916 whilst electric motors where added in 1925. Over the years Meccano have made various other sets apart from the main range. In 1920 inventors Outfit B and the first Electrical Outfit where introduced. By 1925 the Meccano range had grown up to over 100 parts, 8 sets and several motors. There was just one thing missing Colour, most of the parts where Nickel Silver however all that was about to change. 

  1. SETS IN THIS PERIOD - Browse through details of the Sets in the Nickel Period .
  2. PARTS IN THIS PERIOD - Look up what parts where introduced and when, there sizes, along with part numbers and changes
  3. MANUALS FOR THIS PERIOD - Download Digital Copies of all the major manuals along with Meccano Magazine and other Liturature

1926 - 1934 BURGUNDY AND GREEN 

In 1926 advertisments proclaimed 'The New Meccano,' in fact in 1926 just 4 new parts where introduced, a 2.5 inch curved strip, the shortest of the longer bolts, a train coupling and a universal coupling. So what was so new? The answer was colour.
Up to this time, although there was some black, and brass parts, the overwhelming colour was silver (nickel). In 1926 meccano started painting there flanged and flat plates, trunions and several other parts red and there braced girders and the new curved strips green. The red was a bright red whilst the green was a light pea (pod) green. These shades of red and green though was shortlived with a new darker red - burgandy and a darker green was introduced in 1927.
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This was also expanded to include most parts that could be coloured, notably perforated strips, angle and flat girders. Sets where tinkered with during this period with a quite a nujber of new parts introduced, In 1927 motor (Dunlop) Tyres where added. In 1928 Bevel Gears, the boiler and one of the most interesting parts the Digger Bucket a part which is today in high demand on the used market. 1930 saw more Tyres and a Circular Plate along with the very useful ball thrust bearing where amongst the introductions.

This period was marked with Introduction of some special sets, Meccano Aeroplane and Car Constructor had special parts resembling closely those of cars and aircraft to produce a more realistic model, whilst a new Elektron Set as it name suggests an electrical set along with Kemex a chemistry set was introduced. The main Meccano Range added a new smallest set no 000 although change to the other sets was very little except for the introduction of colour and a few parts the sets contents where little changed from the Nickel Period. A very short lived experiment was Meccano X with multi holed strips, made to rival the very cheap Trix system that was imported from Germany, the Meccano X being almost identical to the Trix system.

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  1. SETS IN THIS PERIOD - Browse through details of the Sets in the Burgundy Period .
  2. PARTS IN THIS PERIOD - Look up what parts where introduced and when, there sizes, along with part numbers and changes
  3. MANUALS FOR THIS PERIOD - Download Digital Copies of all the major manuals along with Meccano Magazine and other Liturature

1935- 1937 BLUE & GOLD

This was a short period in the history of Meccano however it was an active one. Up until this point models where open in that they where mostly strips and girders. Most solid areas had to be imagined. However with the introduction of both Flexible and Strip plates at last models could be built more realistically. The first Flexible Plates where made of Fibre Board which proved to be very flimsy, these where soon replaced by metal.  With these plates Meccano made a hugh step forward. Meaning mainy more different models could now be made. This was fully taken advantage of in the new manuals for this period.

There was also the biggest change in sets since the end of Mechanics Made Easy name period. In a way there was a step back to that period with the reintroduction of lettered sets this time from A - L. What is more the colours was changed from the Burgundy and Dark Green to Blue and Gold. This was the biggest reorganization so far of sets with effectively and extra set (E) being added to the middle of the range.

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Apart from the new flexible plates a number of other new parts arrived. Meccano builders had long asked for a Steering wheel, finally one was introduced, along with this a road wheel whic was to be used extensively in future decades was released. A hinged plate was also added to the range.

On the back of the Car and Aeroplane Constructor Sets Meccano introduced Dinky Builder. This was Meccano without the nuts and bolts Basicly plates and wheels that where fit together with rods, meaning that models could be built much faster than traditional Meccano.

Meccano had just reorganised its set line up. however these where about to change again

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  1. SETS IN THIS PERIOD - Browse through details of the Sets in the Blue and Gold Lettered Sets Period .
  2. PARTS IN THIS PERIOD - Look up what parts where introduced and when, there sizes, along with part numbers and changes !
  3. MANUALS FOR THIS PERIOD - Download Digital Copies of all the major manuals along with Meccano Magazine and other Liturature

1937-1940 BLUE & GOLD NUMBERED SETS

Ask a boy in the 1950's or 60's what present he would like quite a number would say, 'A Meccano Set 10, this famous meccano set was only introduced in 1937. In fact the Set 10 is not the largest set Meccano ever produced that honour fell to the set L of the range the set 10 replaced. Things are not that simple though, whilst the set L had the greatest number of parts, set 10 had a greater variety of parts owing to a number of part introductions during the time the set 10 was produced. Set 10 was not the only set to be introduced, out went sets A-L and in came sets 0-10 although the colours stayed in Blue and Gold. 
As before there was a big shake up in the contents of the sets partly to better utilize the flexible plates which had not been given there full use during the brief lettered sets period. It was more than likely that economics had a great part in this change. The world was just coming out of the worst depression it had ever faced. Set L sold for 400 shillings (£20) whilst Set 10 sold for 231 shillings (£11.55) thus putting the largest set in reach of much more customers. Effectively sets where moved down one with the smallest set of the new range being smaller than the smallest set of range it replaced, where the new set 10 was nearer to set K that set L
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Along with the new sets came new boxes and manuals. possibly the biggest change in models Meccano had made up until that time. Things where looking increasingly promising. There where more new parts as well, a number of Driving Banks, another gear wheel and pinion further gave modellers more options.

Unfortunately World Events would encroach on Meccano Ltd. In 1939 Britain once again declared war on Germany. By 1940 the Binns Road factory was given over the War materials. Ironically the last item to be introduced by Meccano Ltd before the outbreak of war was a Mechanized Army Set.

  1. SETS IN THIS PERIOD - Browse through details of the Sets in the Blue and Gold Numbered sets Period .
  2. PARTS IN THIS PERIOD - Look up what parts where introduced and when, there sizes, along with part numbers and changes
  3. MANUALS FOR THIS PERIOD - Download Digital Copies of all the major manuals along with Meccano Magazine and other Liturature

1945 - 1958 EARLY RED AND GREEN

Following the end of World War 2 Meccano Ltd was very quick off the mark with the reintroduction of the smaller sets from sets 1 - 3. The biggest surprise was a colour change back to Red and Green but in slightly different shades to those of the 1930's. Over the coming years as more raw materials became available larger sets where reintroduced. By 1950 the supply was such that set 10 could be re released.
Following the end of World War 2 Meccano Ltd was very quick off the mark with the reintroduction of the smaller sets from sets 1 - 3. The biggest surprise was a colour change back to Red and Green but in slightly different shades to those of the 1930's. Over the coming years as more raw materials became available larger sets where reintroduced. By 1950 the supply was such that set 10 could be re released.
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The manuals continued to show the cross hatching. However given the shortages at the time. Anything would have been welcome. This situation was gradually rectified. With new manuals being released along with Set 9 in 1948, a totally new set of manuals being released in 1954. Along with these manuals a small number of new parts where released notably triangular plates. These where added to the sets which where re boxed. Manuals where again changed in 1956 with a new yellow and blue cover showing a large crane, but the contents models where unchanged. There was a number of other releases through this period. In 1948 clockwork motors where made available now manufactured at Binns Road whist the following year 1949 Clockwork motors 1 & 2 and electric motors E06, E020, and E020R where back in the shops. Gears set A was introduced in 1950 followed by Set B in 1956. 

  1. SETS IN THIS PERIOD - Browse through details of the Sets in the Early Red and Green Period .
  2. PARTS IN THIS PERIOD - Look up what parts where introduced and when, there sizes, along with part numbers and changes
  3. MANUALS FOR THIS PERIOD - Download Digital Copies of all the major manuals along with Meccano Magazine and other Liturature

1958 - 1962 LATE RED AND GREEN 

1958 Saw a revision to packaging and colours. However the colours where still in Red and Green but in much brighter shades. There was however an introduction of blue on some of the larger wheels. The boxes where changed again in 1959 to included plastic trays to hold the parts rather than the strung cards arrangement that had been used for some time. These though where very thin (plastic was still expensive!) resulting in the trays being easily broken. 
The boxes in red, green and white showed a model that could be made from the set. Building on the early gears set Meccano introduced the larger Mechanisms set in 1959. This was basically a larger gears set with combined with some other meccano parts needed to complete the mechanisms. Set 10 was now put in a 3 drawer cabinet.
During this period no new parts where introduced.
  1. SETS IN THIS PERIOD - Browse through details of the Sets in the Late Red and Green Period .
  2. PARTS IN THIS PERIOD - No New Parts where Introduced in this Period
  3. MANUALS IN THIS PERIOD - Download Digital Copies of all the major manuals along with Meccano Magazine and other Liturature

1963 - 1970 THEMED SETS PERIOD 

In 1962 Meccano Ltd decided to make changes to the range. Plastic was becoming increasingly common as a cheaper material than metal, for the first time since the xylonite sheet of the early days, Meccano decided to introduce plastic into its range in the form of plastic plates that where easier to bend than flexible plates and as the colour was part of the material rather than painted on would not scratch or flake. 
If these new plates had a downside it was that they where thin and easily broke. At the same time these plates where introduced in transparent form meaning that meccano models could now have (glass) windows, particularly vehicles windscreens. The new sets took advantage of these parts. Along with new boxes but still in red, green and white and showing a model that could be made from that set.
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New manuals where introduced with a red cover, however it was the inside of the manuals that showed the greatest change. Up to this time manuals had shown a photograph of the finished model and written instructions also with a content list . In all but the set 10 the written instruction where replaced by an exploded drawing or in larger sets drawings showing how the model should be put together.

One set was deleted a conversion set 9a. This set had failed to sell in sufficient quantity for several years to make it viable. So for the first time in the Meccano range a buyer could no longer buy the smallest set and over the years convert to the largest.

Just after these sets where released Meccano Ltd went into new ownership, after some very poor financial figures, being bought by Lines Brothers the makers of Triang. Lines Brother got straight to work after the take over, changing the colour of most of the parts from Red and Green to Silver and Yellow along with some black. A much more modern look, the plastic trays where changed to expanded polystyrene. Whilst the basic content of the sets and the manuals stayed as they had been from 1962.

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But it was the outside of the packaging that received most attention. Apart from the Set 10 every set was given a name. The first 3 where called Play Set (0) Junior Set (1) and Super Junior (2) These featured some models that could be made with the set on the front. However sets 3 - 8 where themed, each showing photos of models down the left hand side and the same models set in a drawing on the right. These where grouped round a theme so that set 3 Highway Vehicles Set showed a group of cars and lorry's, whilst Set 6 Ocean Terminal Set showed Ships and Dockyard Cranes. Set 9 was slightly different called Masters Engineer's Set it returned to the idea of the smallest sets and showed several models that could be made with the set.

This was possibly the most colourful period for Meccano with modern boxes and modern colours. 2 new electric motors where introduced the larger with a gearbox, these 2 motors where added to sets 3 and 4 to produce the Junior Power Drive Set and Power Drive Set in 1968. Another innovation of Lines Brothers was Plastic Meccano. Basically larger strips, wheels axles flanged plates and nuts and bolts produced in plastic and described as, 'Big parts for Little Hands,' in other words aimed at younger children in the hope that they would go on to main stream meccano. What effect did this have on the fortunes of the company? Although Lines Brothers carried Meccano Ltd for several years the company returned to a small profit in 1968. In 1969 Lines Brothers renamed Meccano Ltd Meccano Triang in preparation for changes for the new decade.

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  1. SETS IN THIS PERIOD - Browse through details of the Sets in the Themed Period .
  2. PARTS IN THIS PERIOD - Look up what parts where introduced and when, there sizes, along with part numbers and changes
  3. MANUALS IN THIS PERIOD - Download Digital Copies of all the major manuals along with Meccano Magazine and other Liturature

1970 - 1979 BLUE AND YELLOW PERIOD

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1970 saw New Meccano Sets in New Dark Blue Boxes. In reality though these sets where not new. They where the same basic sets as had been organized in 1962 repackaged and with a minor change of colour on the flanged and plastic plates from black to blue. The set numbers had been reorganized too, Set 9 had been a poor seller during the 1960's most who could afford the Set 9 would go the whole hog and purchase the set 10. So this set was deleted. Set 8 became set 9 and was given a new wooded box, the rest of the sets moved up one.

What this change lacked in substance it made up in new manuals and models. Sets 1-7 had new manuals with very much up date models. However what was so different was that these manuals where all colour. A colour illustration of the model along with colour exploded views that where shown with arrows indicating the order these should be built. However sets 8 and 9 where the same black and white manuals from the 1960's with new covers. The old sets 9's exploded models had been incorporated into the set 10 set of leaflets, the true set 10 models continued in the 1950;' written form.


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There where a few introductions notable a new multi purpose gear wheel in part plastic that could mesh at any angle and a new electronic control set,. This was put into a new 5ME set that replaced the power drive set, set 4M replacing the junior power drive set.

For the second time in a decade Meccano ltd came under new ownership, thiss time the plastic model company Airfix. Airfix made no initial changes to the main range but started to introduce a series of special sets so that you had Clock Kits 1 & 2 (1972). Army and Highways Kits in 1973 and a Crane Set in 1976.

  1. SETS IN THIS PERIOD - Browse through details of the Sets in the Blue Box Period
  2. PARTS IN THIS PERIOD - Look up what parts where introduced and when, there sizes, along with part numbers and changes
  3. MANUALS FOR THIS PERIOD - Download Digital Copies of all the major manuals along with Meccano Magazine and other Liturature

1978-79 LAST DAYS OF BINNS ROAD

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Throughout the history of Mechanics Made Easy and Meccano despite many changed to sets and new parts there had been a relationship between the contents of the range from new sets to old in other words the changes have not been that great. Indeed up until 1978 the biggest changes had been in the 1930's with the change from set 1-7 to the lettered sets A - L back to numbers 0-10. Now in 1978 a complete reorganization of the main meccano range was ordered.

Out went sets 1-10 and in came sets A and 1-5 bearing no resemblance in content to the previous sets. The sets where smaller, used different parts along with a number of new parts making model making simpler. and therefore quicker to build. Sets 2 - 5 contained motors another departure from Meccano convention. All the sets where packed in bright modern white boxes along with entirely new colour manuals. Two new sets where introduced on a futuristic space theme, Space 2501 and Meccanoids.
This change was too late by 1979 Meccano Ltd could not keep up its financial obligations and went into receivership. Meccano is still available in the shops today. Airfix went into liquidation in 1981 with Meccano General Mill (USA) it has gone through various owners and transformation now bearing no resemblance to the sets 1 -10 of the early 1970's but nearer to the sets A - 5 of the late seventies however considerable changes have been made to both parts and contents 
  1. SETS IN THIS PERIOD - Browse through details of the Sets in the Last Days of Binns Road
  2. PARTS IN THIS PERIOD - No New Parts where introduced in this Period
  3. MANUALS FOR THIS PERIOD - Download Digital Copies of all the major manuals along with Meccano Magazine and other Liturature