Meccano is a metal constructional toy first patented by Frank Hornby in 1901 as "Mechanics Made Easy". This was not the first constructional toy ever, but seems to have been the first in metal that incorporated all the important elements that make such a system work i.e. regular spaced holes which take bolt fixings AND axles.
The product was by no means an instant hit. Initially it was crudely made and a set cost 7/6d (37-1/2p) which was hugely expensive in those days. However by clever marketing and sheer persistence it slowly began to take off and by 1907 its name had been changed to MECCANO. From then on Hornby never looked back, though there were tremendous difficulties caused by imitators, a problem that persists to this day.
Over the years the system was greatly expanded to include gears and other specialised parts. Quality was also improved to at least the standards set by German toy manufacturers. Other products were introduced like Hornby Railways, Aero, Motor Car, Kemex (chemistry), Elektron (electrical) and later Dinky Toys.
Meccano Colour schemes changed many times over the years, which makes dating of parts relatively easy. (For more details of the various colour schemes see my series of articles in Constructor Quarterly).
British production stopped during WW2 but resumed in 1945 though taking some years to cover the full range of sets. Many specialised parts were dropped forever, (but fortunately these days just about any obsolete part can be got in replica form). After a brief period of prosperity in the 1950s Meccano fortunes started to wane and after a series of takeovers production at the famous Liverpool Binns Road factory closed in 1979. However production continued at a meccano subsidiary plant in France and continues to this day, thought there have been many changes of ownership accompanied by mixed fortunes.
No Meccano history is complete without mentioning The Meccano Magazine. Started in 1916 as a simple promotion sheet, it went on to become arguably the finest ever boys magazine which in its heyday was distributed world-wide. Unfortunately the last issue was in 1981, but the present day enthusiast has a wealth of Meccano literature at his disposal.
There is still a healthy adult interest in Meccano with about twenty clubs in the UK plus many others world-wide. Some of the cutting edge models produced in recent years go far beyond what could have been envisaged in the early days of the system.
There are also a good number of Meccano exhibitions either stand alone or as part of other model shows etc. For a complete directory of UK clubs, meetings and exhibitions please go to my other web-site www.meccanoscene.co.uk
For a comprehensive history of Meccano, I recommend "The Meccano System" (and associated books in the series) by Bert Love and Jim Gamble, published by New Cavendish Books. More specialist /expanded information can be found in publications such as CQ, and the various club journals. If you are a newcomer to Meccano, Please visit a club or exhibition where you will find an immediate welcome in a friendly hobby.