Boomers and early Gen-Xers will recognize these toys that once appealed to young engineers. Like me, many of you probably owned all of them, and spent countless hours playing with them.
These are the toys that inspired budding engineers to try out sublime designs, create miniature structures, and experiment with bizarre contraptions using sets that could be torn down and reconstructed over and over.
While Mom was OK with the Erector Set and the Lincoln Logs, the pointy Tinkertoy sticks and the model rockets made her nervous. But it was the strange smells and smoke coming off the chemistry set that really gave her the willies. How many of you out there did the full chemistry set whirl of seeing what you could get if you mixed every single chemical together in one frothing stew?
Click on the Heathkit below to start the slideshow. Then, in the comments section, tell us which toys inspired you as a kid.
Heathkits are products of the Heath Company. Its products over the decades have included electronic test equipment, high-fidelity home audio equipment, television receivers, amateur radio equipment, electronic ignition conversion modules for early model cars with point-style ignitions, and the influential hobbyist computers, which were sold in kit form for assembly by the purchaser. (Source: Oldcomputers.net)
About the same time I was playing with Lincoln Logs in the late 40s or early 50s I had a set of rubber bricks similaer to legos except narrower, they only had one row of prongs and holes. As I recall the bricks had two prongs and were redish brown (brick color) and there were longer gray blocks that could be used as foundations or to bridge openings in walls. Anyone remember what they were called?
Frank Hornby patented the Meccano set in 1901. The Erector set was first sold in 1913. I got my first Meccano set in 1949 at age 5 from my uncle in the U.S. Meccano rather than Erector was popular in Canada. It was my favorite toy, until I discovered Heathkit at 13. Meccano and Heathkit were my main influences in entering engineering.
At University I started noticing pieces of Meccano sets in my classmates homes. So I did a survey of the popularity of Meccano in Engineering students, Science students and Arts students. In that era, every engineer had a Meccano set and loved it. In the Science faculty it was about 50%. If an Arts student had even heard of Meccano, he hated it. Meccano encouraged creativity within strict part boundaries, just like engineering.
In our Electrical Engineering graduating class, it was only the students who were into Heathkit that ended up in electronic design for their careers. Heathkit's clear documentation really helped one to get into electronics. I still have my over 30 Heathkits in working order.
I found out quickly enough when hiring engineers that it was the ones really into related hobbies that ended up the best designers, not the ones with the highest marks. These days Meccano, Heathkit and cars seem to have been replaced by robotics as the most influential hobbies.
i didn't mix everything into a stew; i tried to get it to catch fire; after all, if smoke is good, flames are better! i had to do a double-take when i saw the Heathkit; i built a paper-tape reader and punch that was in a box almost exactly like the one shown, and it actually worked. couldn't use it too much, though, because it was *really* loud (huge solenoids).
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