Meccano was fun, but very European as I recall and not all that popular here in the States. As for the modern Legos, which have morphed from the clunky, plain vanilla kits into all those funky special cars etc you can build, my line on them is, they call come together except one or two pieces. In other words, you always lose stuff, and Dad definitely has to help the child for whom it was intended put it together, at least if you want a reasonable facsimilie of the model on the box.
I must have let a sheltered life....all I had was Meccano! I received a set 4 with two upgrades to set 5 and 6 for Christmas, along with a gear set and a reversible wind-up motor.
I used them TO DEATH! Built all sorts of powered vehicles and I don't think I ever built any one of the designs that came with the sets. Learned about gearing and differentials and the like. Hated the screws--couldn't keep them tight, but how was I to know they were Whitworth thread? (The modern Meccano is metric--what a disappointment.)
I dreamed about getting a "set 10" which was the apex of the Meccano world. But it was pricey so all I could was dream.
My kids didn't seem to take to Meccano--they liked the Lego stuff. One got interested enough to master the 3D Lego CAD and designed himself some pretty significant models--built them, too. I'm sure we have a 5-gallon pail's worth of Lego kicking around here.
I've still have my Meccano sets to this day. They were the catalyst that got me into Mechanical Engineering, with the help of living on a farm... I hated the production side of farming but loved the machinery. I could lay a pretty good weld bead at age 12 and was wiring houses with my dad by 16.
As much as I am a fan of the Girder & Panel sets, I have to admit that today's Legos are equally amazing. Lego has some astounding stores (I think they are called Lego Lands) that show how much kids can do with Lego parts, especially in the area of gears and pulleys. I think there is one such store near DisneyWorld in Lake Buena Vista, FL.
Yes, Jake, Lego toys have changed completely in the lat 10 or so years. I really think they've replaced the plastic airplane models. You get detailed instructions that result in a very specific toy. Very much by the numbers. I think that fills a role -- models were always fun -- and it comes without the neurotoxin glue.
I never thought about how my choice of toys could have such an impact on my adult life. It is fun reading all of the memories coming back. Of course we did Lincoln Logs and Erector Sets, but the biggest thrill was to find some wheeled vehicle that had been discarded. Baby buggy or stroller wheels could transform an orange crate into a "Racer" capable of an alley version of the Indy 500. Then some smartaleck had parents buy him real Soap Box Derby wheels and none of us could keep up regardless of how cool we designed our racers. But braking was always a problem.
Personally, I was heavily influenced by the transistor radios of the mid-1960s, which for me were "toys" in the sense that I took them apart, and they whetted my interest in electronics. I never was all that interested in erector sets or Legos, nor did telescopes appeal to me. So I guess one's choice of technically oriented toy does indeed influence professional choice, or discipline within that profession (i.e., mechanical versus electrical). Of course we're all supposed to be interdisciplinary now, so I guess the future is electronic erector sets.
I absolutely loved my hydrodynamics set and the girder post system which brings back great memories. I spent hours and hours building bridges and random chemical plants in my spare time. Definitely my favorite toy for a budding engineer when I was in the 10-12 age range. At age 11, I could look at a bridge and identify part by part which were in tension or compression and where bracing was required and what direction to brace.
I saw your products advertised somewhere recently and it warmed my heart to see them. My crop of grandchildren is still a few years down the road, but when the time comes I will definitely go looking for these products.
Ironically I worked for Heath during the last breaths of Heathkits. It was sad to see their market age and then largely disappear with the advent of other more popular pastimes. I always salivated over the print catalog, though never had the money to buy one when I was age 10!
After many years with Heath and now 12 years with a startup venture with several other ex-Heath vets, I'm doing what I loved as a kid...coming up with something interesting to build and turning that into marketable consumer products!
To Dave Palmer: Some of the old polystyrene parts were brittle. When they broke, they had sharp edges. It was believed that those edges had a propensity to cut young hands. Bridge Street Toys beefed up some of those parts and made them from polypropylene. Then they made all the beams and columns using injection molded polyethelene.
The lego of today is not marketed like it was when we were kids. Today, they sell kits to build specific, useless movie tie-ins. It's sort of like roll your own movie-set.
When I was a kid, Legos were used to build non-descript stuff. We would experiment to see how high a stack of lego bricks we could assemble and have it remain stable. We would experiment with bracing techniques. We would build lego cars and rate them according to whose lost the fewest or the most pieces.We would add smooth peices and build marble tracks out of it.
The legos my kids play with isn't like that at all. They don't even play with it the same way. These sets come with instructions (Instructions? Lego with Instructions??) Most of the time they assemble it according to get exactly what the instructions suggest. When the thing is done, I've seen some of their friends actually glue their project together so that it can sit on a shelf.
The creativity and imagination isn't there. And we wonder why none of these kids are interested in engineering.
My favorite Kenner toy was Smash Up Derby: "Come on little bug-em, you can get it done, smash crash bash em up, smash up derby is fun!"
I just bought Lego Mindstorms 8547 for my 8 year old (upcoming Christmas present), I think pretty much everybody had Lego - but nobody had programmable robotic Lego! The toys I really wanted, but we could never afford (which is probably why I wanted them) were Meccano and train sets. Today's Meccano is rubberized which gives me mixed feelings. I really liked my Commodore computer from the 1980s for building Basic programs, we loaded Frodo 64 on a Samsung powered MID tablet and my little boy is fascinated with the power of printing out Fibonacci series or the alphabet, strictly from programmed algorithms. We have a hot rodded Power Wheels jeep that he has outgrown and that we plan to make remote control, plus I would love to make a homemade Segway.
Design engineers need to prepare for a future in which their electronic products will use not just one or two, but possibly many user interfaces that involve touch, vision, gestures, and even eye movements.
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