I have a desire to re-own a few of these. I've checked the ebay stuff a couple times and will eventually buy from there I think. I'm waiting until I get a few bigger things settled first though. The second childhood starts in about 7 years...
One of my best memories of using any of these engineering toys was regularly staying at my aunt's as a 10-12 year old. She had an extensive Tinker Toy collection, and a small solid fuel steam engine.
I would build small amusement rides and power them with the engine. Most of those were disassembled by cranking up the RPMs until the whole thing flew apart.
Most of my other best building/designing experiences as a kid though came as a result of living in a rundown city with lots of junk lying around. We would drag all kinds of stuff to the lot behind the house and then decide what to make with it. You should have seen some of the mix and match bicycle/go-cart/shopping cart combinations! Wish I had pics of that stuff.
I did pretty good on the list, but most importantly, I'm passing most of it down to my seven year old son. (His older sister doesn't seem to be interested....)
I still have my blue girder and panel set from the 1980's, and not too many pieces are broken. Additionally, they are being made again by a small company. Check out Bridge Street toys: http://bridgestreettoys.com/
My son and I play with model trains, legos, girder and panel, lincoln logs, erector sets, Geotrax (awesome play trains), matchbox cars and track, slotcars, etc. but I haven't gotten him into model rockets yet. One of the most played toys we have, are two sets of unit blocks. He and his older sister build things and accessorize their buildings with other toys to make imaginary kingdoms. Good stuff.
Importantly, I let him use hand tools as much as possible, including the powered screwdriver/drill under supervision. When he was six, he helped me assemble his own loft bed, which gave him a sense of pride. He's learning the important skills of force, to not strip screws and break things, and how tape and glue can only fix certain items.
I hope to introduce him to electronics shortly, and he does have a flashlight and battery fetish (like his dad), so I bought him a battery tester two years ago.
My wife and I try to limit screen time on electronic devices for our kids, as we feel it doesn't do much for their brains. We actually notice bad behavior from them after they play on the computer for too long.
Daniyal, I see that in my sons. They are older now, but they could/would look up information all the time. I was lucky in that my father would bring home the various vendor books when new ones came in. This was every six months or so. I recall the GE Transistor book, as well as those from Motorola and Fairchild. When I was in elementary school I saw integral signs in one of these books. I asked him what mathematics that was and made sure I could get to calculus in high school. If course, he took calculus in 11th grade (in the 1930s). Our school systems are just catching up.
The Kenner architectural girder and panel set I had as a boy was one of my favorite all time "toys." The structural girders looked exactly like real I-beams and it was infinitely variable in what could be built. The pieces fit together precisely and allowed for huge and intricate designs to be created. I looked for it when my kids were small but sadley could not find it - such a shame.
The picture of the rocket kit is just a plastic model set - not launching rockets.
Another missing engineering toy is the Vac-u-form.
I agree that hands on experience is valuable. I grew up with tools so I don't remember not having something to fix wagons or tricycles with. I was a Plumbing Merit Badge Counselor for a number of years. I was shocked to learn that some of the scouts had never even used screwdriver. They were thrilled when they made steel shavings threading a pipe and when they got to solder copper pipe fittings.
My hands on experience has been valuable. People are sometimes shocked that I, as a physicist, am also a skilled electronics technician, electrical engineer and mechanical engineer. I am well past the standard retirement age and I'm still having so much fun that I have no intention of retiring.
Oh, I forgot to mention: I had (and STILL DO) my original wood-burning tool. Soon after, I realized that the same tool could use a differnt heating element (from the same Unger company still around today) and become a soldering iron! In fact, I have in my desk at work the second 776 handle I bought in 1972 with a 4045 heating element. I still use it on occasion (with 60/40 "banned" solder) for tinning wires, soldering connectors to cables, etc. when the tech is not available.
My first engineering toy was a metal "steam shovel" that I could work with strings and levers and dig in my sandbox. This was immediately after the end of WWII when metal toys were still in short supply. My favorite construction toys were Tinkertoys, Lincoln Logs, Erector Set and Heathkits, in that order as I grew up. I also remember a Lego knock-off that let one build simple brick houses. The problem with the Erector set was that I could never afford enough pieces to build the big projects I saw in the documents that accompanied the set. I did like working with all the parts and hardware to assemble something that looked like the pictures or something of my own design. Another favorite hobby of my youth was diassembling old radios and sorting out the components. It took me a couple of years to realize that there were better uses for the tubes than s targets for my BB gun, lthough they did make pretty good targets. Needless to say I pursued a career in electronics and physics.
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