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Meccano Super Highway Multikit, 1974
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Object statement
Construction toy boxed set, Super Highway Multikit, made by Meccano Limited, Liverpool, England, used by Malcolm Booker, Killarney Heights, Sydney, Australia, 1974
This item is from a large collection of Meccano, and Meccano copies (including Ezy-Bilt, Buzz, Bral, Temsi and Jolei-Spiele). The collection covers a 60-year period from 1928 until 1988 and comprises over 20 Meccano models, 7 boxed sets, over 200 manuals and instruction books; as well as spare parts. The collection was put together by a retired Sydney mining engineer, Malcolm Booker, who made many of the models. As a child Malcolm was a keen Meccano builder but became both an avid Meccano collector and builder as an adult.

Meccano, the children's construction toy, was invented by Frank Hornby in England, in 1901. Meccano's famous perforated metal strips were inspired by full size metal girders which could be joined together and strengthened with cross bracing. Meccano gave children the components and technology to actually design and make their own machinery: working model cranes, tip wagons, cars, aeroplanes, swing bridges, machine tools and locomotives in miniature.

Throughout most of the twentieth century Meccano was exported around the world, especially to Commonwealth countries, and inspired a worldwide club intended not only to interest boys in engineering but also 'to make every boy's life brighter and happier' and 'to foster clean mindedness, truthfulness, ambition and initiative in boys'. There is no doubt that Meccano spawned a generation of technically-minded adults and engineers; it was also used in engineering firms for model building and by inventors for working out ideas, just as computers are used today (2013). By the 1960s rival plastic construction toys, which were cheaper and aimed at both boys and girls, took away much of the Meccano market and the firm closed its Binns Road factory in Liverpool in 1979. Nevertheless, Meccano continues to be made in various countries, and adult devotees still meet and display their models.

The importance of this collection is that it embodies the huge range and diversity of Meccano products, advertising, production and manufacture over 60 years even after it was no longer made in England. The fact that Meccano reached a world wide audience, before the advent of the internet and social media, is testimony to the value of the product, the company's advertising and Frank Hornby's extensive entrepreneurial skills and vision.

Margaret Simpson
Curator, Transport & Toys
February 2013

Information provided by Malcolm Booker, 2011.
Meccano was invented in England by Frank Hornby. The first Meccano sets were marketed in 1901 as 'Mechanics Made Easy' and comprised 16 tin-plated pieces. They cost the equivalent of half a week's wages for a labourer. Despite this, the basic concept of using perforated strips and plates that were fastened together with nuts and bolts quickly became very popular. Over the next few years a number of different sized sets were introduced and new pieces such as brass gears were added.

By 1909 Meccano set Nos 5 and 6 came in wooden cabinets containing 168 perforated strips, and 245 angle brackets. The tin-plate pieces gave way to nickel-plated ones and the famous Burgundy red and dark green colours were introduced in 1926. A large number of new parts were developed including bevel gears, motor tyres, channel bearings, ball races, crane grabs, digger buckets, pulley blocks, signal arms and circular saws. In 1929 cabinets for the larger outfits were changed from a stained finish to two-toned green enamel and the Depression saw a decrease in the number of pieces in the famous No.7 outfit. Meccano colours changed again in 1934 to plates with blue with gold cross-hatching, although the ones for overseas markets such as Australia were still green. During the 1930s flexible plates were introduced which made the models look less skeletal and more realistic. Also in 1934, Meccano introduced a construction toy for younger children in the hope of appealing to young girls, a hitherto neglected market. This was 'The Dinky Builder', a system of rapid and simple assembly composed of rectangular and triangular shaped parts in enamelled green and pink.

By the time of Frank Hornby's death in 1936, Meccano had grown to become a highly-sophisticated construction method with the capacity of reproducing virtually every known mechanical device. Remarkably complex models were possible, including the Meccano clock which kept accurate time, the loom which wove material for ties and hat bands and the motor chassis, with Ackerman steering, gearbox and clutch. This so closely resembled a car it was used to teach students the principles of motor mechanics. The only tools required were a tiny screwdriver and spanner. At its peak the Meccano system comprised over three hundred parts, including a range of prime movers to drive models including clockwork motors, battery driven and low-voltage mains power and lastly steam power.

Meccano Ltd was then taken over by Frank's son, Roland and some speciality sets were introduced over the years including the Aeroplane Constructor, Motor Car Construction sets, Electrical sets, Army sets, Combat sets, Highway Vehicle sets, Crane sets and much later the Meccanoids.

During the Second World War the Meccano factory went over to producing war-related materials and Meccano production did not resume until 1950. Even during the Korean War metal was in short supply and there was a continual production slowdown. Manufacture eventually resumed bit-by-bit and all new sets were again produced in red, green and brass, and the blue and gold colours were discontinued. Television, and later Lego, took traditional Meccano markets nevertheless new parts were introduced together with instruction manuals with exploded diagrams. Plastic Meccano was used in primary schools while a last attempt saw the range come with Space Age Meccano and miniature monsters known as Meccanoids. By the early 1960s the firm, like many others was in financial difficulties struggling with high labour costs and different, newer competitors producing cheaper toys, usually in plastic. The firm was taken over by Lines Bros and their Tri-ang range of toys in 1964. However, Frank Hornby's legacy did not end there as the first adult Meccano Club was formed in 1968. In 1964 another colour change took place, the pieces changed to silver, yellow and black until 1970; blue, yellow and zinc until 1978; and dark blue, mustard yellow and brass from 1978. Electronic Meccano parts were introduced in 1970 and the sets renumbered from No. 1 to No. 9, replacing the No. 0 to No. 8 sets. (The No. 10 set remained).

Lines Bros went into liquidation in 1971 and Airfix Industries bought Meccano Ltd in 1972. The old outfits, Numbers 1 to 10, were still available but new kits were added, including the Army Multikit, Highway Multikit, Plastic Meccano and Pocket Meccano. In 1978 the sets, Nos 2 to 8, were again reduced and changed to set A and Nos 1 to 5. (The old 9 and 10 outfits were left unchanged). In 1979 Airfix closed the Binns Road, Liverpool, factory which ended the manufacture of Meccano in England but it was still made in France, owned by General Mills, a toy manufacturer from the USA. In 1981 General Mills acquired Airfix Industries and what was left of Meccano Ltd in England. All the Meccano sets were discontinued and a new range of outfits designed for production in France, called 'Meccano Junior' were produced. These featured many plastic parts and only small models were capable of being built.
This collection of Meccano items was put together by Malcolm Booker, a retired mining engineer. Malcolm was born in Sydney in 1936 and grew up in the Sydney suburb of Greenwich. He received his first Meccano set at the age of 8 for Christmas in 1942. It was not actually a set but a well-used box which he described as an 'abused odd assortment of parts'. This was during the War years and toys were in short supply. The box contained only three tyres for the four Meccano wheels and Malcolm's father fashioned a piece of round rubber for the fourth tyre. Occasionally Malcolm's father would bring home a few pieces of second-hand Meccano to add to the set.

During the early 1950s Malcolm went on to buy particular Meccano parts for the models he gradually built which included a variety of elevators, trucks, tractors, a crane lorry and a travelling bucket dredger for which his father made the tiny buckets. Malcolm recalls that the Meccano parts for the models were sourced from a number of Sydney outlets. The one with the best supply and range was the Walther & Stevenson Ltd department store in George Street, next was Herbert Small's in Pitt Street, followed by Searls', also in Pitt Street, and lastly Hobbyco in their old premises in George Street. If the part required could not be obtained from these shops, then the avid Meccano modeller went to the Sydney Meccano agents, E.G. Page, in Pitt Street. Malcolm said that 'If you told them that you could not get the parts you wanted at any of the four shops and did not make a habit of going there too often they would sell you the few parts you were not able to get'. Malcolm recalled 'the aficionados of the hobby soon learnt not to buy pinions and 1-inch gears from Hobbyco as they had their own make which did not mesh very well with the 'genuine' Meccano ones'. By 1952 Malcolm had collected enough parts equal to the largest Meccano kit made, the No.10 set.

Malcolm stopped building Meccano in about 1953 at the age of 17 in order to concentrate on his school work. His interest in Meccano made him want to become a mechanical engineer but he could only secure a scholarship for mining engineering. Nevertheless, Malcolm considers that his Meccano-building experiences certainly helped him throughout his working career to see 'what things would work and what would not'.

Malcolm began his working career in 1960 at the historic Coal Cliff Colliery, south of Sydney, where he began as a technical assistant. He rose to become underground manager and later assistant manger at the Darkes Forest Mine nearby which had opened in 1971. (By 1980 Coal Cliff Colliery was said to have been the largest underground colliery in Australia with a workforce of 988. It closed in 1991.) Malcolm then worked as the manager of the Grose Valley Colliery, (formerly the Hartley Vale No.4 colliery) in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, from 1975 until 1977, and then went to the company's head office as a mining engineer from 1977 until 1983.

Malcolm's interest in Meccano was reignited in 1978. By them he had moved back to live in Sydney and his 3-year-old son had become interested in a large Meccano truck Malcolm he had made as a boy in 1952. Malcolm would wind up the clockwork motor and change the gears and work the steering. After taking his son for a ride on the Ferris wheel on Manly Wharf he came home and his son asked Malcolm if he could make a Ferris wheel. (This Meccano model is now in the Museum's education collection complete with the little Smurfs who were the passengers).

From 1983 until 1990 Malcolm worked for the Swiss-based firm, Asea Brown Boveri Ltd, developing a system for pumping coal slurries (the fine coal and water bi product of mining), then with the Perth-based firm, Malcolm Thompson Pumps, where he was involved with selecting pumps for specific purposes from 1991 until his retirement in 1996.

After his retirement Malcolm became much more involved with Meccano. In 1981 he had been a foundation member of the Sydney-based Meccano Modellers Association and is currently its president (in 2012). He was also a foundation member of the International Society of Meccanomen and was the Australian committee man for 6 years.

During his retirement Malcolm developed an enthusiasm for building and collecting large Meccano models. As an adult he had the luxury of keeping the big models he made rather than having to take them apart as he needed to do when a child. He did this by buying second-hand Meccano parts. He said that he gained a lot of pleasure from purchasing old Meccano that other enthusiasts would have consigned to the rubbish bin which were often bent, rusty and flaking paint. He restored these in the workshop of his Killarney Heights home in Sydney. This involved removing all the bumps with a nylon-faced hammer and running the pieces through a small plate roller. They were then dipped in caustic soda for between one to three days, to remove the remaining paint and grease. The caustic soda was washed off and then the Meccano placed in a solution of dilute hydrochloric acid, for about 2 hours, and washed off again. The Meccano pieces were then smoothed with a circular wire brush and spray painted in the traditional red or green colours.

Before moving to a retirement village in 2011, Malcolm sold a number of his models but also donated this large collection to the Museum, together with several hundred Meccano instruction books. Malcolm would certainly qualify for the title 'Mr Meccano' in Australia.

 This text content licensed under CC BY-NC.

Description
This Meccano boxed set is a Meccano Super Highway Multikit and dates from 1974. This boxed set made models including a diesel roller, bulldozer, dump truck, post borer, snow plough, tracked crane, forklift truck and trench digger. The kit features the use of hexagonal bolts and Meccano spanners with hexagonal centres. This allowed Meccano models to be assembled with standard hexagonal box spanners as well as the supplied Meccano spanner. The Highway Multikit, along with the other 'themed' sets, were a great success for Meccano. To expand the range, Meccano added caterpillar tracks to the Highway Multikit and launched this expanded 'Super Highway Multikit' in January 1974. All the models in the Highway Multikit could still be built, and a second manual was included to show an additional eight extra models. The instruction book includes an adhesive sheet with decals, and is published in English, Italian, German, French, Dutch and a Scandinavian language. Intended for children aged from 6 - 16, the Meccano Super Highway Multikitit was made in England and the book printed in the UK.
: 1974
2013/120/22
Production date
1974

 This text content licensed under CC BY-SA.
Acquisition credit line
Gift of Malcolm Booker, 2013
This object belongs to:
Malcolm Booker Meccano Collection
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{{cite web |url=http://from.ph/466855 |title=Meccano Super Highway Multikit |author=Powerhouse Museum |accessdate=1 July 2015 |publisher=Powerhouse Museum, Australia}}


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