AAS 205th Meeting, 9-13 January 2005
Session 35 HAD II: Observatories, Toys and Genesis
Oral, Monday, January 10, 2005, 10:00-11:30am, Pacific Salon 1

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[35.04] Metal Construction Toys of the Early Twentieth Century: Their Astronomical Applications

K.S. Rumstay (Valdosta State University and SARA)

During the early twentieth century several toy manufacturers around the globe introduced construction toys in the form of sets of metal parts which could be assembled into a variety of models. The two most successful were the Erector Set, introduced in the United States by A.C. Gilbert in 1913, and the Meccano Set, patented in 1901 in England by Frank Hornby. Whereas the Erector Set never developed beyond being a child’s toy, Hornby envisioned his Meccano system as providing a way to teach principles of mechanical engineering to young schoolboys. Indeed, his sets were first marketed under the name “Mechanics Made Easy”, and were endorsed by Dr. H.S. Hele-Shaw, Head of the Engineering Department at Liverpool University.

Popularity of the new Meccano sets spread throughout the world, spawning the formation of numerous amateur societies composed of adolescent boys and an increasing number of adult hobbyists. The variety of parts increased during the first third of the century, and increasingly sophisticated models were constructed and exhibited in competitive events. Among these were several clocks of remarkable accuracy, and at least one equatorial mounting for a small astronomical telescope. At the same time, many university science and engineering departments found these interchangeable metal parts invaluable in the construction of experimental apparatus. In 1934 a small-scale replica of Vannevar Bush’s Differential Analyzer was constructed at the University of Manchester, and used for many years to perform mathematical computations.

The introduction in 1928 of a flanged ring with 73 (a sub-multiple of 365) teeth allowed for construction of accurate orreries and astronomical clocks. The most remarkable of these was the Astronomical Clock constructed in the period 1924-1932 by M. Alexandre Rahm of Paris.

The author(s) of this abstract have provided an email address for comments about the abstract: krumstay@valdosta.edu

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