Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home

Meccano Magazine: boys’ toys and the popularization of science in early twentieth-century Britain

  • PETER J. BOWLER (a1)

Abstract

Meccano Magazine began publishing in 1916 to advertise the popular children's construction set. By the 1920s it had expanded into a substantial, well-illustrated monthly that eventually achieved a circulation of seventy thousand. Under the editorship of the popular-science writer Ellison Hawks it now devoted approximately half of its pages to real-life technology and some natural science. In effect, it became a popular-science magazine aimed at teenage and pre-teen boys. This article explores Hawks's strategy of exploiting interest in model building to encourage interest in science and technology. It surveys the contents of the magazine and shows how it developed over time. It is argued that the material devoted to real-life science and technology was little different to that found in adult popular-science magazines of the period, raising the possibility that Meccano Magazine’s large circulation may explain the comparative lack of success of the adult publications.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Meccano Magazine: boys’ toys and the popularization of science in early twentieth-century Britain
      Available formats
      ×

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Meccano Magazine: boys’ toys and the popularization of science in early twentieth-century Britain
      Available formats
      ×

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Meccano Magazine: boys’ toys and the popularization of science in early twentieth-century Britain
      Available formats
      ×

Copyright

This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

References

Hide All

1 For a general description of popular science in the period see Bowler, Peter J., Science for All: The Popularization of Science in Early Twentieth-Century Britain, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009.

2 For details see Love, Bert and Gamble, Jim, The Meccano System and the Special Purpose Meccano Sets, London: New Cavendish Books, 1986.

3 Meccano Magazine (1929) 14, p. 233.

4 For further details see Manduco, Joseph, The Meccano Magazine, 1916–1981, London: New Cavendish Books, 1987. For a selection of articles see Levy, Allen (ed.), The Meccano Magazine Anthology, London: New Cavendish Books, 1991. The complete series is available online at http://meccano.magazines.free.fr.

5 Hawks, Ellison, Romance and Reality of Astronomy, London: Jacks, 1922; and Hawks, Romance and Reality of Radio, London: Jacks, 1923.

6 See, for example, Hawks, Ellison, Pioneers of Wireless, London: Methuen, 1927; Hawks, Pioneers of Plant Study, London: Methuen, 1928; Hawks, Wonders of Engineering, London, Methuen, 1929; Hawks, The Book of Electrical Wonders, London: George Harrap, 1929; Hawks, The Romance of Transport, London: George Harrap, 1931; Hawks, The Book of Natural Wonders, London: George Harrap, 1931; Hawks, The Book of Air and Water Wonders, London: George Harrap, 1933; and Hawks, Marvels and Mysteries of Science, London: Odhams Press, 1938.

7 Hawks, Ellison, ‘With the editor’, Meccano Magazine (1923) 8, p. 141.

8 Undated Meccano Guild flyer in the author's collection.

9 Model-building competition results’, Meccano Magazine (January 1940) 25, p. 49.

10 Keene, Melanie, ‘“Every boy and girl a scientist”: instruments for children in interwar Britain’, Isis (2007) 98, pp. 266289, 285. Another exception is explored in van Lente, Dick, ‘The romance of technology in an age of extremes: Leonard De Vries’ hobby clubs, 1945–1965’, Icon (2015) 21, pp. 109125. On the gender-bias in American scientific toys see Pursell, Carroll W. Jr, ‘Toys, technology and sex roles in America, 1920–1940’, in Trescott, Martha Moore (ed.), Dynamos and Virgins Revisited: Women and Technological Change in History: An Anthology, London: Scarecrow, 1979, pp. 252267; also Onion, Rebecca, Innocent Experts: Children and the Culture of Popular Science in the United States, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016.

11 See Edgerton, David, England and the Aeroplane: An Essay on a Militant and Technological Nation, Basingstoke: Macmillan Academic, 1991; and more generally Edgerton's Warfare State: Britain 1920–1970, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

12 Anon., How wireless waves curve around the Earth’, Meccano Magazine (1932) 17, p. 749; anon., What chemists do’, Meccano Magazine (1933) 18, p. 695; anon., Exploring the solar system’, Meccano Magazine (1931) 16, pp. 202203; Plants that feed on insects’, Meccano Magazine (1932) 17, p. 531; Smith, C. Horton, ‘Man fights insect enemies’, Meccano Magazine (1933) 18, pp. 672673; anon., The cats of Rancho La Brea’, Meccano Magazine (1933) 18, pp. 424425; and Bristow-Noble, J.C., ‘The hedgehog and its ways’, Meccano Magazine (1939) 24, p. 28.

13 Anon., Vast deeps in the great ocean’, Meccano Magazine (1933) 18, pp. 410411; Robertson, Wilfrid, ‘Sand rivers of the Zambesi Valley’, Meccano Magazine (1936) 21, pp. 274275; Bonnycastle, R.G.H., ‘A night in an Eskimo igloo’, Meccano Magazine (1932) 17, pp. 112113; anon., Self-torture of Hindu fakirs’, Meccano Magazine (1933) 18, p. 675; anon., The Maoris of New Zealand’, Meccano Magazine (1936) 21, pp. 554555; Marsh, Henry H., ‘The Wailing Wall at Jerusalem’, Meccano Magazine (1933) 18, p. 674; and anon., Ancient tombs of Central America’, Meccano Magazine (1936) 21, pp. 576577.

14 Anon. (presumably Hawks), The eclipse of the sun: the wonderful event of June 29th’, Meccano Magazine (1927) 12, pp. 482487. For the competition see p. 531.

15 Bowyer, B.J., ‘Why the Martians declared war: a peep into 4000 A.D.’, Meccano Magazine (1927) 12, pp. 535–535.

16 Clayton, J., ‘The locomotive: its development and future’, Meccano Magazine, (1930) 15, pp. 688691.

17 Anon., Aviation of the future’, Meccano Magazine (1932) 17, pp. 330331, 338.

18 Dickie, Francis, ‘New life for Eskimos: story of a Canadian experiment’, Meccano Magazine (1960) 45, pp. 6465.

19 Salter, R.J., ‘Are these the buses of tomorrow?’, Meccano Magazine (1960) 45, p. 287.

20 For details of the authors see Bowler, op. cit. (1), Chapters 11 and 12, and on the magazines Chapter 9. For more details on the authors writing for the adult magazines see Bowler, Peter J., ‘Popular science magazines in interwar Britain: authors and readerships’, Science in Context (2013) 26, pp. 437457; and for detailed analysis of the contents on which the comparisons in this chapter are based see Bowler, Peter J., ‘Discovering science from an armchair: popular science in British magazines of the interwar years’, Annals of Science (2016) 73, pp. 89107.

21 Nielsen, Kristian H., ‘“What things mean in our daily lives”: a history of museum curating and visiting in the Science Museum's Children's Gallery from c.1929 to 1969’, BJHS (2014) 47, pp. 505538, 517.

22 On the popularity of the German equivalents see Schirmacher, Arne, ‘From Kosmos to Koralle: the culture of science reading in imperial and Weimar Germany’, in Carson, Catherine, Kojenikov, Alexei and Trischler, Helmuth (eds.), Quantum Mechanics and Weimar Culture: Revisiting the Forman Thesis, London: World Scientific, 2010, pp. 4352.

Meccano Magazine: boys’ toys and the popularization of science in early twentieth-century Britain

  • PETER J. BOWLER (a1)

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed