Meccano Steam Engines

The well known Meccano construction system consisting of metal strips, plates, girders, wheels, gears etc. was invented by Frank Hornby, a clerk from Liverpool England, at the end of the 19th century. The system was first patented in 1901. The sets were at first sold under the name of "Mechanics Made Easy" around 1908-1909 this was changed to the now famous name of Meccano. It is believed Hornby chose the name because it could be easily pronounced in all languages.

Over the years the Meccano range has included steam engines as well as clockwork and electric motors. The first was a vertical boiler engine that looked like the typical German made engines of the period. This engine appears to have been first advertised in the 1914-15 Book of Prize Models, which was published in 1915. If this engine was indeed introduced in 1915 it would not have been made in Germany. The most likely candidate for its maker is the Technical Engineering Co. Ltd. of Clyde Street, Liverpool. This firm introduced steam engines in 1914 and sold them under the "Veitchi" brand name. Their range included one example that appears to be virtually identical to the Meccano engine.

1929 Vertical Boiler Engine

1929 Meccano engine

Meccano introduced this type of vertical boiler engine in 1929; it was the first engine to feature the distinctive drilled Meccano base plate.

Advert for Meccano engine The design is rather unusual as the boiler is enclosed in a brass outer casing. Interestingly, this feature also found in the Bowman made Wormar engines that date from about the same period. In the case of the Meccano engine the outer casing is embossed with dummy rivets, inspection hatches and other details and is also chemically "blued". Like all the Meccano engines this one is reversible, an essential feature if it is to be incorporated into models such as cranes.

A copy of a contemporary advertisement for the 1929 steam engine, presumably from the Meccano Magazine, is shown on the left. This also illustrates the engine built into a model of an excavator. The price is interesting - 21 shillings - that is 1.05 in modern British currency or about $2 US.

Today these engines are highly sought after and I had wanted to add one to my collection for a long time.

This example is one of the early engines as it has the earlier type of test cock for the water level. Also, the later versions had the name Meccano embossed into the boiler casing, which this one does not. There are a couple of dents in the outer casing and some minor damage to the chimney, but the engine is generally in good condition for its age. Happily the original flywheel is fitted and is good and solid. The type of metal that was used for the flywheels of these engines has been known to deteriorate and fatigue over time. Sadly the original burner has gone missing at some time during its life.

However the best part is that eighty years after it was first made it still runs superbly. These engines were certainly built to last!

1965 Engine

1965 Meccano engine

The Meccano company decided to re-introduce a steam engine in 1965.

An engine, to their requirements, was produced for them by Malins (Mamod). This had a lever operated mechanism which shifted the cylinder block in relation to the inlet and exhaust ports, thereby allowing the engine to run in reverse. The base, which was clearly inspired by the 1929 design, enabled it to be built into Meccano models. The engine was sold as a Meccano item and never carried a Mamod model number, although today it is commonly known as the MEC1. It was discontinued by Meccano in 1976.

A modified version was added to the Mamod range in 1979 as the SP3 and remained in production until 1985. The two engines are similar but can be readily identified by their base colours, yellow for the Meccano and grey for the SP3.