Of the many toy inventions of the last century, none have stimulated and driven the imagination of children more than the Tinkertoy construction set. The toy was created in 1914 after the stonemason Charles Pajeau observed a child playing with pencils and empty spools. Pajeau decided to create a toy that could be put together in different ways to build three-dimensional structures that could move. After a year of working in his garage, what came from his initial inspiration was a wooden set complete with different length sticks, spools and corner pieces.
The new toy was introduced to the public through Ferris wheel structures made from the Tinkertoy pieces. At first people weren’t interested in something that seemed so basic, especially with all the high-tech toys that were starting to spill onto the market. It supposedly took a publicity stunt with midgets dressed as elves and playing with the toys in a department store window display to get the brand noticed.
Although it took a while to get the public interested, once they did the toy began to fly off the shelves. People realized that the possibilities with this toy were endless. It was incredible that such a seemingly simple set of wooden pieces could make surprisingly complex machines. What is really impressive is the appeal these toys still hold today. Even for adults there are ways to manipulate the set to create incredible structures. Take for example the Tinkertoy robot that was constructed at Cornell in 1998 and the Tinkertoy computer that plays tic-tac-toe.
The original Tinkertoy sets were constructed from wood and came in a long, round parcel-type box with very simple pieces. Today the Tinkertoy construction set comes in either plastic or wood with bright colors and has evolved to include even more features. It’s clear that kids are still interested in building big three-dimensional structures that can roll and move in all different directions. Even with the new materials and additional features, what is really incredible is there has been very little change over the year. It really is the simplicity and imagination in children’s minds that made them popular and it’s those same qualities that drive the popularity of Tinkertoys today. These toys continue to be a favorite with parents who remember them fondly as children and want to give their children a toy that is not just fun, but also is a mental challenge. Tinkertoys really stimulate the mind while increasing dexterity, not to mention they’re just plain fun to play with!