If you are new to the world of Meccano Erector kits, knowing which one to buy can be a little overwhelming. If your child is interested in construction or engineering, it's worth the effort to find a set because, like other building toys, these kits encourage creativity and independent thinking. When purchasing a kit a general rule of thumb is that models with fewer parts will be more appropriate for younger children.
For the youngest age group, five and older, Erector offers two types of kits: Toolbox and Bucket. Of the two, the Toolbox line is the easiest for small hands.
- Toolbox - The Easy Toolbox kit contains 76 pieces and can be constructed into six vehicles, including an ATV, a dune buggy or a race car. The Advanced Toolbox option is more construction vehicle oriented. It has 88 parts and can be assembled into eight vehicles ranging from a dump truck to an excavator. These kids can be purchased for about $25-30.
- Bucket - The Bucket comes in two sizes: 100-piece and 150-piece. The smaller bucket includes airplanes, helicopters, and even a windmill. The larger kit includes some of the same models as well as a robot and motorcycle. The kits can build eight and ten models, respectively. The Buckets cost around $25-30.
This model line mostly features construction vehicles. It includes cranes, front end loaders and excavators. But the company recently expanded the line to include 'off-road' type vehicles. These toys are designed for children eight years and older and the remote control options do require batteries.
- Off Road - This vehicle could loosely be described as a dune buggy. It has 190 parts that can be built into two types of models with working shocks, tail gate and hood. It sells for around $20.
- 2-in-1 ATV - Like the name suggests this 205-part kit can be built into two models. Both options have working front and rear suspension and handlebars control steering. The first option is an ATV and the second model is a three-wheel motorbike. This kit sells for about $30.
- Tow Truck - Designed for ages 9 and up this kit may be challenging for some with its 465 pieces. The truck has working steering and an extendable and foldable tow bar and comes in two unique designs. This kit runs about $50.
- RC Racer - This kit can introduce your child to motors. It contains 130 parts, can be built into a race car or a rally car and once completed operates as a fully functional remote control vehicle. The remote control race car costs about $55.
Designed for children 8 years and older, these kits can be built into three or more models. This wide-ranging category has some kits that are extremely basic, called starter kits. For example, the Drone, which has 43 pieces, doesn't 'do' anything and doesn't really resemble a drone all that much either. Some examples of better sets include:
- Construction Front Loader - Although this kit only has 95 pieces, a child can build five common construction vehicles with it including a front loader with a fully functional bucket, a quarry loader, a dump truck, a forklift or a cherry picker. This model can be purchased for less than $15.
- Rescue Fire Truck - With only 87 parts this kit has a public rescue theme. It can be built into a fire truck with extendable ladder, a rescue airboat, or a rescue helicopter with a revolving rotor. The fire truck model sells for about $10.
- Race Car Motorized Set - This motorized kit comes with 270 pieces and can be built into 20 different vehicles. The models range from helicopters to reverse-wheel motorbikes (two-wheels in front, one in back). All vehicles are powered by a 3V motor. This set costs close to $40.
The Turbo line is for children age eight and older who want to build their own radio-controlled vehicles, so this line deals exclusively with motor-driven models. Most Turbo models require four to six AA batteries and one 9V battery.
- RC Pro - This vehicle is a sleek-looking race car that can be built with the kit's 260 pieces. Like other turbo vehicles, the radio control system is pre-built. In addition to a race car, this can also be used to build a race truck. Sells for nearly $100.
- Remote Control Racing Car - Although this is an easier option than the RC Pro, this 90-plus parts kit is known for its speed. The two models are a Formula One-style racer and a small racing buggy. You can pick up this kit for less than $50.
Don't let the odd-sounding name fool you - it comes from the official company name, Meccano-Erector. This line of Robots combines mechanical systems with computer-based technology. The are two styles available: a 2-foot and a 4-foot tall model.
Both robots are constructed out of high-impact polycarbonate and have:
- Voice recognition technology
- 1000+ phrases pre-programmed
- Programmable LED lights
- 64 Mb of flash memory
The two Meccanoid styles, which can be built into a variety of different forms, are:
- G15 - This 2-foot tall robot has 600 parts, four smart motors and two motors. The four smart motors are localized in the arms and can remember the builder's moves for programming. Two motors move the robot's feet. The G15 requires four C batteries and retails for about $180.
- G15KS - Twice as tall as its counterpart with nearly twice as many parts (1188), six of the eight smart motors are in the arms and the other two are in the robot's head, so this model offers more animation and action. It comes with a rechargeable Ni-MH battery pack and sells for close to $400.
Both robot models interact with smart phones or other smart devices and can be programmed through:
- Motion capture, where the robot mimics what you do
- A 3D virtual model
- Learned intelligent movement, where the child programs movements and sounds which can be played back with the push of a button
This small product line is good for children interested in architecture. All Special Edition models are for children eight years or older.
- Buildings - The company currently offers two buildings: the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building. When finished, the 241-piece Eiffel Tower stands nearly 16 inches tall while the 961-piece Empire State Building is even taller at 22 inches. The Eiffel Tower sells for less than $30 while the Empire State Building is about $80.
- Bridge and Boat - The other two models in this category are a pirate ship, with 630 parts, and London's Tower Bridge, which contains 742 parts. The pirate ship is exclusive to Barnes and Noble and sells for nearly $300, and London's Tower Bridge costs about $50.
History of Erector Sets
Erector Sets have a long history, beginning as an American-made toy. Albert Carlton Gilbert originally invented the building sets for children in 1911, and The AC Gilbert Company released them to the market in 1913.
The realistic construction toy was inspired by real construction sites from across the country in the early 20th century. AC Gilbert was motivated by New York City, which at the time had several large buildings under construction. He decided to create realistic components including metal beams with holes, pulleys, bolts and screws. The kits have been in production ever since.
The Meccano erector kits were initially produced in England, and the company was Gilbert's greatest competition. Gilbert purchased the Meccano factory located in New Jersey in 1929. The company went out of business in 1966, two years after its founder's death. In 1990, Miro-Meccano bought the rights to the Erector name, and new sets began to develop.
Individuals interested in the early designs can join the AC Gilbert Heritage Society for $25 annually and have access to member-only content like galleries and instructions for those earlier models. Early or discontinued models can often be purchased on online auction sites like eBay.
Over the years, all of these kits have been designed in such a way that builders can abandon the instructions and create their own vehicles (or in the early models, buildings). To encourage this, Erector hosts a community page which allows users to submit their own builds or view the creations of fellow enthusiasts. Younger children should get permission from parents before visiting the page, though, since some of the links are off-site.