Thursday, December 27, 2018

The 1920s Electrical Outfit (reproduced)

An electric accessory outfit for use with a Meccano set was introduced in 1920 by Meccano - to introduce to boys the miracle of electricity.

The included manual explains that electricity plays a tremendous part in every-day life as "the wonderful power" that enables such things as electric light, electric trains, telephone and telegraph. It goes on to explain that even though "no one yet has been able to define it or tell just what it is", it is an amazing natural force "capable of unlimited uses".

The original 1920s Electrical Outfits were quite expensive back then, and are rare and expensive today still. So to experience today a bit of this wonder of 1920s advanced technology, a reproduction set was made. Complete with a reproduction box, manual and parts (the printing codes having been altered to clearly state it is a reproduction). The very informative primer at the NZMeccano galleries provided enough information to enable a decent repro to be made.

The parts are quite simple, but still opened up the then new world of electricity. Still have to complete the set with correct-pattern wooden spools and some cotton-covered wire, but already something can be built with it. The parts being new, there are no issues with them being rare or fragile.

Browsing the January (1928) issue of the Meccano Magazine, there's an article with an improved design coil-winder.

Using Meccano from the same era this was put together; winding a little coil on bobbin (part 301) using some lacquered magnet wire.

Not paying too much attention to the amount of turns, but just made sure that the overall resistance was not too low - the coil turned out at approximately 8 Ohms, so should be fine with a battery and also fine with a USB power-bank.

With the soft-iron pole-piece (part 308) it makes a good electric-magnet, with a short rod it's a working solenoid.

The model No. 8 in the instruction booklet is a combination of a buzzer and a tapper-key to create a small morse telegraph setup. All workings can be seen and understood - and it works too!

The buzzer can be tuned with the contact-screws and the moving strip. In this case a bit of extra weight was added at the end to lower the buzzing-frequency. The corroding effect of the making-breaking of contact does illustrate the usefulness of the special silver-tipped contact-screws part 307 - still have to create some of those.

Still to add some parts such as the cotton-covered wire and correct pattern nuts. Hex-nuts still used here, square nuts have been sourced and are on their way. More parts to follow :-)

Hands-on very basic electrics, but even something as mundane as an electric doorbell buzzer once was new and the very height of technology.


  1. Brings back memories of my early childhood playing with very similar self made items and the big 1.5 V Hot Shot batteries. Later I graduated to the big 6V batteries. I never had the electric Erector Set (American imitation of the Meccano sets). I used old blasting wire the coal miners gave me and empty sewing thread spools, nails, bolts, and whatever else I could beg for free.

    1. Great stuff to play with - and also for showing the kids some basics of electrics.
      Old sewing thread spools aren't wood anymore these days - but it's surprisingly easy to get new wooden spools sold for crafting. Not quite blasting wire - but the magnet wire I used was salvaged from a broken transformer coil :- )