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Spotlight On: Frank Hornby

Frank Hornby

Inventor, businessman, politician. Frank Hornby was a man of many talents but best known for an invention that was the result of experimentation at home making toys for his children.

Hornby was building models in 1899 made from metal strips held together with nuts and bolts. His realisation that these pieces could be constructed to create a versatile modelling kit from which multiple structures could be built, dismantled and reassembled proved to be a masterstroke.

In 1901 this toy was patented as ‘Mechanics Made Easy’ with the intention to teach basic mechanical principles to young inquiring minds. In 1907 this became ‘Meccano’.

Frank Hornby was a visionary in toy development and production, and he began working on clockwork mechanisms, designing his first O-gauge clockwork train in 1920.

This grew into ‘Hornby Railways’ which, alongside ‘Meccano’ and ‘Dinky Toys’, formed three of the most popular toy lines of the twentieth century and made Meccano Ltd the largest toy manufacturer in Britain throughout the 1920s and 30s. The company is still producing toys to this day.

Hornby made a foray into politics in 1931 when he was elected as a Conservative MP for Everton. His political career was not a long one as he resigned his seat shortly before the 1935 General election.

The success of Hornby’s business made him a very wealthy man allowing him to purchase Quarry Brook mansion in Maghull, where he lived until his death on 21 September 1936. This building is now the Sixth Form for Maricourt Catholic High School.

The Atkinson in Southport houses an exhibition on some of Frank Hornby’s work.

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