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Like LEGOS (see entry under 1950s—Sports and Games in volume 3), Lincoln Logs (see entry under 1920s—Sports and Games in volume 2), and Erector Sets (see entry under 1910s—Sports and Games in volume 1), Tinkertoys have a timeless appeal. Introduced in 1914, the simple wooden sticks with connecting wooden hubs remain a favorite among kids into the twenty-first century. In many ways, Tinkertoys are the perfect toy. Simple and durable, they have the capacity to engage a child's imagination as he or she creates an unlimited variety of structures.

Tinkertoys were invented by Charles H. Pajeau, a stone mason. He thought up the toy after watching children play with pencils and wooden spools. Pajeau drilled holes around the sides of a spool and sawed thin wooden dowels into various lengths to create the first set of Tinkertoys. The sticks and spools could be combined to create a huge number of shapes, from cars to boats to the Tinkertoy classic Ferris wheel (see entry under 1900s—The Way We Lived in volume 1). Pajeau joined with former stock trader Robert Pettit to form a company called The Toy Tinkers of Evanston, Illinois. In 1914, they set up Tinkertoy Ferris wheels in shop windows in Chicago, Illinois, and their toy became an immediate hit. For the next several decades, demand for their product was high. In 1952, the original owners sold their company. The Tinkertoy brand passed through several owners before being purchased by toy giant Hasbro in 1986.

Tinkertoys have gone through a number of changes over the years. Sets have been sold in different sizes and with motors. Beginning in 1992, wood was replaced with plastic. In 2000, however, Hasbro took Tinkertoys back to its roots and began marketing wooden Tinkertoys in the characteristic cardboard canister. Nearly ninety years after their introduction, classic wooden Tinkertoys remain a favorite among American kids. In recognition of their enduring status, in 2001 Tinkertoys were named "Toy of the Year" in their category by the Toy Manufacturers of America.

—Tom Pendergast

For More Information

"The Classic Tinkertoy Construction Set." Hasbro . . . Making the World Smile.http://www.hasbropreschool.com/default.asp?x=tinkertoy (accessed January 17, 2002).

Jailer, Mildred. "Construction Toys." Antiques and Collecting Hobbies (May 1988): p. 38.

Strange, Craig. Collector's Guide to Tinker Toys. Paducah, KY: Collector Books, 1996.

"Tinker Toys." Yesterdayland.http://www.yesterdayland.com/popopedia/shows/toys/ty1079.php (accessed January 17, 2002).