Lego was not the first toy building system on the market. Far from it. I remember three systems that predated it and existed at the same time.
First there was the Red Brick House building system. I’m not sure what it was really called but it contained red bricks that snapped together like Legos and had white windows and doors that fit the system. So this was the perfect system for building red brick houses. They looked better than Lego houses but the lack of versatility is almost certainly what led to Lego dragging it behind the barn and shooting it.
I caught the tail end of the Tinker Toys days. They consisted of mainly wheels and long sticks made of wood. The wheels were also hubs that could fit the sticks in at different angles around the wheel and through the center of the wheel. The problem with this is that the sticks, thinner than pencils, could stand up with the hubs’ help and risk poking you in the eye or other dangerous places. Not surprisingly, Lego put Tinker Toys in the wood stove and burnt them alive.
Meccano taught kids how to use a screwdriver with nuts and bolts. It had metal pieces with holes pre-drilled everywhere so that it was easy just to bolt things together. It was getting expensive when I was a kid so receiving kit #5 for Christmas one year was a treat. The sets went up to #10 which was the best, I believe the bigger sets had motors and other fun stuff with them. That expensiveness continued. While looking for toys for my nieces and nephews as an adult about 20 years ago, I found teeny. tiny, build only one thing kits for $100. That was way out of my price range, so I never bought them. Lego tried to shoot Meccano with a small caliber gun, but that just went through its holes so Lego later sold Meccano for scrap metal where it was melted alive.
I don’t remember Lego with little men at first in its golden era where it first began to dominate. So we built Inukshuk like men. Although all the previously mentioned systems had problems, Lego did, too, and still does. Never put it on carpet or you will leave one piece and someone will painfully step on one in bare feet. And non rectilnear shapes are hard to make.
There were other systems that tried to compete with Lego in its prime. Zacs came out and were good at getting more organic looking shapes. But Lego liked their near monopoly on the building system toy industry. So they shot Zacs execution style and the blood went everywhere.
K’nex is still alive and competing with Lego since 1992. But they are not as popular. Will Lego kill them as they have other competitors? Maybe. You know they want to.
But here’s an idea for Lego. Instead of always killing other products, how about birthing new building systems? Or mentoring other systems by buying them out and putting your clout behind them. Make the world richer instead of more boring, which seems to be your goal. Just a thought. I want the carnage to end.
I, of course, predate Lego. I used the ones you remember as well. I thought they were called “Minibricks” I was wrong. That was another product. The one we both remember is “American Plastic Bricks”. I Googled it. Didn’t remember the name.
According to the article in the link, they actually came AFTER Lego (they were introduced in 1948) – but as the article in the link says, Lego was not available on this side of the pond until much later. I liked these, but I’m very literal. If I have bricks, I want to build a brick structure – not a man or and animal or a vehicle! So, I never “got” Lego.
I loved my Meccano , but, as you say – ridiculously expensive. Every kid seemed to have “Tinkertoys” in the fifties, but they rarely played with them.
My absolute favourite building set my Kenners “Girder and panel” building set. It actually taught me a lot about modern architecture!
I believe this is the actual set I had. The top of the line, motorized one.
Thanks for supplying the name of American Plastic Bricks. I’ve never seen or even heard of the Kenner’s Girder and Panel set. Maybe someone will let me play with their set!