Children have long been fascinated with taking things apart and (hopefully) putting them back together again. Let a kid get their hands on a few of dad’s tools, and it is almost a certainty that they will start disassembling anything that lay in their path. Nothing is safe, from their own toys to their parent’s household appliances. Noting this particular universal fondness, Ideal Toys created the perfect plaything in 1960, a mechanical buddy, ready to be un-built and put back together again at will. His name was Mr. Machine.
Proudly wearing a top hat and a perpetually grinning jaw, Mr. Machine was a robot with a transparent plastic body that allowed one to see all of his inner workings. And, he could be easily set in motion, thanks to an oversized key protruding from his back. A few twists and the rascally robot began to walk forward, his arms and legs swinging in goosestep fashion. His mouth would open and close, he would emit a mechanical “Ah” sound and a bell contained within his plastic belly would ring. And if you wanted to see how he worked, not a problem – simply take the entire thing apart and put it back together. You didn’t have to be a future engineer to marvel at his mechanical midsection.
When it was released in 1960, Mr. Machine quickly became one of Ideal’s biggest selling toys. They attempted to introduce an accompanying board game, but it didn’t garner much interest (certainly not as much as their offering a couple of years later called Mousetrap.) Kids were perfectly content with the robot itself, staring at his inner workings for hours and performing some radical surgery when the mood struck.
He was re-introduced in 1978, but a few things had changed this time around. Instead of a bell in his belly, he now was fitted with a whistle that could play “This Old Man.” But wait…where was the handy plastic wrench that allowed for his disassembly? Like so many other things in this world, it was decided that the potential for dangerous consequences was just too great for the kiddies, thanks to all of those moving parts. And with the loss of that little key, was also the charm that had made him a hit in the first place. Sure, it was still fun to see him walk and whistle, but the best part of the experience was now missing.
Finally, in 2004, a company called Poof-Slinky, using the actual original molds, re-manufactured the original version of Mr. Machine, complete with wrench and the ability to be disassembled. But this version, which is sold for a lofty $100, isn’t marketed towards children. Rather, it is sold as a “fine collectable” for herds of nostalgic adults whose affection for Mr. Machine never waned.
Were you the proud owner of a Mr. Machine in your youth? Tell us all about it in our comments section, as we tip our hats to this beloved mechanical buddy from yesteryear.