Parents have long sought to buy toys that will sharpen the minds of their kids, whereas kids certainly don’t care about that stuff – they simply want something that is fun to play with. Luckily for both, every once in a while a toy comes along that provides both fun and a little cerebral nudge. Perhaps one of the best examples is a simple building set called Tinkertoys. Not only do they encourage kids to think, but with the ability to build almost any toy a child could imagine, they have been bringing smiles to young and old alike for almost a century now.

Tinkertoys were the brainchild of an observant stonemason named Charles Pajeau. In 1913, he noticed that kids were enamored with playing with pencils, sticks and discarded spools of thread and decided that there might be a market for a construction kit based on these simple shapes. His personal innovation was to give each wooden spool eight holes, equally spaced around the perimeter, as well as one larger hole in the middle. When joined together with an included assortment of multicolored wooden rods of various lengths, a whole plethora of three-dimensional objects could be created.

After tinkering with his creation for a year in his garage, he decided to try introducing his construction set at the upcoming American Toy Fair. Depending on which story you believe, one of two scenarios played out. The first says that the toys were not a success, but later gained popularity during the Christmas season when Pajeau bought space in a department store window and hired little people to dress as elves and play with them. The second story argues that they were a success but later gained recognition when a pharmacy owner agreed to display them in his store window and, thanks to the attachment of some small electrical motors to make them move, the toys sold like hotcakes. Really, regardless of which chronicle is true, the fact remains – the public started buying oodles and oodles of Tinkertoys.

And through the years, the appeal has remained relatively consistent. Now produced by Hasbro, a few changes have occurred over the years, such as offering a plastic version in the early 90s, and also the introduction of the short-lived Giant Tinkertoys. But any toy with the ability to transform itself into a plethora of other playthings is almost assured to be popular, and no matter what they are made of, Tinkertoys continue to enthrall youngsters and develop their little engineering minds.

Were you fond of Tinkertoys as a tyke? Share your memories and your creations with us in our comments section as we pay tribute to this perpetually popular construction toy.

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