Frank Hornby

Frank Hornby grew his idea for a toy system with interchangeable parts into the company that would become Meccano Ltd., makers of the Hornby Trains and Dinky Toys brands.

Vital Stats

Born 1863 in Liverpool, England

Died 1936 in Maghull, England

Construction Sets

While working as a bookkeeper at a meat importing business, Hornby began fabricating metal toys as a hobby in 1899. Using strips of sheet metal, he built trucks, cranes, and bridges for his sons. Later, he designed the toys to use interchangeable parts, enabling many different toys to be constructed using the same components held together by simple fasteners.

Hornby patented his idea in 1901 and found a supplier to fabricate the structural components for the toy set. He named the toy Mechanics Made Easy and began selling it in 1902.

The initial Mechanics Made Easy construction set allowed children to build 12 different toys from just 16 pieces. Six building sets were available by 1904 with another two sets being released in 1905.

Hornby registered the name Meccano in 1907 and the name began to appear on his construction sets. He worked with his son, Roland, to enter new territories such as France, Germany, Spain, and the United States.

Trains & Diecast Vehicles

The success of his company allowed Hornby to build his own factory and headquarters.

He began manufacturing toy trains with the name, Raylo, in 1915.

Hornby founded Meccano Magazine in 1916. The journal grew from its initial Meccano focus to become a general hobby magazine. The magazine was published under Hornby until 1963, then continued through 1981 with the help of a series of publishers.

In 1920, his O-gauge clockwork trains would evolve from under the Meccano name to become Hornby Trains.

In 1933, Hornby introduced accessories to complement the toy trains. Initially called Hornby Modelled Miniatures, the name changed to Meccano Dinky Toys the following year, then simply Dinky Toys in 1935.


Two years after Hornby’s death, his son, Roland, introduced the Hornby Dublo Mode OO-gauge rail system in honour of his father.

To recognize the 150th anniversary of Frank Hornby’s birth in 2013, the Brighton Toy and Model Museum declared 2013 “Frank Hornby Year”.

The Frank Hornby Heritage Centre, run by the Frank Hornby Charitable Trust in Maghull, England, was established to preserve the legacy of the British inventor through exhibits and education.

Hornby helped establish what are now considered some of the most collectible categories in the toy industry: construction sets, model railways, and diecast vehicles.