What began as an idea rejected by major toy companies grew to become K’NEX, a formidable competitor to established construction toy systems.
Founded in 1992 in Hatfield, Pennsylvania by Joel Glickman, who had a background in industrial engineering.
The K’NEX construction toy system used a series of plastic rods and connectors to encourage play and curiosity.
Glickman—almost 50 when he founded the company—conceived the idea while toying with drinking straws at a wedding reception in 1991.
Glickman worked with his brother, Bob, to develop a building system that relied on a series of rods and connectors. Wheels, gears, and pulleys were added later.
Mattel, LEGO, Tyco Toys, and Hasbro all rejected Glickman’s idea for the new toy. Glickman found support for his idea at Toys “R” Us, which encouraged him to produce the building system on his own.
The Glickman brothers turned to The Rodon Group for expertise in plastic injection moulding. Rodon was co-founded by Irving Glickman—the brothers’ father—in 1956.
Rodon helped bring the K’NEX idea to fruition with a proprietary acetyl copolymer material, and became the manufacturer of K’NEX.
In 1992, the first shipment of K’NEX arrived at independent toy retailers and select Toys “R” Us locations.
In 1994, K’NEX partnered with Pizza Hut to give away small sets with its kids’ meals.
The company introduced K’NEX to the UK market through a deal with Tetley Group, which distributed small sets inside boxes of Tetley tea.
Glickman sold 10% of the K’NEX US business to Hasbro in the mid-1990s and later sold 50% of the company’s European business to the toy conglomerate.
In 2001, K’NEX established its first-ever licensing agreement with BattleTech to produce a line based on the franchise.
K’NEX went on to form similar agreements with Sesame Street, Tinkertoy, Lincoln Logs, Mario Kart Wii, LucasFilm, and other entertainment franchises.
The K’NEX product line grew along with its market share, adding bricks, motorized parts, and digital connectivity.
After the demise of Toys “R” Us, K’NEX struggled financially.
In 2018, K’NEX was purchased by Florida-based company Basic Fun! for an estimated $21 million.
The K’NEX series of building systems includes the core K’NEX building sets, K’NEX Architecture, Thrill Rides from K’NEX, K’NEX Education, and Kid K’NEX.
K’NEX is sold in over 40 countries and remains a popular construction toy and STEM-based learning tool.
In 2011, the Concordia University chapter of Women in Engineering used K’NEX to create a 37-foot-tall replica of a space shuttle and launch pad.
Guinness World Records recognizes a number of K’NEX projects, including the largest K’NEX ball contraption (126,285 pieces), tallest K’NEX tower (101.3 feet), and largest K’NEX skeleton sculpture (12.46 ft x 33.76 ft x 5.93 ft).
K’NEX has received more than 430 awards and recognitions to date.