Please upgrade your browser

For the best experience, you should upgrade your browser. Visit our accessibility page to view a list of supported browsers along with links to download the latest version.

Nicholas Petters

MA work

Constructing Meccanoland: Engineering a Boy’s World, 1901–1925

If you are at all familiar with the British construction toy Meccano, and if you were to page through the December 1925 issue of Meccano Magazine, you would observe some features which you might expect: instructions for new models, competition announcements, letters from Meccano consumers, reports from Meccano clubs and advertisements for the product itself. You might not be surprised to see the twenty-third instalment of 'Lives of the Engineers', to read 'The Story of the Forth Bridge' or to peruse the regular 'Engineering News of the Month'. However, you might not have predicted discovering a feature article on 'The Wonders of the Snowflake' or an address on 'The Adventure of Living' by Theodore Roosevelt. You might also be curious to find out why one of the 'Three Great Objects' of the Meccano Guild was to 'foster clean-mindedness, truthfulness, ambition and initiative in boys', and puzzled to see full-page advertisements for products manufactured by competitor toy companies.

Through an analysis of Meccano Magazine, I consider why all of this content came to be incorporated into Meccano promotional material in the early twentieth century. I argue that Meccano components are inherently 'meaningless products' which only acquire meaning when assembled and which, because of their materiality, lend themselves to constructing engineering and mechanical models. I suggest that Meccano embraced these qualities, deliberately aligned its product with engineering, associated it with education and encouraged the development of communities around it; a successful strategy which established Meccano as a household name.


  • Nicholas Petters
  • MA Degree


    School of Humanities


    MA History of Design, 2014

  • I worked as a freelance designer for theatre, television and film both before and after graduating with a BA (Hons) in Dramatic Art from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. After a brief foray into studying architecture, I joined the V&A/RCA History of Design programme. While on the course I wrote about an eighteenth-century Sheffield penknife and about Dinky Toys made by Meccano in Liverpool. I volunteered as a researcher for the V&A European Galleries Project and presented at 'Death by Slideshow' at the RCA. I intend to continue exploring, researching and creating in the future.

  • Degrees

  • Certificate in Architecture, London Metropolitan University, 2011; BA (Hons) Dramatic Art, University of the Witwatersrand, 2001
  • Experience

  • Researcher, V&A European Galleries Project, 2013