Tinkertoys are a construction toy on the Toy Industry Association’s “Century of Toys” list. Invented in 1913 by Charles H. Pajeau and Robert Pettit, they consist of wooden poles, plastic elbows and joints, end caps, coils, flags, and pulleys. Advanced sets include plastic tubes, pods, pod joints and pod hooks, rail holders, connector clips, a faceplate, and robotic arms. Tinkertoys can be used to follow directions or for imaginative play.
Along with Erector Sets®, Legos®, Lincoln Logs® and K’NEX®, Tinkertoys® are a type of construction toy on the Toy Industry Association’s list called the “Century of Toys” – the top 100 toys of the twentieth century. Created in 1913, the same year as Erector Sets®, Tinkertoys® were invented by two Evanstonians: Charles H. Pajeau and Robert Pettit, inspired by children building with empty spools of thread and pencils.
Most Tinkertoy® pieces are made from wood and are very similar to the original design. Basic types of pieces include:
• Poles: Color-coded by length, these identical diameter poles have a slot at each end to hold a flag, if desired.
• Elbows: Plastic pieces, bent in the center, angled connecting rods.
• Joints: pieces of plastic that can connect two rods end to end and, in its central hole, can rotate around each other.
• End Caps: Plastic pieces that neatly cover the ends of the rod.
• Coils: wooden hubs that accommodate rods around their circumference and through a hole in their center. Unlike couplings, the central hole fixes the rod, not allowing the coil to rotate.
• Flags: thin green plastic quadrilaterals that act as flaps, wings or arms.
• Pulleys: Round pieces with a hole in the center like a reel and a recess to hold a rope.
More advanced sets include plastic tubes, pods, pod joints and pod hooks and rail holders, as well as connector clips, a faceplate, and robotic arms. Pipes allow you to add curves to your designs.
All kits include a design guide with ideas for building. Example ideas include a racing car, a robot, an airplane, a helicopter, and a castle. This raises a point about how children can use Tinkertoys®. On the one hand, Tinkertoys® can be used to help children work from a pattern and follow directions. On the other hand, Tinkertoys® also offers children space for imaginative play, in which they simply explore the possibilities offered by the elements of the set to create an abstract or specific structure, planned or improvised.