Sir James Dyson

I don’t know what it I like in your country, but there is a tendency in the U.K. for people to live in the past.  People tell each other that things used to be so much better years ago, and that no-one makes anything anymore. It’s not true, of course, and we could argue for hours over conflicting statistics. But one thing is true – there are still plenty of people out there who just love inventing and making things. It didn’t all stop with the Victorians!

Blogger Matt Wharton wrote last year about a report compiled by entrepreneur Sir James Dyson, entitled “Ingenious Britain”. Part of it was headed “Education: Getting young people excited about science and engineering”. Wharton said that on reading it he was reminded of the “James May’s Toy Stories” TV series on the BBC “which showed that although children initially thought stuff like Airfix and Meccano was boring that given the chance to play with it they really changed their minds.”

“I think that if each class of maybe Year Six in schools were given a Meccano set then we’d end up with a lot more people going into engineering” he said.

Which of us would disagree? Dyson’s conviction is that raising the profile of science will help to diversify a country’s economy and will therefore boost growth. Again, which of our countries couldn’t do with some of that?

The billionaire Sir James Dyson, born in 1947, is of course most famous as the inventor of the cyclone vacuum cleaner, though many gardeners have cause to thank him for his ballbarrow, an ingenious wheelbarrow that is much less likely to tip a load all over the lawn than a conventional model thanks to its having a large ball instead of a wheel at the front.

Obvious, perhaps, but many of the great inventions are – it’s just that no-one had thought of them before – or that having done so, no one persevered with them.

I don’t know that Sir James ever had a Meccano set, but I do think his attitude encourages many Meccano engineers. Consider some of his quotes:

  • “I just want things to work properly.”
  • “A lot of people give up when the world seems to be against them, but that’s the point when you should push a little harder.”
  • “You are just as likely to solve a problem by being unconventional and determined as by being brilliant.”
  • “Inventions generate further inventions.”

Every one of those could have a framed place on the wall of your Meccano room. Of course, there is always a special place in the hobby for the collector and the rebuilder of classic manual models. But I have a soft spot for the determined builder, the designer, the creator who sets himself (or herself) a challenge and plugs away at it to make the model work as it does in his imagination, coming up with unconventional ideas and solutions, building on the innovations and ideas of others until the goal is achieved. Recently a small coterie of modellers has been achieving ever great refinements of the idea of a French Knitting Machine! Will they make the world a better place? Probably not – but that sort of attitude will, and the lessons we learn from Meccano we may well be able to use in the “real world” to lead us all one day out of these global financial doldrums.

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About Philip Webb

Chairman of the International Society of Meccanomen
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