The Tinkertoy construction play set, branded as the “Thousand Wonder Toy,” has been entertaining children and adults alike since 1914. Charles Pajeau of Evanston, Illinois was reportedly inspired by seeing a child playing with wooden sticks and empty thread spools. In Patent No. 1,113,371 for “Toy Construction Blocks,” Pajeau wrote, “More specific objects of my invention are to provide rods and connecting members adapted to be adjoined with the rods disposed in various angular formations…” Pajeau calculated the ratio of rod lengths which would enable construction of 45° and 90° angles. The Toy Tinkers company packaged its original wooden construction set of wheels and rods in a metal canister and advertised by building displays in department store windows. By 1916, more than a million sets of Tinkertoy had been sold in America.
The Toy Tinkers also produced wooden pull toys, beaded dolls, and games during the 1920s, but these toys were phased out in the 1930s in favor of the overwhelmingly popular original Tinkertoy. The construction sets soon added electric motors, cranks, and pulleys for budding engineers. During WWII, when other American toy companies faced restrictions on raw materials due to the war effort, Tinkertoy thrived.
Though the Toy Tinkers’ company was sold several times, Tinkertoy remained relatively unchanged for almost 80 years until Playskool added production of Tinkertoy sets in colorful plastic instead of the traditional wood. Tinkertoy was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1998.
The term “Tinkertoy” refers specifically to construction sets; “Tinker Toy” covers a range of toys produced by the Toy Tinkers.