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Anne H. Lewis Tinker Toy collection

 Collection — Box: 1-2
Identifier: 114.6115
The Anne H. Lewis Tinker Toy collection contains both original and photocopied instruction sheets and booklets, photocopied patents, photocopied catalogs, photocopied advertisements and articles, and original photographs of Tinkertoy and other products developed by the Toy Tinkers. These paper materials accompanied a donation of Tinkertoy play sets from the collection of Anne Lewis. The bulk of these materials are dated between 1914 and 1953. Additional scope and content information can be found under the “Contents List” section of this finding aid.

The Anne H. Lewis Tinker Toy collection is arranged into five series, one of which has been further divided into subseries. The collection is housed in two archival document boxes.


  • 1914 - 2014

Conditions Governing Use

This collection is open for research use by staff of The Strong and by users of its library and archives. Though the donors have not transferred intellectual property rights (including, but not limited to any copyright, trademark, and associated rights therein) to The Strong, they have given permission for The Strong to make copies in all media for museum, educational, and research purposes.


1 Linear Feet (2 boxes)


This collection contains both original and photocopied instruction sheets and booklets, photocopied patents, photocopied catalogs and advertisements, and original photographs of Tinkertoy building sets and other Tinker Toy products developed by the Toy Tinkers; these materials were compiled by Anne H. Lewis. The bulk of the materials are dated between 1914 and 1953.

Historical Note

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.

System of Arrangement

Series I: Instruction sheets, 1914-1972

Subseries A: Original instruction sheets
Subseries B: Photocopied instruction sheets

Series II: Patents (photocopies), 1914-1943

Series III: Catalogs (photocopies), 1918-1967

Series IV: Advertisements and articles (photocopies), 1914-2001

Series V: Photographs and miscellaneous, 1917-2014

Custodial History

The Anne H. Lewis Tinker Toy collection was donated to The Strong in July 2014 as a gift from Anne Heuer Lewis. The papers were accessioned by The Strong under Object ID 114.6115. The papers were received from David Lewis in an accession of 15 boxes, which included Tinkertoy construction sets and other toys made by the Toy Tinkers.

Related Materials

The Strong museum holds more than 300 Toy Tinkers products and Tinkertoy construction sets (many of which were donated by Anne Lewis) within its toy and game collections.

Processed by

Julia Novakovic, June 2015
Finding Aid to the Anne H. Lewis Tinker Toy Collection
Julia Novakovic
18 September 2015
Description rules

Repository Details

Part of the Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play at The Strong Repository

The Strong
One Manhattan Square
Rochester NY 14607 USA
585.423.1886 (Fax)