This Was One of the Coolest Toys I Had as a Kid

This post was inspired by fellow blogger Michael Kuch, who asked his readers today to respond to a series of questions as a way to get to know each other. One of the questions was “Your Favorite Toy as a Child”. My kneejerk response was “Matchbox” toy cars, probably influenced by Michael’s answer of Hot Wheels. I’m not sure if it was just me, but I always sensed a bit of competition between Matchbox and Hot Wheels, and I was firmly in the Matchbox camp, having built up a decent size collection over the years.

(I also added “ball” to my response – kickball, baseball, football, basketball, superball, beachball – you name a ball, I probably had it.)

But as I thought more about the question, I tried to think of what other toys I played with, and then I remembered – Lectron.

I remember spending hours upon hours with this thing.

Odds are you have probably never seen or heard of this “toy”, which is pictured above.

Since I would not be able to do it justice, here’s a description from the September 1967 issue of Electronics Illustrated.


The Egger-Lectron Model 8400 learning aid is imported from Germany and will be distributed by the Macalaster Scientific Co. (a subsidiary of Raytheon), 186 Third Ave., Waltham, Mass., 02154. In this country they will be called electronic dominoes.

Just about anyone can put together an operating circuit as easily as they could play real dominoes. Each of the plastic boxes contains one or more electronic components or an interconnecting part. The kit supplied to us by Raytheon contains a carefully-selected collection of components, all neatly done up in plastic boxes bearing a schematic symbol of the contents, a manual of experiments and two work boards. Even a 9-year-old child can match the marked dominoes with those on the schematics to build and demonstrate a light meter, electronic thermometer, tone generator, or radio – to mention a few of the 90 experiments in the manual that accompanies the complete set. For the high school student, there are more advanced projects such as a three-transistor reflex-AM radio, metering circuits, transistor-testers, and simple computer flip-flops.

The three-transistor reflex-AM radio and several smaller circuits were put together in about an hour the first evening we worked with the set. And that included time for experimenting – which is at least half the fun of building the circuits. Of course, if you want to snap the boxes together really fast, give the circuit a quick test, then pull it apart and snap together another circuit. You could do eight or ten circuits in an hour.

The set we show here contains 108 plastic boxes. Sixty-five contain such components as resistors, capacitors, transistors (with and without a bias resistor), a meter, a relay, a thermistor, potentiometers, rheostats, RF transformer, speaker, push-button switches, diodes, variable capacitor, photocell and battery packs. Eight are blanks in which there are small contacts that accept the leads of resistors, capacitors, inductors or transistors for supplying values not included in the set. Jacked boxes will accept special inputs or test leads, for example. Other boxes contain connectors to join boxes to boxes or to ground a component to the work board.

How Does It All Work? In vaudeville, they used to say it was all done with mirrors. In Dominoes, it’s all done with magnets. Instead of using clips, binding posts, or springs to hold parts together, each box is equipped with small magnets at the points where it is to contact another box or the board. The sides and the bottom of each box are made of clear plastic so you can see what’s inside. The top of each box – carrying the schematic symbol – is opaque white.

Experiment No. 21 is about as simple as you could want. It consists of a bulb, battery, and switch in series. This is basic. In the next two experiments, you put resistors in series with battery and lamp to note the effect of adding resistance in the circuit. The lamp, of course, gets dimmer. From there the experiments go on through multivibrators, audio, photocell applications, relays, etc., ending with a burglar alarm.

Everybody who has seen the dominoes has found it hard to keep his hands off them. Their arrival in our New York office threatened to play havoc with production schedules, in fact, until some killjoy remembered that they had been designed for kids. So we sheepishly carted them off to a household that included a bright 14-year-old. He was delighted.

First project on the agenda was, of course, the AM radio circuit – even though that’s toward the back of the book. It worked and he was hooked. He and his father (who was also hooked by this time) were having a grand time trying circuit after circuit when the eight-year-old kid sister showed up and wanted to play, too. Now, this is not quite cricket, according to Raytheon, because the dominoes are geared to high-school instruction. Nothing daunted, she abandoned her numbered painting and pitched in.

… it does demonstrate the appeal of the dominoes. It’s hard to imagine any other means by which you could get across these basic concepts so quickly and so vividly. The fact that kids can put the parts in place themselves and see immediate results from their efforts beats fussing with Fahnestock clips and interconnecting wires all hollow – to say nothing of messing with soldering irons.

Homebodies may have reservations about the cost, however. A basic starter kit, the Mini Lectron, having pretty limited capabilities, is expected to sell for $19.50. While the way will be eased to bigger and better things by the availability of individual blister-packed add-on units, cost of a full set like the one we had will probably be $128. Two intermediate sets are also planned.

Still, considering the way the Lectron can put across ideas (even to our five-year-old, who corrected a mistake of his father’s after only ten minutes with the darn thing), it’s got to be one of the grandest educational toys, ever.


As I recall, my parents were generous enough to have bought me the entire kit, since I can still remember building that burglar alarm and radio, 50 years later! I never realized how much it cost; $128 is equivalent to close to $1,500 today! I also remember being able to do things like make the light bulb brighter or dimmer or the sound louder or softer.

The booklet made it quite easy to build the “experiments” since all you had to do was match how the various blocks connected with each other. After a while, I got to know what the difference was between resistors, capacitors, transistors, meters, relays, thermistors, potentiometers, rheostats, and diodes, as well as what symbol represented each type of component.

Once you had mastered all the projects in the booklet, one of the best things about Lectron was the ability to just make things up. Connect different devices together and see what would happen.

It was all you’d want out of a toy – entertaining and educational. I wouldn’t be surprised if part of my love for gadgets and technology wasn’t inspired by the time I spent with Lectron as a child.

I just hope I expressed my gratitude to my parents for such a wonderful gift; if not, I hope it’s not too late.

Thanks, Mom and Dad!

*image from Makezine

40 thoughts on “This Was One of the Coolest Toys I Had as a Kid

    1. Matchbox were the first ones in the market, having started in Britain in 1953. Hot Wheels came along in 1968, made by Mattel. Several years later Mattel bought Matchbox. I guess I liked Matchbox because they were the first ones I played with, and who likes change?!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Being one of 3 girls it was either dolls(which) I hated unlike my sisters or books and even then I loved a manual..still a nerdy reader..sigh…I then had two boys..yikes..that was a shock..Action man well it’s still a doll, Meccano and lego…Then it was pets…snakes, lizards, water dragons and the like…Maybe I will ask them what their favourite toy was as a child…The lectron looks interesting 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I do remember some other companies that offered science-based learning toys, but I don’t think I have seen anything quite this well thought out. The design and ease of use for a younger person is just darn good engineering and a real knowledge of market. So, at some point in your life you could have chosen to be an electrical engineer, and yet you still chose accounting? I guess you are just allergic to any kind of spotlight.

    A guy in a bar leans over to the guy next to him and says, “Want to hear an accountant joke?”

    The guy next to him replies, “Well, before you tell that joke, you should know that I’m 6 feet tall, 200 pounds, and I’m an accountant. And the guy sitting next to me is 6’2″ tall, 225 pounds, and he’s an accountant. Now, do you still want to tell that joke?”

    The first guy says, “No. I don’t want to have to explain it twice.”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You hit the nail on the head – Lectron was just so well designed that it made it fun and easy to work with, while still teaching the user a thing or two.

      I think accounting chose me, after trying a few other majors (math, phys ed, psychology, econ)

      I guess us accountants aren’t so threatening… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I probably wouldn’t let you or Peggy play with it!
      I did mention clown school in my post from Friday 🙂
      And as for meteorology – I always had an interest, but as it turned out, the only “C” I got in college was in an Intro to Meteorology class – go figure! I guess it wasn’t meant to be…
      Hope all is well!

      Like

  3. what an amazing ‘toy!’ your parents knew you well and followed your interests and that is such a gift. glad it inspired you in so many ways. i’m sure you learned a lot, and i especially love that it offered the opportunity for you to take it further.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I was born in the UK in 1953 so I was an early adopter of Matchbox toys: I had loads of them, as they were easy to give me as Christmas or birthday gifts. There were also some larger toy cars, branded Dinky: I had quite a few of those too. But my toy car days were long over before Hot Wheels came along! I’ve never heard of Lectron but it sounds as though I’ve missed out.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. They are worth a bit now, if you have the boxes – which I didn’t keep. By being that bit larger Dinky toys were a bit more complex, with doors that opened and steering wheels that worked. If I tell you that my favourite toy was Subbuteo – a football (soccer) game where you flicked little figures around on a baize pitch – you can probably guess what I was like as a kid!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. The tv antiques people always go nuts when they come across cars with original boxes – looks like we both missed out! That game looks amazing, and a decent attempt at recreating the complexities of the real thing.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. to me, toys are meant to be played with, not preserved in their original packing! Lectron was a great toy – who says engineers can’t create something that is easy to use?

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Exactly. The last thing we’d have thought about back then was preserving them for an auction 60 years later. Lectron does sound good from the Wiki description, I don’t remember ever seeing anything like it over here, though. I might have learned more physics if I’d seen it!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. it was a great toy; for some reason, I had no interest in a chemistry set – maybe I was too worried about blowing up our house…

      it was sad to see the Radio Shack stores disappear…

      Like

  5. I’ve never seen or heard of Lectron before, but it is rather ingenious, especially considering this was a few years ago. Building your burglar alarm brought back (here he goes again) another teaching moment. One of my students, a divergent-thinking sixth-grader, much more into electronics than the more traditional school subjects, once wired his desk. I had no idea he had done this. One day I had to get in his desk after school to try and find something, and when I lifted the desktop, an alarm promptly went off. It thoroughly scared the hell out of me. I always wondered what happened to that kid.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. that alarm would have freaked me out as well. I’d be doing a google search of him to see what he’s up to now. If a kid did that now it would probably have a live video feed so the kid could see you opening his desk from his smartphone…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. You’re right, Jim. I’ve never seen or heard of it but what a marvellous toy. You must have been an exceptional child for your parents to have bought you such a generous gift. I’m sure you thanked them many times, but their ability to see you get so much pleasure from it was probably the greatest form of thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi there,
    My hobbies were mostly taking things apart when I was very young 😁
    When I was about 12, I discovered Braun Lectron when visiting neighbours.
    I spent lots of hours building the circuits and strangely never forgot about this.
    A few years ago I purchased some Lectron sets and now still having a ball with it !
    You can find more info on Lectron.info about new circuits and lots of information about this.
    Greetings,
    LectronFan

    Liked by 1 person

  8. That’s true ! It is still available (Lectron.de is momentarily closed due to the Corona).
    What I really like about the system is the fact that a circuit build looks like a diagram.
    Also that it is very easy to try different component values.
    There are still many legacy Lectron sets (with Ge transistors) out there.
    The modern sets have Si transistors and negative ground.

    Many new circuit designs around these can be found on Lectron.info and also manuals can be downloaded (courtesy of Michael Peters).
    Greetings

    Liked by 1 person

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