Ghosts of Christmas Past: The long-ago geek gifts that made us what we are
ZX computers, Meccano and more
Lego may be the building system that most people remember from their youth, but it wasn't the only one. I first came across FischerTechnik in a huge display of an oil rig in the Beales department store in Bournemouth.
Compared to the Lego of the time, FischerTechnik seemed more flexible, more kinetic - the display in the shop even had a helicopter whizzing up and down. Where Lego had simple bricks and a few wheels, the German alternative offered much more. It was, in a way, almost a cross between Meccano, and Lego. Today's kits even include app-controllable robotics modules.
Brainchild of Frank Hornby, who also created the eponymous trains, and Dinky Toys, the Meccano most Reg readers will probably remember is the blue and yellow, which appeared in the early 1970s. Countless hours of fun tightening screws and bending metal plates could create just about anything, as long as you had enough pieces.
Source: Lady alys (own work) Creative Commons via Wikimedia Commons
There were motors and gears, and kits based on specific projects, as well as just a collection of pieces. Later sets introduced plastic parts, which could be shaped more easily, though purists will stick with metal. Still made today, the company is now based in France.