Bayko

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Bayko poster from the 1950s.

Bayko was an English building model construction toy invented by Charles Plimpton, an early plastics engineer and entrepreneur in Liverpool. First marketed in Britain it was soon exported throughout the British Commonwealth and became a world wide brand between 1934 and 1967. The name derived from Bakelite, one of the world's first commercial plastics[1][2] that was originally used to manufacture many of the parts. Bayko was one of the world's earliest plastic toys to be marketed.[3]

Bayko system[edit]

Basic construction elements: base, rods and bricks, from a Plimpton era Bayko set.

Bayko was primarily intended for the construction of model buildings. The rectangular Bakelite bases had a square grid of holes, spaced at 3/8 inch centres, into which thin metal rods of various lengths could be placed vertically. In order to make larger models, two or more bases could be joined together by means of metal links secured by screws through holes in the bases. Bakelite bricks, windows and other parts could then be slotted between pairs of rods in order to create the walls of the building. Other commonly used parts included floors (thin sheets of resin bonded paper with the same square pattern grid of holes as bases), and roofs of various types. There were also a large number of other more specialised parts.[4] In the original sets bases were coloured brown; walls were brown/maroon and cream; roofs were deep maroon; and windows were a very dark green, but by 1937 the 'true' colours of red or white walls, green windows and red roofs were established. Bases were still large and brown, until 1939 when the 'New Series' retooling programe changed them to the more familiar, smaller version, initially in a mottled green. Post war the standard colours were red and white walls, red roofs, green widows and green bases, and, despite some experiments with 'rogue' colours, these remained in play until 1959 when Meccano took over.

Example model house, built with a Plimpton era Bayko set.
Bayko model of the Empire State Building in the Museum of Liverpool, built by Leo Janssen, 1999–2003.

The main advantage of Bayko over its rivals is generally regarded as the high standard of realism of the models constructed with it. The main disadvantage often quoted is the fragility of Bakelite which frequently led to bases and window parts breaking. Some safety concerns have also been expressed[by whom?] regarding the suitability of using thin metal rods in a toy for children, however, had the product survived into the health and safety years, an alternative plasic version would have allayed these fears.

History[edit]

Plimpton era[edit]

See Charles Plimpton for early Bayko history.

The Bayko system was invented and patented by Charles Plimpton in 1933. Plimpton set up Plimpton Engineering in Liverpool, England, to manufacture the components, the majority of which were made from Bakelite, a new synthetic plastic developed in the early 1900s. The sets were called "Bayko Light Construction Sets" (the term "Bayko Light" coming from the name "Bakelite") and went on sale at the end of 1934. The Bakelite material was sourced from Bakelite Limited, a Birmingham supplier, and for the first few years of its life, Bayko was marketed by both Plimpton Engineering and Bakelite Limited.

Initially five sets were produced, "Set 1" (the smallest) through to "Set 5" (the largest). The bricks were brown and ream, the bases brown, the windows dark green, and the roofs dark maroon. Plimpton began advertising Bayko in Meccano Ltd's Meccano Magazine in September 1935, unaware that 25 years later, Meccano itself would own and manufacture Bayko. Regular advertisements appeared in the magazine over those next 25 years. The more familiar colour scheme of red and white bricks, green windows and red roofs appeared in 1937.

In 1935 three Ornamental Sets A, B and C were introduced that contained decorative parts to supplement the existing sets, including pillars, arches and curved bricks and windows. In 1936 a "Set 6" was introduced, a much larger set than "Set 5" that included all the new ornamental parts. All the bricks in this set, initially, were 'Oak', a mottled brown colour, and sets like this were, and indeed remain, much cherished. By 1938, the Bayko sets were described as "Bayko Building Sets", and in 1939 all the existing sets were relaunched and replaced by a 'New Series' of six sets that incorporated new parts and a red, white and green colour scheme.

Production was interrupted in 1942 by World War II when the company switched to manufacturing for the war effort. When production resumed in 1946, the set range was reduced to three, "Set 0" to "Set 2", set "0" being a new, much smaller, entry level set, appropriate to these austere times. A "Set 3" was introduced in 1947.

Charles Plimpton died of tuberculosis in December 1948 and his wife, Audrey Plimpton took over the running of Plimpton Engineering. Further new parts were added to the sets in 1949 and 1950 to increase the realism and flexibility of the system, and in 1952 a "Set 4" was introduced. However, by the late 1950s, suffering fro a chronic lack of investment in new parts, Bayko came under great pressure from other construction toys that appeared on the market, and Audrey Plimpton retired in 1959. She sold the company to Meccano Ltd in 1959, though Brittains had also been in the frame.[3][5]

Meccano era[edit]

Having acquired the rights to manufacture Bayko in 1959, Meccano Ltd moved production to its Meccano factory in Speke, Liverpool. To rationalise and simplify the system, all the Bayko sets were redesigned. Many of the decorative parts were dropped and the cumbersome one-piece roofs were replaced by flat-roof pieces. The colour scheme was changed to grey bases, light green roofs, yellow windows and doors, and orange-red and beige bricks. In order to reduce production costs, polystyrene was used for all the plastic parts instead of Bakelite.

Four Meccano Bayko sets went on sale from the end of 1960 into 1961, numbered 11 to 14 to avoid being confused with the Plimpton sets. The Bayko adverts continued in Meccano Magazine, and — due to the cost-cutting measures — the new sets were sold at a lower price than the Plimpton sets. In 1962 Meccano introduced its own decorative pieces, including opening French windows, large shop windows and pantile roofs, and a new "Set 15".

In 1963 Meccano Ltd also began feeling the pressure of competing toys, even though the models Bayko produced were more realistic architectural constructions. By 1964, all advertising for Bayko was stopped, although Meccano continued manufacturing Bayko sets and spares until 1967, by now under the Tri-ang oenership.

Strangely as Bayko was being 'milked' as it struggled, unsupported in the market place. another re-tooling programme was begun, with the introduction of the 'Flanged' or 'Minimalist' bricks and related parts, reverting back to red and white bricks, but this programme of change was stopped halfway through. Eventually the 'milking' led to a deterioration of standards as mixed colour sets were churned out.

Over its lifespan, both Plimpton and Meccano Bayko was exported across the world, and, besides being a toy, it attracted a modest adult following that still exists today. A healthy trade in original Bayko sets and parts also exists today, with some enthusiasts even casting their own Bayko pieces.[3][6]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Development of Bakelite". American Chemical Society. Retrieved 2011-01-04. 
  2. ^ Bradley, Pete. "Bakelite". Bayko by BaykoMan. Retrieved 2011-01-04. 
  3. ^ a b c Wright, Melvyn. "The Bayko system". Bayko Building Site. Retrieved 2009-02-06. 
  4. ^ Bradley, Pete. "BAYKO Basics". Bayko by BaykoMan. Retrieved 2009-02-06. 
  5. ^ Bradley, Pete. "Plimpton Era Summary". Bayko by BaykoMan. Retrieved 2009-02-06. 
  6. ^ Bradley, Pete. "Meccano Era Summary". Bayko by BaykoMan. Retrieved 2009-02-06. 

External links[edit]