In 1946, a new and unlikely player in the construction toy hobby emerged in the U.S.A. In the years immediately following WWII, steel was in short supply. However, the Urbana Manufacturing Company of Urbana, Ohio found itself with an available supply of the metal. For reasons now lost in the mists of time, the company decided to make use of this steel to create a new construction toy system. The result was the interesting but short-lived system that they named The Constructioneer.
Constructioneer sets were manufactured for only about 6 years. Their demise, it seems, was due to a combination of commercial reasons and pending legal action by the A.C. Gilbert company, reportedly for patent infringement of some kind. Despite this short tenure, the system went through a few transitions, including some minor redesigns of the motor, gearbox, and certain parts. There were only three sets in the original product line: these were numbered 4, 6, and 8. Later, a fourth set, the No. 12, was added. The two smallest sets were packaged in colorfully printed cardboard boxes showing assembled models on the box lids. The two largest sets came in sturdy metal cases with rounded corners and edges, and a handle and strong lockable latch on the front; they were painted either blue or red-orange. The metal box lids have an oval shaped recess in the center in which a multicolored embossed foil label is glued. These boxes feature a 1" deep lift-out metal tray inside; parts were attached to the tray by a combination of holes and integrated metal tabs punched out of the tray bottom. A large retangular opening was left in one corner of the tray to accomodate the large 110v electric motor. On an interesting note, the tray, when inverted, could also double as a base for models, using the holes as attachment points. The sets also included colorful instruction manuals showing illustrations of various models that could be built with each set. I am aware of two different versions of the manual - see above, and in my feature on the No. 8 set.
Parts in The Constructioneer system were limited to about 50 total types, only about half the number found in larger systems of the time like Erector. A part diagram for the early version of the No. 8 set is shown at the bottom of this page. The main types were plates (called "bases"), both flanged and flat, and perforated strips (called "braces"), along with an assortment of pulleys, tires, pierced disks (called "eccentrics"), angle brackets, axles, and cranks. With only a few exceptions, all parts were made of stamped steel. Plates were painted blue, yellow, or dark red, while most other parts were nickel plated. Tires were black rubber. A few special parts enhanced the larger sets, including stamped steel carnival seats for use in the Ferris Wheel, Carousel, and other ride models, as well as a large (12.9") circular base and a cast zinc "cement mixer" barrel. Gears, noticeably absent from the system, only appeared on the electric motor. An unusual feature of Constructioneer parts was the hole spacing, which was 7/16" rather than the more common 1/2" used by Erector and Meccano. Like Erector, however, screws and nuts use 8-32 threads (although nuts were hex shaped).
While most parts remained unchanged throughout the lifetime of Constructioneer, two versions of the B-135 3 Sectional Base were produced. Whether one replaced the other, or whether they appeared in sets simultaneously, I don't know. However, the part diagram from the early manual shown at the bottom of this page shows only one version of the part. The photos below show the differences between the two versions, which are identical except for three features. Both versions are flanged along one long edge, and feature the same interesting arrangement of screw holes. However, one version is about 5/8" longer than the other, with a single hole in the extended portion. In addition, the shorter version features a channel stamped into the long flat edge, between the first and second row of holes. Finally, the long version had square corners, while the short version had rounded corners.
Two versions of the B-135 3 Sectional Base
End detail of the short version (left) and long version (right)
Two different motors were featured in Constructioneer sets. The smaller sets came with a wind-up clockwork motor, similar to the Erector A48. The larger sets included the "Wasp" 110V electric motor. The Wasp motor featured a large, heavy cast metal housing, similar in size and weight to the Erector A49 motor (minus its gearbox). Also like the A49, the Wasp motor housing had screw slots molded into the feet of its housing. During its short lifetime, the red-orange painted Wasp appeared in two versions. In the early incarnation, shown in the photo at right, a nickel plated bracket was attached to the front of the housing. The bracket supported an axle shaft, two small pulleys, and a gear that were driven by a worm gear on the motor's driveshaft. In the later incarnation of the Wasp motor, the bracket was replaced by a closed, vented gearbox. Inside the gearbox, two cross shafts, each with its own pinion gear, were driven by the worm gear. Output was via a third, sliding shaft that was controlled by a lever on top of the gearbox. Where the early motor had only two small pulleys, the later version featured two cone-shaped cast zinc triple pulleys, a very useful improvement. This version also had redesigned ventilation slots in the motor housing.
Late model No. 8 set parts, with early motor bracket
Some No. 8 set models, with early motor
Continuing with our tour of the short-lived but fondly remembered Constructioneer building system, let's take a look at the second largest set in the line, the No. 8. Like the top-of-the-line No. 12 set that appeared during the final years of production, the No. 8 was packed in a sturdy metal box, painted either blue or red-orange (see photo at right). The set shown in this pictorial is from 1947, and is in extremely nice condition. The box is solid and undented, and the latch and label are almost like new, as are the lift-out tray and most of the parts. The painted parts are, for the most part, like new and mostly unused, although they exhibit runs and drips in many places, which is charactersitic of Constructioneer parts. They needed only a damp cloth to bring them back to new condition. The plated parts, particularly the pulleys and eccentrics, were in great shape, and I brought them back to new using my tried and true method of chrme polish and 4-0 steel wool. The rubber tires were also almost pristine, soft and pliable. The yellow-orange cardboard insert in the lid may be a replacement, but I do not know this for certain. The manuals were also clean and bright. I am uncertain as to the exact inventory for a No. 8, as there is no such list in either of the manuals, although comparison with other sets suggests that only the odd screw, nut, or strip may be missing from this one. The inventory I have compiled is shown at the bottom of this page. The motor is not original to this set, however, being the late version with enclosed gearbox.
1947 No. 8 Constructioneer Set, with late model Wasp motor
Shown in the photo at right is the empty No. 8 metal box, with the removable tray in place; note the large hole in the back left corner for the motor. LAlso visible in the photo are the long metal tabs stamped out of the tray bottom that were used to hold down parts. This is a less than desirable solution, of course, because after one too many bends they will break off. The box measures 14" long x 10" wide x 4" deep. Fully packed as shown in the large photo above, the No. 8 is heavy, weighing in at just over 11 pounds. Parts were attached firmly to the insert in the lid, and to the tray; below the tray, parts were placed loosely in the bottom of the box. Small parts, including screws, nuts, axles, hubs, and small tire and pulleys were stored in two cardboard part boxes featuring attractive graphics printed on the outside (see photo below). As mentioned previously, the box lid featured a colorful foil label, which is shown in the photo below.
The photos below show the major parts from the No. 8, except for the wide variety of braces (strips); most of these can be seen in the photo of the set above, where they are attached to the lid insert (the remainder are stored beneath the part tray). The first photo shows all of the bases, both flat and flanged, the six carnival seats (B-127), all of the small (A-106) and large (A-128) pulleys (minus the rubber tires), and the two eccentrics (pierced disks - A-126). The remaining photos show details of the pulleys and tires, motor, carnival seats, and one of the two part boxes for storing small parts.
Some of the major parts, including bases, eccentrics, pulleys, and seats
Large and small pulleys and rubber tires
Late model Wasp 110V electric motor, with enclosed gearbox
Carnival seats (part B-127) - the set includes two of each color
Detail of the box latch
One of two cardboard part boxes (the other is longer and flatter, with similar graphics in aqua blue and white
The table below lists the inventory for the No. 8 set, as near as I have been able to determine it. There are likely some minor discrepancies, and I will adjust the listing as any come to light. I have noted the part color(s) in the Quantity column. Also note that I have not indicated an amount for A-132, which is simply a combination of A-128 and A-131. Rather, I have indicated the unassembled totals of the latter two parts.
|The Constructioneer No. 8 Set (w/Late Model Wasp Motor)|
|Quantity||Part Number||Part Name|
|2||A-102||Axle - 1 3/4"|
|5||A-103||Axle - 4"|
|3||A-122||Axle 7 1/2"|
|3||A-104||Crank - 5 1/4"|
|1||A-123||Crank - 8 1/2"|
|8||A-106||Pulley - 1 3/16"|
|6||A-128||Pulley - 2"|
|8||A-107||Rubber Tire - 1 3/4"|
|6||A-131||Rubber Tire - 2 5/8"|
|18||A-110-5||5 Hole Brace (strip)|
|17||A-112-9||9 Hole Brace (strip)|
|20||A-113-10||10 Hole Brace (strip)|
|18||A-114-12||12 Hole Brace (strip)|
|16||A-115-15||15 Hole Brace (strip)|
|12||A-120-18||18 Hole Brace (strip)|
|12||A-120-20||20 Hole Brace (strip)|
|18||A-121||3 Hole Angle|
|18||A-117||Yoke (long double angle)|
|1||1||B-135||3 Sectional Base|
|1||B-136||Motor (w/ 2 triple pulleys)|
|8-32 Nut (hex)|
|1||A-124||Gear & Shaft Assembly|
|n/a||A-132||Wheel & Tire Assembly|