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The Good Wood

The Weird History And Unexpected Benefits Of Lincoln Logs

Last year, after a stint in China, Lincoln Logs began to be manufactured by honest to goodness Maine woodworkers, news which likely elicits one of two responses from most people: “‘Merica!” followed by a loud whoop, or simply, “They still make Lincoln Logs?” Indeed they do, and have since 1918. It’s a good thing, too, because building toys are powerful learning tools. There’s plenty of research to suggest that unstructured block play helps kids develop spatial awareness and problem solving. Structured block play – the kind Lincoln Logs promote by providing kid-accessible blueprints for frontier-era palaces like Fort Lincoln – was recently linked to improved math ability in kids as young as 3. Now, they’ll be linked to improved employment in Maine, too.

Here are 6 other things you didn’t know about those wooden marvels:

They Were Created ByAn (Almost) Famous Architect

Lincoln Logs were invented John Lloyd Wright, who might sound familiar because his dad was the most influential American architect of all time. John was inspired to create the toy while working with Frank on Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel, which required an interlocking wood beam frame designed to withstand earthquakes. It was a fortuitous invention, considering that Frank fired John shortly after in a dispute over salary. John focused on making and marketing Lincoln Logs for a few years before returning to architecture. He ultimately sold the patent to Playskool in 1943 … for $800.

They’re Kind Of To Blame For Modern Toy Marketing
Ten years after Wright unloaded the patent, Playskool had the brilliant idea of using that newfangled television thing as an advertising medium. The campaigns that ran on Davy Crockett and Pioneer Playhouse throughout the 50s were among the first featuring toys, and the resulting boffo sales were proof of television’s efficacy in marketing to kids. Presumably, your home provides similar proof.

They’re Among The Oldest Building Toys Still In Production
There are actually three building toys still available today that pre-date Lincoln Logs. Tinkertoys were invented in 1914, and the first Erector Sets became available in 1913. But the granddaddy of them all is Meccano, which was originally conceived in 1898 and eventually became so powerful it gobbled up the Erector Set business in 1990.

They Don’t Work If They’re Not Wood
In the 70s, Playskool sold Lincoln Logs to Milton Bradley. They decided to replace the wood – which had only been selling successfully for 50 years – with plastic. No one bought them, and they brought back the original wood design by the end of the 80s. Amazingly, people started buying them again.

They Inspired A Building Way Cooler Than The Building That Inspired Them
Two hours south of Tokyo, the Hakone Pavilion is built from 589 logs without a single metal joint. Each log is individually notched to lay across another at precise angles, and the structure looks like a Lincoln Log cabin assembled by Paul Bunyan on acid.

There’s A Way To Make Them Compatible With Legos
And with Tinkertoys and Duplo blocks and 7 other building toys. The Free Universal Construction Kit is a set of 80 adapters that can be produced using a basic 3D printer, which expands the physical and age limits of the original toys. That said, no one knows the scientific implications of cross-breeding a Lincoln Log with a Zoob module, so proceed with caution.

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