Frank Hornby was an English boy. He was born in Liverpool in 1863 while Abraham Lincoln was President of the United States and Queen Victoria was the ruler of Great Britain. His father was a Liverpool provision merchant. He bought and sold all kinds of produce. Mrs. Hornby, Frank's mother, was a most unusual Christian woman. She
was a dreamer, a lover of music. Her life was filled with romance. Like all good mothers she dreamed great achievements for her boy and for his sister. Frank's sister has also developed into a very remarkable character. She is a fearless and famous missionary in China. She has faced death many times. She went through the Boxer Revolution. She is not afraid to go anywhere and everywhere in China. She speaks Chinese fluently and seems to bear a charmed life. Being a doctor, she has been able to do wonderful things for the sick and has become very much beloved in China, but that is another story. A great many English boys go to private school, but Mr. Hornby was an American in his democracy. He believed in public schools and so Frank
went to a public school until he was sixteen years of age. Then he entered business and worked for one firm until he was twenty-three years old. This was the most interesting period of his life. It was the time when his mind was active in every direction-as every boy's mind is active all the time if he is a healthy boy. It was a period during which great things were happening in the world of invention-things, which influenced Frank's mind and unconsciously shaped his future life.

It is hard to believe, as you sit and talk with this successful business man with branches in New York, Berlin and Paris and his enormous business in all parts of the world, that he was the boy who made so much trouble for his teachers when he was in public school. Truant boys are not always bad boys. So it was with Frank Hornby. Sometimes boys are truants because their minds are so actively interested in something which they have no opportunity of getting. Sometimes they are truants because the teacher does not know how to talk to them or treat them. Sometimes they are truants because their school work is so distasteful. Sometimes they are truants because they have not been taught the fundamental principles which make all future study easier, whether it is in graded school, high school, college or university. There are fundamentally correct ways of doing most things. If they are not done correctly, then everything that grows out of them is wrong and difficult.

That is one reason why Meccano, which Frank Hornby invented, has made such a marvelous success in all parts of the world, and why it has been so widely imitated. It is fundamentally correct in its mechanical principles. Any other constructional toy has to be an imitation if it is correct mechanically. If it is not correct mechanically, then it will not build correctly. Frank Hornby; not a boy now but with two boys serving their country, one at the front in a regiment from which only three hundred returned out of eleven hundred at the end of the first six months of fighting; does not like to talk much about his school days. He says that most of the time he was either a truant or wanting to be a truant. But that does not do him justice as his later life demonstrates.

Some boys are "bullies." Some boys are "sissies"; some boys are stingy; others are liberal; some are tricky and others are straightforward, honest, fair in all their dealings and in all their actions. Frank was never inclined to athletics.Strange to say, though not liking school, he was a student and a great reader. Furthermore, he had a tender heart. He liked to read good books. He was greatly impressed by any book that told of the great achievements of the heroes and inventors of the world. Thousands and thousands of American boys as well as English boys, and indeed boys of all countries, have been inspired by the books of that famous English writer, Samuel Smiles. He it was who wrote the book called "Self Help." He also wrote the book called "Thrift." Queen Victoria knighted him because of the wonderful influence he had upon boys and men in all parts of the world through these Inspiring books.

It must have been Frank's mother who gave him a copy of the book "Self
Help," because mothers have a way of putting good books in front of their boys and thereby influencing the boy's life for good, and honor, and ambition. At any rate, Frank read this marvelous book; that is, he read at it. It made such an impression on him that it was hard to read it right through as you would a regular story, because it so filled his imagination with the pictures of the great men of the world and of how they had struggled to achieve success that his eyes were filled with tears and his throat choked with the feelings that were trying to get out. He was so moved that he read it over and over again. It set his ambition on fire. He, too, wanted to become a great inventor, a great manufacturer, a great leader-he wanted to succeed. Possibly, too, the fact that during Frank's school and early working days many of the world's most famous inventions were perfected, had an influence on his young mind and helped to shape the course which he was later to follow.

One of the greatest events in the history of human achievement was the invention of the steam engine. It has been said that the history of mechanical development counts forward or backward from the time of this invention. With the building of the first steam engine a new era of invention began. This era of mechanical progress stretched over a number of years, and many marvelous inventions which followed reached the height of their development just at the time when Frank Hornby was most interested in reading about such things and most able to understand what a wonderful influence they would have on the world. Undoubtedly, one of the most wonderful of all these inventions which were then coming to light was the electric incandescent lamp perfected by Thomas Edison, the great American Electrical Wizard. His installation of one hundred and fifty electric incandescent lamps on the steamship "Columbia" is regarded as the first practical electric illuminating plant in history.

Other famous inventors were doing great things at this time. Among them was Edward Weston, a pioneer who did much to lay the foundation of the present electrical industry; Alexander Graham Bell, who invented the telephone; J. P. Holland, whose early experiments with submarine boats gave the world many of the ideas which have so changed maritime warfare; Sir Hiram Maxim, who later invented the silencer for guns, at that time was just coming into prominence with his automatic, self- loading machine gun. These, and many more, famous geniuses who have given to the world inventions which have since become known to every boy in the land, were all working, and thinking, and planning, and studying, day and night, to realize their dreams.

Very true, in later years, other men (and a very great many of them were
Americans) produced new inventions that have become just as well known as those which were brought out in Frank Hornby's early days. Among these more recent inventors are the Wright brothers, who made such remarkable progress in the development of the flying machine; Marconi-a young Italian- who invented the first practical wireless apparatus, the further development of which has made possible the sending of messages through the air clear across the Atlantic Ocean; George B. Selden, to whom has been credited the first experiment in this country with the gas vehicle (now the automobile). His first experiments are interesting. Almost every boy knows how an automobile is run. He knows that the power is secured by gas formed by mixing gasoline and air together and compressed inside of the cylinder and then exploded with an electric spark.

But Selden was the first man in America who really worked out this principle successfully. He realized that the steam engine-before then other men had tried to run automobiles by steam-was entirely too heavy for the purpose and so he endeavored to produce a gas engine. At first he generated gas by burning the liquid fuel and tried to use the gas in the cylinder of his engine just as steam is used today. But he soon found that this was not practical, and finally decided that the power must come from the explosion of the gas in the cylinder itself. But notwithstanding these early experiments and inventions of Selden's, we should point to Chas. E. Duryea as the father of the American automobile. Strange to say, he started out at first with the idea of building a flying machine. Then he came across a gas engine; a crude one, but still a gas engine.

It used gasoline for fuel and had electric ignition. He says that "It weighed a ton, at least, and was as big as a dinner table, while the gas tank" (which was the same as the carburetor on the automobile today) "was as big as a wash tub." It certainly must have been a funny looking gas engine. Some time later he began the construction of his first motor carriage; it was completed and actually ran, and so today it is said that the first successful American gasoline automobile was built and run by Chas. E. Duryea. Every boy today likes to read about inventions; the great struggles of famous inventors, and how they worked, suffered and persevered until they at last succeeded. Every boy is fascinated in reading about the development of the locomotive, and in seeing pictures of all the different locomotives that have been used. So it was with Frank Hornby. All these wonderful inventions were written about in the newspapers, the magazines and the books during Frank Hornby's early business days.

Is it any wonder that Frank, as he read about these men and their inventions, should dream of the time when he too would be a great inventor ? Every boy, whether he is American, English, German, French, Italian or whatever nationality he may be, is a born inventor. He instinctively wants to make something. He wants to use his hands. He wants to build, and to create things, which are his very own. Many boys lose their interest in building and in creating and in constructing because they do not have the right material to work with. You never saw a healthy toy who didn't like to hammer and saw and build, but how often when he tries to hammer, he destroys or injures property and is scolded or punished for it, so he loses interest and all because he hasn't the right things to work with. Frank Hornby had deep down in his heart the desire to invent something which would be useful to boys in all countries; something with which they could build the things that they dreamed of building.

He wanted to invent something which would be useful to boys in making their minds grow. Then when they became men, they could make use of the knowledge they had gained by using his invention when they were boys. How well Frank succeeded, we shall learn from the succeeding chapters.

previous chapter                                                                      next chapter