Lincoln Logs: Interesting playthings typify the spirit of America
September 11, 2013 8:26 AM   Subscribe

John Lloyd Wright might not have the renown for the architectural creativity of his father, but John found inspiration in his father's work and designed toys that are still being made today. I'm talking about Lincoln Logs.

As currently told, John was inspired by the "earthquake-proof" foundation of interlocking beams that his father used in the design for the second iteration of the Imperial Hotel, which Frank intended to "float the building upon" the soft mud present below the building site, as "a battleship floats on salt water" (Google books preview). FLW's design survived one earthquake in 1923, shortly after the completion of the hotel, but settled unevenly into the soft subsoil, and the hotel was demolished in 1968. It was replaced by a modern, un-FLW design, but if you want a further peak at the prior design, here is a virtual archive of artifacts and reference material.

Back to the world of wooden toys, John Lloyd Wright's design was not the first log cabin type toy. In fact, one of the earliest examples, Ellis, Britton & Eaton's Log Cabin Playhouse, dates back to 1865. Other contemporaries of Lincoln Logs include American Logs by Halsam and Frontier Logs by Ideal, now made by Poof-Slinky, but John's Lincoln Logs were most successful (related: Lincoln Log ads from 1926, '28, and '36). Lincoln Logs were also some of the first toys advertised on TV, with commercials appearing during shows like "Pioneer Playhouse" and "Davy Crockett," which saw to interest in the wooden toys peaking at that time. They were marketed as educational toys, improvements to basic building blocks.

In late 1949 John Lloyd Wright patented "Wright Blocks," a more modern take on the linking logs of old, as seen in this blog and discussed in this FLW forum, where you can see some more detailed images of the blocks and the packaging.

If you have Lincoln Logs around and need some inspiration to start building, K'Nex* has 11 design plans online (sadly, no designs for Abraham Lincoln's cabin or Uncle Tom's cabin, which were supposedly included in the original kit), and you can preview the Lincoln Logs Building Manual (Google books) with a bunch more ideas.

For the the true DIY folks, you can make your own Lincoln Logs. And if you have access to a 3D printer, you can make Lincoln Logs and LEGO bricks play together with interesting joiner pieces.

* Lincoln Logs have been made by five different companies, starting with the Red Square Toy Company, which was bought by Playskool in 1943, who sold the rights to Milton Bradley in 1968. The rights were then sold to Hasbro in 1984, who sold the license for the manufacturing K’NEX in 1991.
posted by filthy light thief (13 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

Thanks for another little miracle of erudition, filthy light thief!

Growing up, my brothers and I had an Almost But Not Quite Lincoln Logs kit, the General Custer Fort Apache Frontier Play Set ("Compatible with Most Other Log Building Sets"). The big selling point was a few dozen plastic cowboy and indian figures, plus a few horses, covered wagons, and teepee.

1993, I want to say? Perhaps the very last year you could get away with selling a Baby's First Genocide playset.
posted by Iridic at 8:45 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had no idea who invented them, or that they were that old. I spent a lot of time with Lincoln Logs as a kid. We never got that excited about Lego or the like.

The Wright Blocks look interesting.
posted by bongo_x at 8:48 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's sad that Lincoln Logs became the red-headed stepchild of interlocking parts construction toys, but I will admit that their Star Wars playsets left much to be desired.
posted by Atom Eyes at 8:49 AM on September 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

Wow, it has been a long time.

Anyone know if the half-logs work as well for launching singles as the green wooden slats used to?
posted by no relation at 8:59 AM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yay, Lincoln Logs! I remember very well just how they tasted. (Other childhood flavors I remember: Tinker Toys, Crayons, Play-Doh, and the spines of Little Golden Books. I guess I chewed on stuff.)
posted by mudpuppie at 9:07 AM on September 11, 2013 [3 favorites] can make your own lincoln logs.

Hey! I did

posted by mmrtnt at 9:16 AM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

...their Star Wars playsets left much to be desired.

What's to be desired? That's clearly a Wookie homestead on Kashyyyk, and Chewbacca is inviting that itinerant Sand Person in for a Life Day brunch.
posted by Iridic at 10:30 AM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by Lukenlogs at 12:02 PM on September 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

A set of Lincoln Logs was one of the first non-book things shipped by Amazon. I know, because I got them from a friend who worked there, as part of a testing cycle.

And I've seen the set at Wright's Pope-Leighey house.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:23 PM on September 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I had Lincoln Logs. I wasn't awfully good at building with them, but my little sister and I had a blast throwing them at each other. :)
We had Tinker-Toys as well. I kept trying to make a merry-go-round with them.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 4:21 PM on September 11, 2013

It may be in one of the links, but there's an interesting full-circle aspect here as Frank Lloyd Wright counted among his own inspirations his mother's purchase of a Froebel Gifts abstract block set, designed by pioneering early childhood education theorist Friedrich Froebel -- the man who gave kindergarten its name.
posted by dhartung at 12:31 AM on September 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can't wait for the Lincoln Logs movie to come out in 2015!
posted by FJT at 12:26 PM on September 12, 2013

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