What Is a Mechanical Toy?

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Toy19400 years BC Archytas of Taremtum created what is thought to be the first mechanical toy: a flying pigeon, a self-propelled model which moved by steam and reportedly flew 200 metres.

With a world of electronics, mechanical toys nowadays are often overlooked. But they are great fun, as well as powerful learning instrument that can engage and grow a child’s interest in engineering and how things work.

Mechanical toys do not run on electricity or batteries, but ratheron movements created by things such as springs, flywheels and elastic bands, which create the energy necessary to move them along.

You will find varying types of movements in mechanical toys, including:

  • Reciprocating: that is, moving back and forth on a line, such as a rocking horse.
  • Rotary: going around in a circle, like a spinning top.
  • Linear:moving on a straight line and then stopping, such as a pullback race car.

Cam Motion

One specific mechanical motion seen in both small and large scale toys is a cam motion. Consisting of three parts – the cam, slide and follower- a shaft is fixed to a metal (or plastic) cam. The cam is turned as the cam shaft does a rotation. On the cam is an element called the ‘follower’, which is the piece that causes the final movement in the toy.

You can see this type of engineering used in a row of ducks on a pull-along string, with their heads that may appear to bob as the toy is pulled, much to the delight of a young child.

This type of movement is also seen on a much larger scales like merry-go-rounds, as mechanical horses are seen to move upwards and downwards.

Mechanical toys are widely available, from pre-built examples, to ‘build your own’ sets which allow children to create their own set of movements using the mechanical principles.