BAYKO and Health and Safety

Thanks to Geoff Handford for prompting me to, somewhat belatedly, get on with writing this particular page. Today, the phrase “Health and Safety” rolls off the tongue, sometimes - wrongly in my view - rather contemptuously with the “gone mad” epithet added. However, BAYKO precedes this period by several decades, and I'd rather consider the two facets separately, so here goes : -


BAYKO's very birth was health related. C.B. Plimpton, inventor of the world's first, and finest, plastic construction toy, was plagued through much of his adult life by T.B., indeed, it was during a long, enforced convalescence from that disease, in a sanatorium in Ruthin, North Wales, that bored little grey cells did much of the early development work. We know this from talking to C.B.'s two daughters.
It's not difficult to imagine how this drove Plimpton's awareness of, and attitude to, illness, particularly if you remember that antibiotics didn't emerge among the general public until after world war two, and so many diseases, generally regarded as a nuisance today, were very much more threatening in BAYKO's early days.
It's difficult to see how Plimpton could have headlined the health message much more forcefully, slide your mouse over the image [right] to highlight it…
First page of the first BAYKO manual
…the second paragraph of page 1 of the very first BAYKO manual [right] bore the legend : -
“Bayko Sets are clean and hygienic; easily sterilized by placing in boiling water; ideal toys for those children incapacitated by sickness or disease.”
This healthy message not only played on the minds of understandably nervous 1930s parents, but also took advantage of the robustness of BAKELITE, the early form of plastic from which BAYKO parts were manufactured.
Page 1 of the Second BAYKO Manual
The second version of the manual paraphrased and enhanced this message, and maintained its position in paragraph two on page one, slide your mouse over the image [left] to highlight it.
Compared with wooden competitors, Plimpton obviously felt that this was a strong, positive marketing plus for BAYKO, and so continued to drive the message home : -
“Clean and hygienic, and easily sterilized by placing in boiling water or dilute Lysol, these Sets are ideal for children incapacitated by sickness or disease.”
This message continued, unchanged and in the same position, in the 'New Series' manuals, launched immediately before world war two.
The earliest post-war manuals relegated the message to paragraph three, though still on page one, slide your mouse over the image [right] to highlight it. Its now in a bold font, with a minor change to the script as Plimpton embraced the entire range of antiseptics, rather that specifically supporting LYSOL.
Page 1 of the first post-war manual
The modified script now read : -
“Clean and hygienic, and easily sterilized by placing in boiling water or dilute antiseptic, these Sets are ideal for children incapacitated by sickness or disease.”
This message continued until the end of the Plimpton era, even though the later polystyrene parts are, in fact, rather vulnerable to boiling water!
First MECCANO era manual, page 1
The MECCANO era had finally begun to reflect the more relaxed attitude to, and significantly reduced fear of, childhood illnesses as the growing range of antibiotics, and other medical advances, wrought their magic among the unfortunate youngsters.
The nearest we get to any hygiene related comment after the takeover is : -
“BAYKO is easy and clean to handle…”
…of course, the rather more cynical amongst us may tempted to the thought that it was simply that MECCANO had finally accepted the vulnerability of their polystyrene BAYKO parts to the earlier prescriptions of boiling water. Slide your mouse over the image [left] to highlight it.


There is what amounts to an urban myth about BAYKO which I've had quoted at me quite regularly at toy exhibitions across the country…
“…and of course BAYKO was killed by Health and Safety.”
This is simply not true, not least because BAYKO died thirty years or so before 'Health and Safety' really took off.
Those who recognise the fallacy of the above, non-the-less think that it would be illegal to sell BAYKO today, for the same reason, because of the dangers inherent with the metal Rods.
This is also not true. What they don't take into account is just how far technology has evolved over the intervening decades, and the opportunities which that affords.

Were BAYKO to be manufactured today, the Rods could easily be made from plastic : -
Firstly, the Rods could be made from an extruded plastic.
Some modern plastics have a very high co-efficient of friction, which would significantly reduce movement of parts in finished models, particularly during handling and transit. i.e. it would greatly strengthen BAYKO models. A boon both for 'exhibitionists' like me, and for children going on to add further play value to their latest completed pride and joy.
Secondly, the Plastic Rods could be 'crimped', [as in the small diagram, right] probably every half brick, with just a relatively small 'contact link' running through each 'crimp' to hold the Rods together.
small demonstration as to what the crimping would look like
The rational for this is that crimping would introduce weak points, every half brick [⅜ inch = 9.525 mm] throughout the length of the Rods.
This way the Rods, would easily break, possibly at several points, if little Johnnie decided to do a flying head-butt at a model on the carpet!
Effectively they would act as, what I have called a 'mechanical fuse' - to put it another way, the Rods would break before little Johnnie!
Thirdly, the 'crimps' could have a hemispherical shape [see diagram, above].
This would mean that any exposed Rod ends that come into contact with little Johnnie's eyes or skin would be smooth, not sharp, hard-edged or pointed, and would thus be less likely to cause puncture wounds.
There would be some additional potential benefits to the manufacturer, the retailer and the modeller - Win, Win, Win : -
Plastic Rods could be supplied in significantly longer lengths, e.g. across set box diagonals and/or along the sides - great for makers of big models like yours truly.
This would provide greater flexibility for the modellers, who could choose exactly how many of each length they wanted to break off from the longer rods supplied.
Less cutting and fewer Rod stock items, would significantly reduce manufacturing costs.
This would similarly simplify stock management of Rods for both the manufacturer and the retailer - just a few lengths to worry about! In fact retailers could simply stock one metre, or even two metre, lengths, [like someone else I know!] getting Rods down to a single stock item!
Although, for obvious reasons, I've never tried it, it's quite possible that 'super length' Rods, could be sold direct from the factory by winding them around a former, and putting them in the equivalent of a large pizza box, reducing postage costs, without compromising the Rods' integrity.
Also, during building, the 'crimps' would be 'hidden', part way up the Rod grooves of the bricks. Therefore, being out of line with the brick tops/bottoms, they wouldn't weaken the final model in any significant way.
Modellers could elect to use Rods which are half a brick shorter than standard, in some areas, stopping Rod-ends dominating the tops of walls - as well as saving modellers money - getting more '[wall] bang' for their '[Rod] bucks'!

For the record, I've made efforts to trace any possible BAYKO-related accidents, but earlier recording standards weren't what we would expect today, and I haven't been able to find any…
…of course, I know that doesn't mean that there weren't any!
I hope that finally puts this toytown urban myth to bed!!!

A Bit More Safety

In a somewhat different vein, there were a couple of more serious issues, actually within the BAYKO factories.
Firstly, particularly in the early BAKELITE days, fumes were an issue, mainly in the production area, though there was basic extraction.
Secondly, there was a general problem with 'flash' [little superfluous tabs of plastic from the mould] which had to be removed. This was done by girls, it was almost invariably girls, sitting either side of a large sanding belt on which they touched the offending parts, to sand off the 'flash'. I've been told that the girls were known locally, with typical scouse humour, as “the coloured girls”, because they would be covered in the coloured plastic dust of whatever colour parts they, and their colleagues, were working on.
In the company's defence, plastics like BAKELITE are very inert, chemically…
…though inhaled/ingested particles surely had an irritant effect, possibly very long lasting.
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Latest update - August 11, 2022
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