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Here is a transcribed article from the September 1967 issue of Electronics Illustrated describing what is, in fact, the BRAUN Lectron educational toy designed by Dieter Rams and Jurgen Greubel (Update: The attribution to Rams and Greubel of Lectron’s invention is now widely regarded as false. Personally, I find the argument presented here persuasive that Georg Franz Greger is the true inventor.) Interestingly, the toy’s U.S. marketing, at the time, seems to have been pretty thoroughly scrubbed of conspicuously German names.  The article mentions that the system was “imported from Germany,” but neither Braun’s, Rams’s, nor Greubel’s name is given, and U.S. distributor Raytheon gets most of the credit.  That aside, there’s a solid technical description of how the toy works:

Instead of using clips, binding posts, or springs to hold parts together, each box is equipped with small magnets at the points where it is to contact another box or the board. The sides and the bottom of each box are made of clear plastic so you can see what’s inside. The top of each box – carrying the schematic symbol – is opaque white.

Some of the circuits can, incidentally, be a little touchy. Squeeze a little here, apply some pressure there and suddenly the circuit works like a charm – a light blinks, the meter needle moves or the speaker sounds. The longer we used the set, however, the less we seemed to have contact problems.

The work surface of each of the 13 x 15-1/2 inch work boards is covered with a plated ferrous metal sheet forming the ground or common connection for all the circuits, just like a radio chassis. Since two battery boxes and two work boards were included in the set, it is possible to put together two circuits at the same time – provided you don’t have too many components in each circuit. The concept has great potential as a teaching tool. In only a few seconds it is possible to set up a practical circuit that would only be schematic symbols in a textbook. The work boards can be propped up on their built-in stands or hung on the wall so that a whole classroom can see the demonstration. Components in any circuit can be changed instantly to show their effect on circuit performance. Special experiments in the manual demonstrate the characteristics of components – resistance, inductance and capacitance; how tuned circuits affect radio reception; effects of base current on emitter-collector current flow and other electronic principles.

The Lectron system also included some more advanced electronics kits, notably this beautifully-designed and -packaged hobby radio receiver set:

Dieter Rams collector site das programm has an informative catalog of Lectron system products, as well as an online store where authentic items can be purchased, if available, at collector’s prices. [via adafruit]

Sean Michael Ragan

I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I write for MAKE, serve as Technical Editor for MAKE magazine, and develop original DIY content for Make: Projects.


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Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    This is interesting — you can draw a fairly straight line between the Lectron and the Modular Robotics Cubelets (which just got delivered and I’m eagerly awaiting Christmas day when I, er, my kids, get to open them up and play), and also to the LittleBits idea.

  2. Gary Oshust says:

    I had one of these sets as a kid and enjoyed hours of fun playing with electricity!

  3. I had one of those when I was a kid in the early ’70s…  I had lots of fun (and also lots of frustration) learning electronics with it…

  4. Anonymous says:

    Remember the US set had a steel work area. Also I think there was three different sets when released over here. Also think Raython handled the release in the U.S.

    1. Yes, Raytheon sold the LECTRON here in the US in two waves. The first using the moniker ‘Electronic Dominoes’ gave us the 800 and 820 models. In May of 1968, these two models were repackaged as the Series 2 and 3. Series 1, 4, and 5 followed with the Series 3a being the last to be added to the lineup. A supplementary manual (no. 1) was added to all the Series to increase the amount of experiements that could be done with a particular kit. An orange/red sticker was added to the box with the new experiement count. Also, Add-On Kits were released to upgrade a particular Series kit. There were 7 which made it to market although an 8th was mentioned in documentation.
      For information on the LECTRON can be found at http://lectron.info.
      Regards,
      Michael Peters

  5. John Wolter says:

    While not as tactile as the real thing, there must be software that does the functional equivalent of these blocks, allowing one to experiment with circuit layouts and see what they do.  Suggestions anyone?

  6. tonyvr says:

    Wow, I had this as a kid.  I wonder what ever happened to it?  I probably tossed it the same day I threw out my Popular Electronics issue featuring the Altair…8^(

    The kit was a great way to learn to read schematics.  I bought my kids Snap-Circuits for the same reason.

    1. The LECTRON can still be purchased from the company in Germany. The manuals are now only published in German. There are many different sets and are, in the LECTRON tradition, quite expensive. http://lectron.de

  7. Anonymous says:

    These things are awesome. I picked up a couple of the add-on kits on eBay (these are the Raytheon-branded ones) and have one of the base kits on its way to me: https://plus.google.com/112403562981201111940/posts/V4FbyZhigHs

  8. Steve Sparks says:

    I remember this being my favorite toy as a four-year-old. It had a HUGE impact on my ability to understand all things electronic, and that’s why today I’m an Alpha Geek amongst my friends (even where I work at the Big Nerd Ranch!!)

    Once I asked a German friend to help me obtain a modern set for my children. He looked at the product brochure and said “This is not a children’s toy! In Germany these are used to train techicians.” I replied “Well, it was the first toy I remember, at about age four.” He said “This explains a lot about you!”

  9. tonyvr says:

    This would be a fun remake for 3D printer operators (especially with dual color extruders).

  10. Mark Zellers says:

    I think these are still being made in Germany.  Seems to me there are a lot of new blocks since I was a kid back in the 70′s: http://www.lectron.de/

  11. Bj Backitis says:

    This was one of my most favorite “toys” growing up… never got tired of building circuits with it.  Between this and numerous bike trips to Radio Shack (back when they were still an electronics store), it’s no wonder I turned out to be such a geek!  And now that I’m playing around with an Arduino, I had been thinking how cool it would be to have little circuit blocks like this with switches, LEDs, current control transistors, etc to use with it.  Hmm…

  12. Skipper says:

    For people with a true interest in The Braun Lectron System……
    follow up on TED TALKS: Ayah Bdeir “little Bits”

    She has totally stolen, outright ripped off Braun &
    Dieter Rams.

    1. Dieter Rams had NOTHING to do with the creation, design, development, the writing of the manuals, or even the packaging of the LECTRON electronic blocks system. In fact, Braun (Rams’ employer) purchased the extant LECTRON assets in 1967 from the Egger-Bahn company which had brought it to market with six different models in 1966. As far as I can tell, Mr. Rams himself has never personally claimed to have a role in the LECTRON system and product, rather that this role has been ascribed to him by others.

      The LECTRON electronic blocks system and product was the exclusive and unique invention of the German Georg Greger in the early 1960′s. He applied for a patent of his ‘Electronik-baukasten’ on May 7th, 1965. He was issued a German patent #1228081 on May 18th, 1967. The American patent #3,447,249 was issued on June 3rd, 1969. The American patent is particularly interesting because although it refers to the German patent filing of May 5th, 1965, it includes additional drawings (e.g. the speaker and deluxe base plate) which the German patent did not have. There is also quite a bit more detail on how everything works.

      More information on the LECTRON can be read at http://lectron.info.

      Regards,
      Michael Peters

  13. Steve says:

    I had the Mr. Wizard version of the Lectron System. I suppose Snap Circuits would be the modern day analog of “circuit dominoes.” I’ve written several articles about them at my column on Science 2.0 (http://www.science20.com/square_root_not). See this article as an example:

    http://www.science20.com/square_root_not/science_toys_snap_circuits-116792