The Braun Lectron System: Retro “Circuit Dominoes”

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]

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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