Before you get all bent out of shape about Lego (also, you call them Legos like a normal person, right?) not being on this list, we have decided that they are by far and away the best possible toy for the future engineer, and have therefore not been part of this competition. Fun Lego fact for you, as of July of 2015 over 600 BILLION Lego parts have been produced. Now, on with the show!
10. Rubix Cube
Have you ever figured out the Rubix Cube? I sure haven’t. I even had a book that told me the turns to take to get it finished and I couldn’t manage it. If nothing else, it helped teach me to think analytically and puzzle solve. Fun fact, over 350 million of these magic cubes (that’s the original name, by the way) have been sold!
This toy was actually created by an engineer, Denys Fisher of Great Britain way back in 1965. That being said, the mathematician Bruno Abakanowicz invented a non-toy version around 1881 to help with calculating an area delimited by curves. If that doesn’t say engineering, I don’t know what does! It certainly taught me that I’m terrible at art, unless assisted by something that anyone can use to make the same image.
8. Lincoln Logs
So these might be a little bit more along the architect lines, but we need engineers in building design too, right? Plus, since the clearly provide you with the wrong amount of each piece, it was a true equation to figure out how to build anything useful. Bonus points if you remembered to add a door and windows to your log cabin. I bet you didn’t know these were created by the son of Frank Lloyd Write, John Lloyd Write.
This is really the only item on our list that you can make ANYTHING out of. It might not be as easy to create a nice house or a sky scraper, but with enough baking of the doh you can get pretty high. Added bonus, you can create organic shapes unlike anything that K’Nex, , Erector Sets or Lego can muster up. It is also pretty interesting that Noah McVicker created this as a wallpaper cleaner. Now if only they could come up with a way to keep Play-Doh out of the carpet.
6. Chemistry Kit
There are probably a ton of chemistry kits out there, so we decided to keep this one generic. I can’t tell you what all came in the one that my brother got (I only got hand-me-down toys..it’s ok…) but I do know that I could roll a match around in one of the chemicals and the flame burnt a different color! WHAT?! That is mind blowing, career defining stuff for an eight year old.
5. Capsela (or Capsela 250 Science Discovery Kit)
Gears and motors encapsulated (get the name now?) in plastic spheres. The great thing about that is that you can play with them in the water or on land! Created anything from a motorized bike to…something else that moves. Looking through our list, this might actually be the most complicated of the toys, though much less well known.
4. Etch a Sketch
If you’re an engineer, there is a 99% chance you have used AutoCAD at some point, and 100% chance you have at least heard of it. The Etch a Sketch has basically all of the functionality of early AutoCAD with a slightly less user-friendly UI. Ever wonder what that stuff inside of the screen is that you’re drawing through? Aluminum powder! Now go impress your friends.
The best part of K’Nex is the story of how they were created. Bored at a wedding reception, Joel Glickman started playing with his straw and trying to build things out of it. Not much later, he launches K’Nex, a set of plastic parts that connect to build mechanical designs. These sets now include motors, gears, pulleys, hand cranks and pretty much anything a future mechanical engineer could need, other than PowerPoint.
2. Tinker Toys
Simple is sometimes the best, or at least that is what Charles Pajeau thought when he got the idea for Tinker Toys while watching kids play with sticks and empty spools of thread. You can really create fantastic contraptions with these simple toys, including a robot at Cornell and a tic tac toe playing robot. Did I mention Tinker Toys have been added to the National Toy Hall of fame?
1. Erector Set
For the sake of full transparency, I just finished building an erector set about 1 month ago. Metal beams with holes in them that you attach together with nuts and bolts. Yup, pretty basic, but you can build pretty much any structure with them if you have enough time and parts. Fun for all ages, but I challenge you to go pick one up and see if you have as much trouble putting them together with your fat adult hands like me.
If you want even more detail on any of these toys, as well as those that only made our honorable mentions list, click here to listen to the podcast. Even better, click here and subscribe on iTunes! Do you think we missed something that belongs on this list? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out to us on any of the social media channels!