Who Invented Lincoln Logs?

The log cabin is quintessentially American, representative of the early settlers of the western frontier. The log cabin, or course, is often associated with Abraham Lincoln’s youth, but the logs were not invented by him, nor were they named for him. Ironically, the inspiration for Lincoln Logs did not come from America, but rather from the Far East.

The story of Lincoln Logs begins in early 1916, when an architect by the name of John Lloyd Wright, son of world-reknown architect Frank Lloyd Wright, traveled with his father to Tokyo to observe the construction of the Imperial Hotel. Frank had designed the building using interlocking beams (a method called “floating cantilever construction”) so that it would withstand earthquakes. John’s eureka moment occurred as he watched the equipment stack the enormous wooden beams in place.

In the early 1900s, building toys were very popular with children and their parents who viewed them as educational toys. Wooden blocks had been around since the late 1600s (mass production as toys began in 1820 in New York), but the recent success of Erector sets, introduced in 1914, followed by Tinkertoys, introduced one year later, persuaded John to form his own toy company, John Lloyd Wright, Inc. The toy was named after John’s father’s original middle name, Frank Lincoln Wright (before it became Frank Lloyd Wright) and not after Abraham Lincoln as many people wrongly assume. Lincoln Logs sets, including logs (made out of redwood), wooden slats, windows, doors, and chimneys, were rolled out in 1916. And just like the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, a structure created with Lincoln Logs would flex slightly but remain intact when bumped.

Over the next several decades Lincoln Logs were as popular as all the other building toys, enjoying huge success from 1954 to the 1960s due to television shows like Davey Crockett, Indian Fighter and Daniel Boone. Playskool, a toy company that was based in Milwaukee that sold wooden toys for the educational market, purchased the company from John in 1943.

For further reading: Timeless Toys: Classic Toys and the Playmakers Who Created Them by Tim Walsh, Andrews McMeel Publishing (2005)

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