Bayko is an architectural construction system, used for building model houses, shops, stations, churches, and similar buildings. Bayko was manufactured from bakelite, and was one of the earliest plastic toys to be marketed. First introduced in Britain it was soon exported throughout the British Commonwealth and became a world wide brand between 1934 and 1967. The name derived from Bakelite, the world's first commercial plastic that was originally used to manufacture many of the parts. Bayko was one of the world's earliest plastic toys to be marketed.
The Bayko system was invented and patented by Charles Plimpton in 1933. Plimpton set up Plimpton Engineering in Liverpool, England, to manufacture the components, the majority of which were made from Bakelite, a new synthetic plastic developed in the early 1900s. The sets were called 'Bayko Light Construction Sets' (the term 'Bayko Light' coming from the name 'Bakelite') and went on sale at the end of 1934.
The Bakelite material was sourced from Bakelite Limited, a Birmingham supplier, and for the first few years of its life, Bayko was marketed by both Plimpton Engineering and Bakelite Limited. Initially five sets were produced, 'Set 1' (the smallest) through to 'Set 5' (the largest). The bricks were red and white, the bases brown, the windows dark green, and the roofs dark maroon. Plimpton began advertising Bayko in Meccano Ltd's Meccano Magazine in September 1935, unaware that 25 years later, Meccano itself would own and manufacture Bayko. Regular advertisements appeared in the magazine over those next 25 years.
Bayko was primarily intended for the construction of model buildings. The rectangular Bakelite bases had a square grid of holes into which thin metal rods of various lengths could be placed vertically. In order to make larger models, two or more bases could be joined together by means of metal links secured by screws into holes on the bottom surface of the bases. Bakelite bricks, windows and other parts could then be slotted between pairs of rods in order to create the walls of the building. Other commonly used parts included floors (thin sheets of plastic with the same square pattern grid of holes as bases), and roofs of various types. There were also a large number of other more specialised parts. In the original sets bases were coloured brown, walls were red or white, windows were green and roofs were maroon. From 1939 the standard colours until 1960 were green bases, windows and doors, red roofs, and red and white bricks.
The main advantage of Bayko over its rivals is generally regarded as the high standard of realism of the models constructed with it. The main disadvantage often quoted is the fragility of Bakelite which frequently led to bases and window parts breaking. Some safety concerns have also been expressed regarding the suitability of using thin metal rods in a toy for children.
Having acquired the rights to manufacture Bayko in 1960, Meccano Ltd moved production to its Meccano factory in Speke, Liverpool. To rationalise and simplify the system, all the Bayko sets were redesigned. Many of the decorative parts were dropped and the cumbersome one-piece roofs were replaced by flat-roof pieces. The colour scheme was changed to grey bases, green roofs, yellow windows and doors, and red and white bricks. In order to reduce production costs, polystyrene was used for all the plastic parts instead of Bakelite.
In 1963 Meccano Ltd also began feeling the pressure of competing toys, even though the models Bayko produced were more realistic architectural constructions. By 1964, all advertising for Bayko was stopped, although Meccano continued manufacturing Bayko sets and spares until 1967. Over its lifespan, both Plimpton and Meccano Bayko was exported across the world, and, besides being a toy, it attracted a modest adult following that still exists today. A healthy trade in original Bayko sets and parts also exists today, with some enthusiasts even casting their own Bayko pieces.