Most Czechs, whey they hear the word “Merkur”, don't only think of the planet in our solar system, but also of the best known Czech toy of the same name. In fact, MERKUR is the title of the trains and metal construction sets, which have been produced since the 1920´s in Police nad Metují.
Merkur’s beginnings date back to 1920, when Mr. Jaroslav Vancl established the company INVENTOR. Today it is hard to say, whether it was his idea, or whether he was inspired by the design of another construction set. Originally the metal construction set INVENTOR was connected by metal hooks.
In 1925 the producer came up with a new system, which has kept the same appearance untill this day. The metal construction set parts are connecting together with M3,5 size screws and nuts. In this way the construction set became more similar to real construction and offered more possibilities for children's creativity. This new system was registered under the new trade-mark MERKUR and was available in three sizes: No.1,2 and 3. In the 1930´s and 40´s the construction set series expanded to No 7 along with the boom of construction set MERKUR. The now forgotten building kits METROPOL and POPULAR were created at that time. In 1933 MERKUR ELEKTRUS kits were produced. Development lasted up to the beginning of the Second World War with small improvements such as new boxes, instructions and parts.
The development of the MERKUR metal electric toy trains began around 1930. Originally the railway vehicles were conceived to complement the MERKUR construction set. They were made of construction set pieces, which were connected by screws and nuts. Size "O" was selected because it was very popular in Europe in those days. An independent train production was quickly developed because consumers preferred pre-assembled products. The head designer was Mr. František Jirman, Mr Vancl’s son-in-law.
The inspiration for the first locomotive was very popular express locomotive Mikádo. The model was made with considerable simplifications due to the factory’s still limited size. Four wheeler wagons - service, personal and cargo were supplied with the locomotives. This simplified model sold itself so well that F. Jirman designed a bigger type of express locomotive in 1935 with a 1C1 axletree, which was only one axle shorter than the real thing on the front bogie. An eight-wheel tank-engine was added to the locomotive making it a very successful express train. So much about the successful beginnings of the MERKUR toy trains, which later became mostly spread and the most favoured type of electrical trains in Czechoslovakia. Production was postponed in 1940 because of the wartime lack of non-ferrous metals. Nevertheless, a limited edition of railway cars was produced with the Czech and German Nazi protectorate mark ČMD/BMB.
Production was restored after the war in 1947. A new line of goods was introduced step by step with new types of wagons such as a flat wagon, a stake, open and close cargo, a railway tank and a cooling wagon. Towards the end, the original steam locomotive was replaced by a shorter light blue B1 type. Major change occurred when the company was nationalized. At the beginning of the 50’s, Mr. Vancl´s private company was dissolved and in 1953 it was incorporated into The District Combine in Broumov. In February 1955 a new request to register the MERKUR trade-mark with its construction sets and trains with metal transformers was made. The construction set production continued the same way as it did during the pre-war period. However the trains definitely stopped being produced in 1968. Unfortunately, even the tools for producing toy trains were destroyed in the following years.
In the 1960’s, the MERKUR metal construction set was exported by Broumov Kovopodnik through Pragoexport to the whole Europe. It is interesting to note that the kit was referred to as “Meccano” in the English instructions. In consequence, the original MECCANO company demanded compensation in front of the International Court in the Hague in the 1990’s. However the case was dropped because the Kovopodnik and Komeb companies no longer existed. Another change came across in the set numbers and the M310, M320, M330 and M340 sets were created.
After the Velvet revolution in 1989, Kovopodnik was privatised. Ex-staff members outlined a privatisation project and established the Komeb company. The company continued to produce MERKUR construction sets until it went bankrupt in 1993.
Jaromír Kříž opened the next chapter in the history of Merkur. He launched a metal producing company in his grandfather’s factory building which he had acquired through restitution after the 1989 Revolution. At first, he intended to buy a few machines from Komeb, but the only possibility was to rent this bankrupted company and try to restore the MERKUR production. However a few days later, the Komeb company became the first company to be shut down in the Czech Republic.That complicated the whole situation. Mr. Kříž didn't give it up and began to discuss with the bankruptcy arbiter about the possibility of buying it, because it was no longer possible stop the production.With big effort, he restored production during the following three years and thus saved the best known toy in the Czech Republic. The Meccano Company from France also wished to buy Komeb, because it wanted to destroy its biggest competitor. The MERKUR construction set came close to existing only in our memories. Happily this didn't happen. MERKUR lives on and is being successfully sold on national as well as international markets.
Every year the company comes with a new type of kit. The KITTY HAWK set was produced in 2003 for the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first flight. The MERKUR SAFARI set was introduced in 2004. The new construction sets MERKUR ELEKTRO E1 and ELECTRONIC E2 for experiments with electricity, magnetism and electronics were developed according to the famous MERKUR ELEKTRUS. Besides this, the company also produces the electrical demonstration kit EMA as a part of the ČEZ educational programme "Energy for Everybody". MERKUR´s chief product is the M8 construction set, which contains 1405 parts including an electric motor. For the past two years, we have focused on perfecting MERKUR manuals thanks to the professional computer program Inventor.
We take part in national and international toy fairs. In fact, in 1996 and 1997 we received the award for the best toy of the year, which proves a continual interest in MERKUR. Our toys are mainly exported to Western Europe. MERKUR was sold in Bart Smith shops in Benelux under the name TECC. In Germany it was sold under the name SCHUCO-TECHNIC. From 2001 to 2004 MERKUR was exhibited at the world toy exhibition in New York, USA and in Toronto, Canada. In 2004 we took part in a toy fair in Moscow, Russia. It had been a long time since Merkur last appeared on the territory of the former Soviet Union.
The MERKUR Museum was founded in the year 2006 in Police nad Metuji. 22 000 people visited the Museum in 2007.