Who Invented the LECTRON System?
Georg Franz Greger Was The LECTRON's True Inventor
The Constantin Film Connection
Lectron Product History Overview
Deutsche Lectron, GmbH
Raytheon Education Company
Lectron, GmbH MW Era
Lectron, GmbH RWO Era
Welcome to LECTRON.info, a website which is devoted exclusively to the world's best electronics pedagogical system, the LECTRON. Sales began in July of 1966 through the Egger-Bahn company (mostly known for its 9mm guage train product line) and have continued uninterrupted (albeit through different companies) for over 47 years.
This website will serve two primary purposes: As an authoritative online resource of detailed information and vetted research on the LECTRON system, and a virtual museum showcasing the LECTRON as a product in the marketplace from 1966 to present day.
Published on behalf of the Egger-Bahn company, the following thick paper stock brochure was given exclusively to VIP attendees of the Nürnberg Toy Fair of 1966 along with 3 LECTRON blocks, ordering documents, and an introduction letter to announce the imminent shipment of the LECTRON in July of 1966. The full 4 page brochure can be viewed under the Egger Era -> Documentation tab. The title of the brochures asks the question: "Is there something sensational at the (Nürnberg Toy) Fair this year? Yes! Egger Lectron. I would like to thank Rolf Nitzsche for making possible the acquistion of this and several other Egger Era documents from his collection.
The introduction letter shown immediately below was published in early 1966 in time for the Nürnberg Toy Fair and is the original 1966 Egger-Lectron product announcement signed by the LECTRON's sole inventor, Georg Franz Greger.
Dr. Dieter Rams (or Jurgen Greubel) of Braun, AG did NOT invent, design or have anything to do at all with the LECTRON product's release to the marketplace in 1966. I mention this because unfortunately these roles have been incorrectly ascribed to them by numerous industrial design research authorities.
Of course, Dr. Rams, Mr. Greubel and Mr. Dietrich Lubs did have the significant and critical role of keeping the LECTRON system and product alive and relevant by redefining the packaging design and graphics for the LECTRON product line during late 1967 through 1972 that would, even on first glance, appeal to the education and vocational markets.
Egger-Lectron's packaging, with its iconic grandfather and grandson photo, appealed more to the younger hobbyist consistent with their 9mm train and slot car product lines. In all fairness however, Egger was also looking at the vocational and academic markets by showing the LECTRON being used in the engineering laboratory and schools in several of their brochures.
The photo below is such an example.
The 8400 Labor Lectron 1 model was another example and was designed with the academic community in mind as it featured two base plates and two battery blocks to allow sharing amongst two students. The Dutch version, the 8500, included a second manual as well.
Unfortunately, Egger-Lectron was only in business for about a year and was not able to initiate the appropriate sales and marketing campaigns.
The Braun design team under Dr. Rams' leadership helped guide the LECTRON to achieve its greatest market penetration and success both nationally and internationally. Dr. Rams and Mr. Gruebel also designed the award winning Buchlabor model, perhaps the best selling LECTRON model of all time. New models were also introduced by Braun-Deutsche Lectron, GmbH including the Ausbausystem 3 and the hybrid Ausbausystem 2 M.
The LECTRON system would have remained perhaps only a novel historical curiousity had not Dr. Rams, Mr. Gruebel, Mr. Lubs, and the rest of the Braun LECTRON team put their amazing talents to bear on making the LECTRON the pre-eminent teaching tool for electronics. In concert with the sales leadership of Manfred Walter, and with the support of the Braun Corporation, the LECTRON system was saved.
The reader will be pleased to know that the LECTRON is still being made and sold through the Reha Werkstatt Oberrad (RWO) located in Frankfurt, Germany.
Mr. Dietrich Lubs, a senior member of the Rams design team and deputy director of the Design Department at Braun starting in 1995, corroborated the above particulars and provided more details during my interview with him in November of 2013. Mr. Lubs himself designed the symbols used on the blocks for the Demonstration 1300 model.
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The LECTRON electronic blocks system and product was the exclusive and unique invention of the German Georg Franz Greger in the early 1960's. The LECTRON achieved great accaim at numerous education, trade, and toy fairs upon its initial launch. The photo below shows Mr. Greger receiving the First Prize at the Electronica industry show in 1966. Unfortunately, the photograph does not identify which gentleman is Mr. Greger, but based on body language, my opinion is that he is on the left. If any reader can authoritatively identify Mr. Greger in the following photograph, please email me: mpeters at mpetersco.com.
Mr. Greger applied for a German patent of his 'Electronik-Baukasten' on May 7th, 1965. He was issued patent #1228081 on May 18th, 1967. The American patent filing date was about one year later after the German filing (May 5th, 1966) and is particularly interesting because it includes additional drawings (e.g. the speaker and deluxe base plate) which the earlier German patent filing did not have. Of course since the Egger-Bahn company had started selling the Egger Lectron in 1966, this extra detail in the American patent filing should not be much of a surprise. There is also quite a bit more information on how everything works. The American patent #3,447,249 was issued on June 3rd, 1969. Click on the patent links to see a PDF copy of the original patents.
Shown below is Georg Franz Greger's signature from a 1950's German patent. Curiously (at least to me), he wrote the first letter of his middle name as the last character of his signature.
To further cement the LECTRON as Mr. Greger's invention, I donated an Ausbausystem 2 model to the Museum of Modern Art's collection in 2013. The graphic below provides that formalized evidence.
Although not formally productized to this author's knowledge, Mr. Greger filed patents in numerous countries during 1967 for some additional LECTRON system component additions. These included a proposed motor, a unique ac rectifier multi-block, and a connection bar to the base plate. One addition (a block with soldering lugs which passed up through the top part of the block) violated his standing proposition of not using any soldering points exposed to the customer.
For ease of reading, the British patent filing of February 10th, 1967 may be examined here. A drawing showing the base plate connection bar is immediately below.
The 1966 Egger LECTRON instruction manual's last page also detailed the credits for the LECTRON product. Aside from Georg Greger and Joachim Schubert (Ingenieur or Engineer), there is Theo Hinz (Gestaltung or Layout), Robert Hoffmann (Graphik or Graphics), Andreas Feierabend (Technische Zeichnungen or Technical Drawings), and Lilo Bittlmayer (Herstellung or Manufacturing).
I would like to thank Bruce Sterling of Wired.com in the United States for adding my note in November of 2012 to his original blog article of May 10th, 2010 reflecting Georg Franz Greger as the inventor of the LECTRON system and product.
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While admittedly not directly related to the LECTRON story, Mr. Greger was also the inventor of a new method to copy skip-frame cinematographic film. The US patent (filed June 3rd, 1971) may be seen here. The German patent filing was a year earlier on June 9th, 1970. It is very interesting to note that while the inventor is Mr. Greger, the assignee for the patent is Constantin Film GmbH. Mr. Greger maintained an association with Constantin Film and its founder, Waldfried Barthel (23 October 1913 - 11 August 1979) before and after the Egger-Bahn break up in 1967.
Waldfried Barthel (1971)
Greger and Barthel had also joined together for several other patent filings including 'A baseplate for toy lines', 'Lighting circuit for toy vehicles', 'Sync method for sound film technology' and 'Cover for stereo sound film'. This is the company that, according to Ralph Stenzel, "... began unabashedly to stamp their interests on the EGGER product line." Additionally, "... conflict between the quality-conscious EGGER brothers and their profit-motivated backers from the film company, coupled with ongoing difficulties manufacturing the drive systems led to the end of production and the breakup of the firm in 1967.". The French company Jouef took over the train assets while Braun, AG took over the LECTRON marketing and sales. Deutsche Lectron maintained the manufacturing and product development of the LECTRON.
As a side note, Constantin Film, from 1964 (the year of their entry into Egger company as financiers) through 1966, was in the process of creating the Clint Eastwood 'Dollars' trilogy under the direction of Sergio Leone.
Constantin Film remains a significant production company having recently released the Resident Evil series of movies, The Three Musketeers, and the Fantastic Four movies. An animated Tarzan in 3D movie was released in 2013.
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The history of the LECTRON product is an interesting one and I am still conducting research to 'fill in the blanks'. I would like to thank Günther Stabe in particular as a person who shares a passion for the LECTRON product with me. He continues to maintain a significant LECTRON resource on the excellent website, Radio Museum.org. Some of my work on LECTRON.INFO will mirror what Mr. Stabe has already prepared. However, the Radio Museum.org website is geared to a variety of electronic products and companies and therefore does not go into the detail that I hope to develop and present over time. Additionally, LECTRON.INFO is devoted exclusively to the LECTRON system, product lines, the associated companies (Egger-Bahn, Deutsche Lectron, Braun, INELCO, Raytheon, Creative Playthings, Kimble Products, and Lectron) and the LECTRON's history, both past and present.
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A more detailed history of Egger-Bahn and its CEO Dr. Theodor Egger (born 12 Aug 1926, died 19 Dec 2007) may be found under the Egger-Bahn tab.
The LECTRON electronic blocks system was manufactured and sold first by the Egger-Bahn company (primarily a German model train maker) in 1966. The trademark can be seen here. Four models were initially released in July of 1966 - the 8000 (Grundsystem), 8100 (Ausbausystem 1), 8200 (Ausbausystem 2), and 8300 (Super Lectron A). The 8400, which combined the 8200 and the 8300, (Labor Lectron 1) was released in 1967. The model 800, named the Mini-Lectron, was announced by Egger-Bahn in March of 1967 for delivery in July of that year but it was never sold by Egger-Bahn due to their going out of business.
Egger-Bahn had sold three product lines in 1967 including the H0-9mm model trains, slot cars (manufactured by Jouet, a French company), and the LECTRON. Braun's initial product line was a 99% duplication of Egger-Bahn's product line except that it also included the renamed Minisystem 800 model (the Egger announced Mini-Lectron Nr. 800).
More information about the differences between the Egger LECTRON product line and the initial Braun LECTRON product line may be found under their respective tabs.
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After the dissolution of Egger-Bahn in the latter part of 1967, the Egger Lectron manufacturing and production entity was reorganized and renamed to Deutsche Lectron GmbH Produktions-(production) und Entwicklungs (development) GmbH. The facility remained intact at the Egger-Bahn 'home' in Munich at 73 Albert-Rosshaupter Strasse and also took over the development of the Lectron product.
Deutsche Lectron, GmbH signed LECTRON sales distributorships to two companies: Braun, AG and Raytheon, Inc. of Boston, MA USA.
Braun, AG signed a 5 year distribution agreement with Deutsche Lectron (1968-1972). Per item 4 shown below, Braun had to purchase LECTRON blocks for 1971 and 1972 in the value of 2,700,000 DMs (about 1.4 million Euros in today's currency valuation).
Braun, AG, in a distribution partnership for a 5 year term with Deutsche Lectron, GmbH, was critical in keeping the LECTRON system alive. Braun supported the creation of many product innovations and new models by Deutsche Lectron during the former's 'ownership' of the LECTRON from late 1967 to the Fall of 1972. We do not have a listing of the initial management team for the LECTRON product at either Braun, AG or Deutsche Lectron, GmbH. We do know that Manfred Walter managed the LECTRON product line during the later years of the Braun tenure until he took over as the Managing Director (and later President) of the newly formed Lectron, GmbH in the Fall of 1972.
Deutsche Lectron was likely shuttered shortly after the new Lectron, GmbH formation was finalized on September 30th, 1972 with Manfred Walter as Geschäftsführer (Managing Director). Please view the Deutsche Lectron era tab for more information.
With Deutsche Lectron closed, production operations and development were then likely consolidated in Frankfurt am Main where Braun had managed the Lectron sales. In fact, a Lectron, GmbH price list from 1973 shows that the business was initially located at the same Frankfurt am Main address as Braun was at this time - 22 Russelsheimer Strasse.
The two photos immediately below are screen shots from a film documentary made about the Deutsche Lectron, GmbH LECTRON production process. The film may be viewed in its entirety under the Deutsche Lectron Era tab.
The Deutsche Lectron, GmbH facility at 73 Albert-Rosshaupter Strasse in Munich.
The assembly area at Deutsche Lectron in Munich.
How and why did Braun become involved with the LECTRON product? According to Dieter Rams, in response to a series of questions that I posed to him in July of 2014 through the courtesy of Dietrich Lubs, Erwin Braun was especially interested in electronics being accessible to young people. The LECTRON System provided an excellent vehicle to accomplish this mission.
The bare facts are, based upon an article published by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (a leading and authoritative newspaper published in Frankfurt, Germany) on April 20th, 1968, that Braun, AG, a major German company with numerous product lines (and Dr. Rams' employer), was one of two companies (Raytheon in the United States being the other) given sales rights of the LECTRON product in 1967 by Deutsche Lectron, GmbH. Braun's sales agency was for Europe and England.
The LECTRON community is certainly indebted to Braun AG for keeping the LECTRON product alive at that critical time! Braun released numerous new models and also introduced a LECTRON product line focused on the academic community.
As a point of information, the Gillette Group, a U.S. company, was Braun's holding company of record in 1967. Braun is currently (as of 2013) a wholly owned subsidiary of Proctor and Gamble, a U.S. corporation.
Initially the Braun LECTRON models used the exact same blocks (with one exception - the battery block), similar packaging (white instead of black styrofoam), base plate (a light tan trim border base plate instead of blue), and instruction manual (the cover and binder were different) as the Egger LECTRON. It should be noted that Braun did use the Egger black styrofoam for at least the 8400 model until the Egger LECTRON supplies ran out.
Braun (through Deutsche Lectron) later changed the packaging over to cassette trays for economies of scale. For example, the new 8100 packaging was 1/2 the size of the original styrofoam based packaging. Was the Rams' team responsible for the new packaging design changes? Another item for further research resolution.
A more complete discussion of the packaging and battery block issues will ensue within the Egger and Braun pages.
A complete review of the various Braun LECTRON models, product lines, and documentation may be found under the Braun Era tab.
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Concurrently with Braun, AG, the Raytheon Education Company in the United States also acquired the sales distributorship from Deutsche Lectron, GmbH and sold the LECTRON product first under the name Electronic Dominoes (models 800 and 820) in 1967 and then under the name Lectron (Series 1 - 5 along with 'Add-On' kits) starting in the Spring of 1968 using the Egger trademark 'look'.
Unfortunately, Raytheon decided to market the LECTRON as a toy for younger boys. Due to the cost relative to other electronics toys, the LECTRON did not catch on in the United States and Raytheon stopped marketing and selling it in 1969.
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Raytheon also repackaged a Series 3 model as the S822 LECTRON LCIII model in 1968 for the Creative Playthings company of Princeton, NJ. A nice differentiator for this model was the inclusion of the deluxe base plate. The below graphic shows a grey border trim on the deluxe base plate. The one that I own came with an Egger style blue border trim.
INELCO, the Italian company which previously held the distributorship for the Braun LECTRON in Italy, also sold the LECTRON under their own brand starting in 1973 using the Braun Buchlabor model as its base model. The Sistema Lectron Serie 2000 was sold exclusively in Italy.
Like Raytheon, INELCO also used the add-on kit approach and sold six additional kits (2001 - 2006) which added more experiments.
More information about INELCO's complete LECTRON product line may be found under the INELCO Era tab.
INELCO also published the English (and possibly other) translations of the German instruction manuals for Lectron, GmbH.
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Kimble Products, a division of Owens-Illinois and located in the USA, also sold three models of the LECTRON under their Mr. Wizard's Experiments In Electronics brand from about 1972 - 1974. These were very basic models and geared toward the younger hobbyist.
The Kimble LECTRON product line was developed from the remaining Raytheon inventory. The Kimble order form showed the seven add-on kits with the exact same block count.
See the Kimble Era tab for more information.
According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine article of November 17th, 1973, Braun formalized the arrangements for transitioning the LECTRON assets to Lectron, GmbH and INELCO based upon geographic boundaries in the Fall of 1972. Deutsche Lectron, GmbH is not mentioned at all so their role in this process in undefined. The Lectron, GmbH was established as an independent company under the leadership of the former Braun LECTRON division director, Manfred Walter. More information about the transition from Braun to Lectron and INELCO may be read under the Lectron - MW Era -> Introduction tab.
Mr. Walter, who had led the Braun LECTRON division, was a true leader and innovator of the LECTRON system and product. He and his team introduced numerous new models over their long stewardship of the LECTRON from 1972 to 2001.
Unfortunately the multi-language translation approach to the bulk of the LECTRON instruction manuals (the 1200, 1300, and Kybernetik I model manuals were not translated by Braun), which Braun had spear-headed in an effort to attract a more global marketplace, was not continued by Mr. Walter. He did continue publishing, through INELCO, the manuals that Braun had translated. New models introduced by Lectron, GmbH only had German language instruction manuals.
Mr. Walter did publish a four page color brochure in both English and German touting the latest models and background information on the LECTRON system.
In 2001, Mr. Walter arranged to gift the LECTRON assets to Rehab-Werkstatt Oberrad (RWO) as a part of a past tax liability settlement with the German tax authorities. Sadly, Mr. Walter died from complications of Parkinson's Disease a few years later. I have not been able to reliably determine the date despite several research efforts including an obituary search.
RWO is a psychiatric rehabilitation social home and a part of the Frankfurter Verein Association in Frankfurt/Main, Germany. RWO produces many different product lines of which the LECTRON is one.
The graphic below shows the updated Grundsystem- und Ausbausystem 1 (1003), and Ausbausystem 2 (1004) models combined in one box (closely replicating the block contents and subject matter of the original 8400 Egger and Braun Labor 1 models). The manual acknowledges Georg Gregor and Joachim Schubert as the original authors. The manual was updated by Gerd Kopperschmidt to reflect the use of NPN transistors and a negative ground rather than the original positive ground.
Mr. Norbert Cahn von Seelen is the product manager of the LECTRON at RWO (at the time of this writing in 2012) and has been involved with the LECTRON since 2001 when he helped transition the LECTRON assets to RWO from Mr. Walter's warehouse in Niedernhausen, 20 minutes away from Frankfurt. The good news is that the LECTRON product now covers an even wider array of subject matter with many new models and can still be purchased through RWO. The website is www.lectron.de.
Unfortunately, all the manuals are now published only in German (with the solitary exception of model 2018 - Network Simulation Lab which is curiously only available in English as of March, 2014) and there are no plans to have them translated into other languages because there are no funds available (per an email response I received from Mr. Cahn von Seelen in 2012).
Gerd Kopperschmidt, a former Siemens engineer, has been the primary 'architect' of the new models which have been introduced during the last decade and for the LECTRON product line refresh. Bravo and thank-you Mr. Kopperschmidt! I am sure that Georg Greger would be most grateful and proud of the work you have done to help keep the LECTRON system alive and relevant.
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As the reader may gather, I am quite passionate about the LECTRON product. I received my first LECTRON as a Christmas gift from my maternal grandmother in 1967 when I was 12 years old. It was a Raytheon Electronic Dominoes 820 model. This LECTRON model fueled my interest in electronics which has lasted throughout my life, both personally and professionally. Although that kit has long been 'lost', I have been acquiring a variety of LECTRON models over the last 2 years. I was finally able to re-acquire a model 820 through an Ebay auction in August of 2012. It still works and has brought back many happy memories of the many hours spent in following the 'schematics' to make an AM radio, morse code practice oscillator, night light, and other circuits of my own creation.
LECTRON.Info will continue to be updated on an ongoing basis. There is a lot of information to cover. History to be rediscovered and explored. So please enjoy the website and I of course welcome any corrections or new information that can be added to make this the premier LECTRON historical information resource and virtual museum on the internet.
All text on LECTRON.Info is © by Michael Peters 2012 - 2014
One of my other passions is music and playing with my band The Trouvères at Renaissance Faires. For more information, please visit our website at TheTrouvères.com.
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