Lincoln Logs: Everybody's First Log Home

Lincoln Logs have been a classic American toy for generations and they remind us of the simpler times.

Written by Roland Sweet

Almost every explanation of log construction begins, “It’s sort of like Lincoln Logs.” That’s because most Americans are familiar with that children’s building set, made up of interlocking logs that hold together while stacking.

The name probably comes from Abraham Lincoln. The 16th president gave log cabins a big boost by being born in one. Lots of other Americans of his era were born in cabins, but only Lincoln rose to mythical status. But Lincoln didn’t invent the toy logs or play with them as a lad. So who did?

Thank Frank Lloyd Wright. America’s best-known architect didn’t invent or play with Lincoln Logs, either, but he had a son he took to Japan, which is where John Lloyd Wright got the idea. Neither Wright, incidentally, ever designed, built or lived in a real log home.

Growing up in Oak Park, Illinois, where he was born in 1892, John Lloyd Wright and his five brothers and sisters played in a tall vaulted room filled with building blocks of all shapes and sizes. According to historian Erin K. Cho, these blocks were part of Catherine and Frank Lloyd Wright’s attempt to direct their children’s analytical thinking by training them to observe things, take them apart and put them back together. They believed that the process developed children’s natural instinct to create shape and form. This “building-block” approach had been the basis of Frank Lloyd Wright’s education. It also influenced how John Lloyd Wright designed buildings and toys.

See also The Importance of Log Strength For Your Home

After John Lloyd Wright joined his father’s architectural firm, the two went to Japan, where Frank Lloyd Wright oversaw construction of Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel. To protect the building against earthquakes, Frank Lloyd Wright used a technique called “floating cantilever construction,” where projecting beams overlap and interlock. Observing this technique, John Lloyd Wright got the idea to create his toy building set. He made the first one in 1916 and soon began selling sets to Chicago’s Marshall Field & Co. department store. Lincoln Logs became instantly popular and spawned several imitators. But Lincoln Logs so dominated the market that kids called the other sets Lincoln Logs, too. Several companies have made genuine Lincoln Logs over the years, including Playskool and Hasbro. After a brief flirtation with plastic logs, which were cheaper to make, the current manufacturer, K’Nex, reverted to wood, which John Lloyd Wright hailed as “the most humanly intimate of all materials.”

As an architect, Wright may always have labored under his father’s mighty shadow, but as a toymaker, he taught generations the lasting virtues of log homes. Thanks to his building sets, grown-ups understand the principles of log construction. Surely, Lincoln Logs inspired more than a few youngsters who played with them to dream of living in real log homes when they grew up.