Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about toys and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of all toy urban legends featured so far!
TOY URBAN LEGEND: Lincoln Logs were named after the middle name of the father of the inventor of Lincoln Logs.
Lincoln Logs are a famous children’s toy that consists of miniature logs with notches on them that can be connected and used to build forts and whatever other type of building your heart desires (perhaps a log cabin, even!). They were first designed in 1916 by John Lloyd Wright, son of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, first marketed in 1918, patented in 1920 and first sold a few years later.
Wright claimed at the time that he was inspired by his father’s design for the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, Japan (Wright was in Japan with his father at the time of the design and construction of the Imperial Hotel). I can’t speak to the veracity of that statement, especially since there were a goodly amount of similar block-building toys in the 19th Century.
However, one point that I believe I can speak to is the slight confusion brought about by the great website Mental Floss. The site had a feature on Lincoln Logs awhile back that has caused a bit of confusion with regards to the origins of the name “Lincoln Logs.” In an article about the secrets behind famous toys, writer Tim Moodie wrote in regards to Lincoln Logs:
But here’s the strangest part: the naming of the toy might not have been a tribute to Honest Abe. Here’s the scoop: Frank Lloyd Wright was born Frank Lincoln Wright, but he legally changed his name when his parents split. So, Lloyd Jones was his mother’s maiden name and Frank’s name change was to honor her. In any case, whichever Lincoln the toy was honoring, we’re pretty sure Honest Abe would have gotten a kick out of the little logs.
To Moodie’s credit, all he does here is point out that Wright’s original middle name was Lincoln. He does not explicitly state that the younger Wright did use that as the impetus for the name of his toy. It is just that Moodie’s “hey, did you know?” piece has since been translated, Telephone Game-style, into a definitive “Lincoln Logs were not named after Abraham Lincoln” statement, which does not appear to be Moodie’s intent at all.
Anyhow, is it true?
As to whether John Lloyd Wright named the toy as a tribute to his father’s original middle name, I believe the evidence supporting such an allegation is so flimsy that, when placed against the much simpler answer, it is reasonable enough to go with a false here.
Here is Wright’s patent for the toy (along with the plans for the toy)…
As shown, the guy created a log cabin toy. Originally, you were given just enough blocks to create only a log cabin. To suggest that the Abraham Lincoln connection was incidental and based on his father’s original middle name takes evidence a whole lot more significant than “his father’s original middle name was Lincoln.” There has to be some record of John Lloyd Wright specifically stating the connection, and there is no such record. He never spoke about his father’s original name as an influence for the product name. In addition, the younger Wright was marketing the toy in 1918 because had been fired by his father in Japan earlier that year! The two were not on good terms with each other at the time, so when you add up…
1. An estranged relationship between John Lloyd Wright and Frank Lloyd Wright at the time of the marketing of Lincoln Logs
2. No statements from John Lloyd Wright that he named Lincoln Logs after his father’s middle name and
3. The fact that the toy is a log cabin, which has been famously associated with Abaraham Lincoln since the 1860s
then I think it is fair to say that there is enough evidence to give this a “false.”
In addition, for what it is worth, K’nex, the current corporate owners of Lincoln Logs (Wright sold out very early on in the process and did not make a lot of money off of the toy at all – he went on to create other building block toys that were not as successful), state in their official history of Lincoln Logs:
The product is named after Abraham Lincoln, the President who began his celebrated life in a log cabin in Kentucky.
I tend not to lend much credence to corporate histories like that, but I figure that it is worth at least mentioning it.
Anyhow, I’m going with the legend as…
Thanks to Tim Moodie for the article that inspired this whole thing! And thanks to reader Dan W. for suggesting that I feature this one!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.