Known for its hands-on, interactive toys, Elenco has been fostering a love of STEM in kids for generations, and this year, the company is celebrating two anniversaries! The Toy Book chatted with Linda Kramer, vice president of marketing at Elenco, about the evolution of the company and what’s in store this year.
The Toy Book: Elenco is celebrating a big anniversary this year — 50 years! Tell us about Elenco’s history in the toy industry, specifically with STEM toys.
Linda Kramer: Elenco began in 1972 by an electrical engineer, Gil Cecchin — my dad. The first product was an educational product for a correspondence school, sort of like the 1970s version of online learning. We then started making instructional and learn-to-solder kits for high school electronics classes. Some of our first toys were electronics learning toys, such as the Electronic Playground, which we still make today. When Snap Circuits was launched in 2002, Elenco already was a trusted name in schools. We were there when the STEM movement began, making us pioneers and founders of the movement.
There’s a lot of STEM toys out there today, but it’s hard to find companies that were around in the 1970s, ’80s, and even ’90s. We were around making STEM products and toys before the term “STEM” even existed. It makes sense that Snap Circuits has become a cornerstone of national school STEM programs.
TB: Whether through new product launches or company initiatives, how is Elenco celebrating this milestone anniversary?
LK: We will be celebrating in many different ways throughout the year. Starting with Toy Fair New York, we’ll be acknowledging the independent toy stores and others who have supported us over the years. Snap Circuits really took off because of the mom-and-pop, neighborhood toy stores: Be sure to stop by and see us at Toy Fair! We are also ramping up a variety of ways to get consumers — teachers, parents, and kids — excited about this special anniversary. Stay tuned — there’s a lot to come from Elenco!
TB: Elenco is a family business through and through, started by your father. How has this familial background influenced Elenco’s growth as a company?
LK: Elenco is a true family business, starting in our basement in Niles, Illinois. The first employees were my mom and my brothers. The whole family would cut wires, fill bags with diodes and ICs (electrical components), and roller skate around the basement listening to The Beatles while filling boxes to send out orders. When we were busy, we’d call our cousins and neighbors to help with production. Eventually, we opened an office and warehouse nearby. Now, we have a facility in Wheeling, Illinois, outside Chicago. Many of our first employees hired back in the ’80s and ’90s are still with us today.
TB: Tell us more about Elenco’s motto “Learn by Doing.”
LK: Our trademark “Learn by Doing” was introduced in the 80s and is the foundation of everything we do. All our products follow our “Learn by Doing” philosophy. My dad was a true believer that the best way for anyone to learn a skill is to do it and practice it. He felt that kids learn best when they are having fun and aren’t aware that they are learning.
TB: Snap Circuits is also celebrating a milestone — its 20th anniversary! What are Snap Circuits and how have these toys evolved as the STEM movement has gained popularity?
LK: Snap Circuits is an educational, circuit-building toy that teaches basic electronics and circuitry. The pieces snap together on a simple rows-and-columns base grid to create working circuit boards, just like the ones found inside TVs, radios, and other electronic devices. Each piece is numbered and color-coded to make identifying them easy. Kids can follow the diagrams in the manual and build projects, such as FM radios, flying saucers, police sirens, voice recorders, burglar alarms, doorbells, and much more.
We introduced Snap Circuits at Toy Fair New York in 2002, starting with the Snap Circuits 300 and then the Snap Circuits 100. In 2009, the Snap Circuits 300 won Specialty Toy of the Year. Snap Circuits started as a “geek” toy for kids interested in electronics and engineering. With the rise of the STEM movement, Snap Circuits has evolved to become more relevant to kids’ lives, reaching kids of all backgrounds and interests. We’ve introduced kits that focus on alternative energy and conservation, with projects that explain cutting-edge technology that’s becoming more visible in kids’ lives such as solar energy and how electric cars work.
In 2020, we launched the Snap Circuits MyHome, which focuses on electricity in the home. It teaches kids concepts like what happens when the power goes out, how automated lights and security systems work, and how power gets to their house. With the rise of coding, Snap Circuits also expanded to include basic coding. We’re one of the only coding products out there that is hands-on and tactile, which helps with small motor skills.
Today, Snap Circuits is recognized all over the world as the go-to toy for learning electronics. We love hearing from engineers and scientists who recall playing with Snap Circuits as a child — sparking their interest in STEM. We hope to continue to inspire young minds to become tomorrow’s innovators.
TB: How important is STEM literacy for today’s kids? How do Elenco’s products help them learn these skills?
LK: Kids today have so much going on. There’s more to learn than ever before and STEM is all around them. The physics and technology concepts that kids used to learn in high school are now being taught in grade school. If kids can get comfortable early on with the main building blocks and concepts of science, they will become inquisitive learners, creators, and innovators, allowing them to spark change in the world around them. Elenco products are created to help kids learn basic skills and become confident with their abilities so they can take the next step of exploring and creating on their own.