John Lloyd Wright, the son of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, first developed the concept for Lincoln Logs in 1916. By the 1920s, the younger Wright had patented his stackable wooden construction sets and named them after the Kentucky log cabin where America’s 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, was born. Although Lincoln Logs would prove to be the most successful version of this type of toy, log cabin building sets had been around long before John Lloyd Wright debuted his brand. One of the earliest such toys was produced by Ellis, Britton & Eaton in Vermont under the name “Log Cabin Playhouse” during the 1860s. Other 20th-century versions include the “American Logs” set by Halsam and “Frontier Logs” by Ideal.
The design of Wright’s Lincoln Logs was influenced by the construction of his father’s Imperial Palace Hotel in Tokyo, whose interlocking timber beams were said to make the structure earthquake-proof. Original Lincoln Log sets were made entirely from redwood by the Red Square Company of Chicago, Illinois. These sets also included instructions on how to build the two most famous American cabins—those belonging to Uncle Tom and President Lincoln.
The educational benefits of children’s toys were first popularized during the late 19th century, with scholars and teachers emphasizing the positive effects that open-ended building toys had on motor skills and critical-thinking abilities. Wright used this trend to his advantage by aiming his product at wealthier parents, using the tagline, “Interesting play things typifying the spirit of America.” In 1943, before Lincoln Logs had truly become a household name, Wright sold the company to educational toy-maker Playskool.
During the baby-boom following World War II, Lincoln Logs became one of the first toys marketed on television, with commercials appearing during shows like "Pioneer Playhouse" and "Davy Crockett." In the 1960s, the Lincoln Logs copyright was sold to Milton Bradley, then passed to Hasbro in the '80s, and finally purchased by K’NEX in 1991.