The initial Girder and Panel sets were inspired by the construction of a new office building in Cincinnati, OH, home of Kenner Toys. Kenner president Alfred Steiner was intrigued by the modern steel beam and girder structure of the new building, and the steel and glass wall panels that were later applied to that framework. This led to the development of girder and panel construction sets.
Most adults today who had Girder and Panel sets back in the 1960s remember the famous building and turnpike sets. The sets were unforgetably characterized by hundreds of red plastic girders and beams, green masonite baseboards, yellow electric motors and pulleys, grey plastic road pieces, and bright orange, yellow, and brown plastic wall panels. The all-time best-selling set was the motorized #8 set: Combined Girder-and-Panel Bridge-and-Turnpike set.
The Girder and Panel construction style emulated twentieth century construction techniques such as curtain walls of prefabricated panels attached to frameworks of girders, trusses, and cantilevers. Girder and Panel toy sets were an important toy in the transition from the metal-based Gilbert Erector Sets of the 1920-to-1950 era to the plastic toys of the modern age. While Lego is arguably the most popular contemporary construction toy, no other toy has replaced Girder and Panel as a reflection of modern building techniques.
Girder and Panel products have been produced by several companies since 1957 and they are still being made by Bridge Street Toys, a privately owned company based in Massachusetts.
Children learned how it is to be hydraulic engineers with the Hydro-Dynamic sets. These came with pumps (battery operated) and could pump water through plastic tubes. Set #11 had a tray with one pump, and set #12 had a tray with two pumps. Each pump required the use of 2 D-cell batteries that loaded underneath the tray, out of sight. The sets contained many new clear plastic polystyrene parts consisting of spray heads, dippers, turbines, funnels, small and large liquid chambers, and storage tanks.
One could control the flow of the water with valves provided by the sets. Thus, with these sets, one could model structures that employ fluid hydraulics, such as chemical plants, oil refineries, and water treatment plants. Colored dye tablets were included to simulate different types of liquid chemicals. The project booklet included with the set actually suggested a design for a DDT plant, a pesticide that is now banned.
A small amount of classic Girder and Panel and Bridge and Highway pieces were included, to allow an office to be built as part of the chemical plant, with roadways leading to it.
By about 1968, the production of Girder and Panel sets had stopped and did not start up again until about 1974, when Kenner, now owned by General Mills, produced the larger 1,100-piece Sears Tower set #72001 with black girders and panels, which could make a 5-foot-tall (1.5 m) model of the Sears Tower. These sets came with white/grey masonite baseboards.
Beginning around 2005, and continuing to the present, the Girder and Panel sets are again being produced and now sold in some speciality shops and on the internet by Bridge Street Toys. They have produced a number of different sets, along with matching parts for the older Kenner Toys and Irwin Toys sets.
Girder and Panel Building Set
Bridge and Turnpike Set
Hydro Dynamic Building Set
Skyrail Building Set
Modern-As-Tomorrow Building Set
Freeway USA Building Set
GirderMatic Building Set
What's it worth? Take a look at this Kenner Girder Panel price guide: sold listings for a value indication.