SELECTED pre-WWII MANUFACTURER THUMBNAIL HISTORIES
Note: Summary histories of many other manufacturers are available from the Train Collectors' Association, and the TCA is acknowledged here as one of the several major sources for the information provided below.
Märklin was a German toy company founded in 1859 in Göppingen, Germany (unlike most of its competitors that were centred in Nürnberg). It originally made miniature doll house and kitchen accessories, but had acquired the traditional production handpainted Lutz toy trains (along with its highly-skilled workforce) and created a sensation at the 1891 Leipzig, Germany toy fair (arguably Europe's major trade fair of the day) with its offerings of toy trains in three newly-defined gauges (I at 45 mm, II at 54 mm and III at 75 mm). The sensation was the realization that toy trains were not stand-alone single toy purchases, but, rather like doll houses, could be readily expanded with accessories and additions. Indeed Märklin came to be a German household word for toy and model trains. After WWI, the firm regrouped from the loss of its export markets, dropped its Gauges II and III and concentrated on the production of the newly-developing electric trains, both in Gauges I and 0. Unlike Bing (see below), Märklin weathered the financial crash of 1929 and went on to continue to offer Gauge I and 0 trains until the outbreak of WWII, having also introduced its high-quality H0 range in 1935. Post-WWII, Märklin refined and expanded its H0 offerings and created another sensation in 1972 with its introduction of Z Scale trains with a 6.5 mm gauge (Märklin Mini-club). Märklin also participated in the revival of the larger scales' popularity with the introduction of its new Gauge 1 (Märklin Maxi) range in 1994. Märklin was sold in 2006 by its then three participating families Märklin, Friz and Safft to a British Investment Group Kingsbridge Capital, and in the following year acquired its model railway big trains competitor LGB (Lehmann Grosse Bahnen).
Bing was a German firm (Gebrüder Bing - Brothers Bing) founded in 1865 by Ignaz and Adolf Bing in Nürnberg, Germany to make kitchen utensils and toys. The Bing firm participated in Märklin's rationalization of track gauges at the 1891 Leipzig Fair and the consequent boom of the toy train system concept. Gauge 0 had been introduced by Märklin in 1895 and by 1900 the earlier larger gauges (II and III for Märklin and II, III and IV for Bing [Gauge IV for Bing was equivalent to Gauge III for Märklin at 75 mm. Bing, along with Bassett-Lowke and Carette, had an in-between gauge at 67 mm above Gauge II at 54 mm]) had given way to Gauges 1 and 0 that came to predominate in the toy train world in Europe. As for all German manufacturers, the export market was key to survival and Bing formed trading partnerships with Ives in the US and with Bassett-Lowke in the UK, also being retailed there through Gamage's catalogue. The Bing firm was, despite its pre-eminence in the Germany toy industry with over 5,000 employees at the outbreak of WWI, caught up in the financial turmoil of 1929, and the subsequent advent of the Nazi regime in 1933 that caused its Jewish owners to flee to the UK. Bing's assets were subsequently acquired by the competing German firm of Karl Bub (see below) that continued until the outbreak of WWII.
The Karl Bub toy company was founded in Nürnberg, Germany in 1851, and started making track-based clockwork trains in 1905, followed by an electric train in 1914. Its trademark was KBN (for Karl Bub Nürnberg), or later simply KB. Its early trains were made in both Gauges 1 and 0, with partnerships with Issmayer and Carette that allowed all three companies to produce similar-looking trains. Bub had a US distributor during the 1920s-1930s and Bub also opened a factory in the UK in 1932 (KB-Toy) in order to retain the British market with its coincident acquisition of the Bing tools and molds. Bub re-started the production of the Bing lines in Germany (including its 00 table-top product) in 1934, but along with all other toy makers, ceased production at the outbreak of WWII. Its factory was completely destroyed during the war. After 1945, the Bub firm also experimented briefly with a gauge similar to that of S, failed to switch to plastic during the 1950s and closed its doors in 1966.
Georges Carette moved from France to Germany as a young man and started a toy company in 1886, the firm of Georges Carette & Cie being founded in Nürnberg, Germany in 1893. The firm did well and also made toys other than trains. After the turn of the 20th century, the firm expanded and made high-end quality railway carriages for the UK market in collaboration with Bassett-Lowke (see below under UK). The firm's principal production was in tinplate and brass and ranged from the Gauges 3 and 2 alcohol-fuelled "stork-leg" locomotives through to his wonderful carriages (passenger cars) in Gauges 1 and 0, with locomotives variously powered by steam, electricity and clockwork. At the outbreak of WWI, Carette left Germany and the toy company was run by a partner until 1917 when it closed. Carette trains are very hard to find and are highly valued by collectors today.
Among the numerous firms in Nürnberg, the pre-WWI toy train capital of Germany, if not the world; that of Issmayer deserves a place in toy train history for a major innovation to the industry. The firm was started by Johann Andreas Issmayer in 1861, and at first made steam-powered locomotives for the domestic market, and cheap colourful clockwork versions for export to North America. The first models were close to Gauge 0, and Gauge 1 models were added subsequently. Issmayer proved that trains with fine lithography were marketable, and his trains were also sold by contemporary manufacturers such as Bing, Carette and Karl Bub.
Bearing in mind that the first toy trains ran on nursery floors or living room carpets, surprisingly as it may seem today, track was a major step forward.
Issmayer is credited with pioneering the sectional, tinplated track with hollow, rolled-tin rails that became the hallmark of the toy train era. The rails were fitted to metal-stamped ties and were joined by pins fitted into the ends of the rails. These in turn were packaged with every set sold, and afforded expansion of the original circle or oval with the purchase of additional straight and curved sections.
The firm's founder died aged 90 in 1922, and the firm continued under his son-in-law, and then his grandson, until 1932. Issmayer trains are acknowledged as of some of the more attractive designs of the toy train era, and are much sought after by collectors, fetching impressive sums at auction.
As with Meccano and Hornby, the story of Trix begins in 1929 with the introduction of a construction set that featured steel strips with three lines of holes arranged in X X X fashion, named Tri-X, that soon became simply "Trix".
The Brothers Bing managing director Stephan Bing had left the family business in 1927 to purchase the Nürnberg toy company Fortner & Haffner, and developed 00 trains with cast-metal locomotives (running on 14 V AC) and the ability to run two trains on the same track, and the launching of the "Trix Express" system there in 1935.
With the active involvement of Bassett-Lowke (see below under "United Kingdom"),Trix Limited was formed in the UK in 1932. The Trix Express system was introduced there in time for Christmas 1936 by Bassett-Lowke as the "Twin-Train Table Railway" (later just TTR), followed up in 1937 with an ambitious stable of UK, German and US prototype locomotives, and early diesel and multiple units in the few years before the outbreak of WWII.
In the meantime Stephan Bing and his management team emigrated to the UK from Nazi Germany, with the German company being acquired in 1938 by Ernst Voelk, owner of the nearby Fürth metal products firm Johann Distler KG. During WWII, the Trix factories in both countries were converted to manufacturing precision materials for the war effort, and the German Trix factory was destroyed by Allied bombing in early 1945. Production resumed in the UK in 1946, and in Germany in 1948.
In 1948 a design change was made to use the Peco / Hornby-Dublo style coupling. Moving into the 1950s, Trix Express in Germany introduced the "Trix International" series of 2-rail scale wheel rollingstock, which was offered in parallel with Trix Express 3-rail, and conversion of production to 12 V DC was begun in both countries. The new locomotives featured a new pressed and riveted chassis instead of the German cast metal design, and the new DC motors were of a good and powerful German 3-pole design. Fibre-based track replaced the original high bakelite base in the mid-1950s.
(There was a short period of experimentation in both countries in the 1950s to offer battery-operated "junior" sets.)
In the UK, however, Trix Twin Railway made a fateful decision to stay with the coarse-flange 3-rail system, and not offer the 2-rail system, although in 1959 a model of a Woodhead Electric EM1 with working pantographs was introduced that enabled a third locomotive to be controlled independently on the same track.
By 1957 the financial handwriting was on the wall, and a series of owner and management changes took place in an effort to keep the faltering British Trix afloat.
In 1967, the German Trix company acquired the assets of British Trix, and a company called Thernglade Ltd. was acquired to take over production as "Trix Trains", but the delay in meeting the competition and evolution of the post-war H0/00 model hobby proved fatal. In 1973 the Wrexham UK factory closed, and in 1974, Lilliput Model Railways (UK) was formed to continue production of some British-outline models until 1993, when Lilliput was bought by Kader, who owned the US Bachmann company.
While Trix Twin / Trix Trains / British Trix now no longer existed in the UK, the original parent company Trix Express continued to operate in Germany, offering traditional 3-rail coarse wheel rollingstock along with 2-rail scale-wheeled stock. Trix Express was bought by Märklin in 1998 who continued to offer the 3-rail rollingstock for a short time, but now focuses the former Trix range in European-prototype model locomotives and rollingstock, based on Märklin's C track system.
The German Trix Express had introduced its N scale Minitrix range in the 1960s, producing at first mostly European and British-prototype trains, but then also some North American prototype models that were also subsequently marketed under the Aurora "Postage Stamp" brand, and then under the American Tortoise, Model Power and Con-Cor brands. Märklin picked up the Minitrix range along with its acquisition of Trix Express.
Carlisle & Finch
This firm has a remarkable connection with toy trains.
First of all, this firm is distinguishable in that it was not founded as a toy company, but went into business in 1894 to repair electric motors and rewind armatures. Their toy trains were a way to increase sales for small electric motors and they are thus credited with introducing (very successfully) the first electric toy trains in North America (around the same time as Märklin introduced theirs in Germany). Second, their trains were sold with their own track with a 2 inch gauge, equivalent to the European Gauge 2 (along with that of another early US firm - the Weeden Manufacturing Co.). Most remarkably of all, while their track was originally of the conventional centre-rail pick-up design that was to dominate the toy train industry for the next 40 years, at the turn of the 20th century Carlisle & Finch successfully converted their track to the two-rail pick-up design that did not come to the model railway world generally until some time after WWII. During WWI, the firm concentrated on (carbon arc) searchlight production for the US government, but at the conclusion of hostilities did not resume toy train production, concentrating instead on its profitable searchlights, and the firm is still in that business today.
The Ives Manufacturing Company was founded in Plymouth, Connecticut by Edward Ives in the year 1868, and became the largest US manufacturer of toy trains from between 1910 and 1924 when Lionel (see below) overtook it in sales. It was in 1901 that Ives produced its first toy train that ran on a track. Its initial offerings were made of tin or cast iron and were powered by clockwork, although the move to electric trains had already begun. Initially, Ives' greatest competition came from German imports and Ives sought to build brand loyalty with its fictional Ives Railway Lines. Its first electric trains appeared in 1910 as competition from American Flyer had cut into its clockwork trains, and Ives' electric trains were produced both in Gauges 1 and 0. Ives had been the only major US firm to offer Gauge 1 trains, in contrast to its continuing popularity across the Atlantic, where Gauge 2 was already moribund by the outbreak of WWI. WWI proved to be a mixed blessing for Ives as on the one hand it eliminated German competition, but on the other its geographic location compared to Lionel's New York and American Flyer's Chicago complicated procurement of materials and the shipping of the finished product, as well as causing Ives to miss out on wartime government manufacturing contracts. It was at this time that Edward Ives' son Harry took over the firm. The emerging competing threat to Ives was the aggressive marketing campaign by the upstart Lionel Company, and Harry Ives and Joshua Lionel Cowen became embroiled in a series of lawsuits over Lionel's no-holds-barred negative advertising that took constant aim at Ives' products. Price and quality had also become issues, and by 1924 Lionel had overtaken Ives in sales. In 1921 Ives abruptly abandoned its Gauge 1 trains and moved to the "Wide Gauge" instead - the equivalent of Lionel's Standard Gauge that had been trademarked as such. By 1926, Lionel's revenues were twice those of Ives, and worse still, Ives was now losing money. In 1928 Ives filed for bankruptcy and between them, Lionel and American Flyer picked up the assets. In 1930, Lionel bought out American Flyer's share and closed the Ives factory in Connecticut, moving its operations to Lionel's New Jersey factory, where some of Ives' superior designs, including its earlier revolutionary locomotive reversing mechanisms, were incorporated in Lionel's offerings for many years to come.
The original Lionel Corporation was founded in 1900 by Joshua Lionel Cowen and Harry C. Grant in New York City. Its first train was not for sale but was designed to be used in a store display to attract customers. Public demand prompted the firm to offer trains in a gauge of 2 and one-eighth inches that came to be known as its "Standard" Gauge, and since Lionel trademarked that description, was copied by other manufacturers as the "Wide Gauge". Gauge 0 trains followed in 1915 and by the end of WWI, Lionel was one of three major US manufacturers of toy trains with a strategy of encouraging department stores to make the trains part of their Christmas displays. By the 1920s Lionel had passed Ives (see above) to become the market leader. But all of its efforts to survive the Great Depression could not prevent it from going into receivership in 1934. but it was saved by a popular wind-up hand-car costing $1 and came out of receivership the following year. By 1939 it had discontinued its Standard Gauge products, experimented briefly (1938-1941) with Gauge OO (both 2- and 3-rail); and in 1942 it converted to war-time production. Lionel resumed Gauge 0 production in late 1945 and the next ten years were arguably its best ever since the 1920s. In 1959 the Cowen family sold out and retired, and the Lionel brand name endured a struggle for survival for the next ten years. There was an appearance of HO Gauge in the 1960s, but the range did not become a competitor in that market. In 1969 Lionel leased its train making rights to MPC (Model Products Corporation, a division of General Mills), and MPC continued to manufacture Lionel trains under licence until 1986 when it became Lionel Trains Incorporated (LTI). The period 1986 to 1995 saw a lot of further product turmoil and change. In 1995 Lionel trains were structured into a new company Lionel Limited Liability Corporation (Lionel LLC) and the new strategy was to target the general model railway hobbyist population rather than those specifically interested in the toy train era, and to bring back the nostalgia of the 1950s. An incidental disappearance at that time was Lionel's G Gauge line. In all of these corporate and product twists and turns and its continued manufacture under licence, the Lionel brand name has managed to survive along with that of Märklin and Hornby.
Hafner and American Flyer
William Frederick Hafner started to produce clockwork toys in 1901, formed the W.F. Hafner Company in 1904 and was making clockwork trains in Gauge 0 in 1905. Hafner's friend, William Ogden Coleman, had gained control of the struggling Edmonds-Metzel hardware company in Chicago, Illinois in 1906/7 and Hafner and Coleman began producing toy trains together, using Edmonds-Metzel's excess manufacturing capacity. By 1907, two American retail houses, Sommers and Montgomery-Ward, were selling Edmonds-Metzel trains. By 1910, Edmonds-Metzel was out of the hardware business and changed its name to the American Flyer Manufacturing Company. Initially American Flyer, also known as Chicago Flyer trains, were low-price competition to Ives (see above), but the trains proved popular and American Flyer started to expand its range.
In 1914, Hafner left American Flyer and formed the Hafner Manufacturing Company, selling a line of trains called the Overland Flyer. It can be difficult to separate the two firms' designs as it was apparent that they copied each other's designs, and identification is further complicated because of their business relationship with the German manufacturer Bing. Unlike some of his competitors, the Hafner company survived the Great Depression, its strength being that it continued to specialize in inexpensive train sets. Hafner never produced electric trains (any Hafner locomotives with electric motors had been retrofitted from another make, especially surplus Marx electric motors). Hafner trains survived until 1951 when the company was sold to All Metal Products Company (Wyandotte brand), which went into liquidation in 1956 and, perhaps ironically, was acquired by Louis Marx.
American Flyer's business grew during WWI which ended the German competition that had dominated the US toy market. In 1918, American Flyer introduced its first electric train in Gauge 0, and in 1925 began offering 2 1/8th inch gauge (Lionel Standard Gauge, or Wide Gauge) electric trains to compete with Lionel and Ives. The Great Depression in effect "killed off" the Standard/Wide Gauge (until its modern day replica revival) and Gauge 0 became the bread-and-butter gauge of the surviving toy train manufacturers. When Ives went bankrupt in 1928, American Flyer and Lionel jointly purchased the Ives assets and operated Ives until 1930, when American Flyer sold its share to Lionel. During the 1930s, American Flyer struggled to stay in business with its Gauge 0 line, and in 1938 the company was sold to Alfred Carlton Gilbert.
Dorfan was an American toy company founded in 1924 by Milton and Julius Forchheimer and was based in Newark, NJ. The Forchheimers were Nürnberg toymakers who emigrated from their German Fandor firm to compete with the US toymakers on their own turf. (The name Dorfan [and Fandor] was an amalgam of distaff family members Fanny and Dora, and the firm was originally founded as Joseph Kraus & Co. in Nürnberg in 1910. The two firms continued to have a close business relationship.) Dorfan trains were promoted as educational toys as customers were encouraged to take the trains apart and reassemble them. Dorfan started with gauge 0 clockwork and electric trains and in 1926 introduced their Wide Gauge (see Lionel above) trains. Dorfan was the first US manufacturer to use zinc die casting methods. Their trains were made primarily of a copper-zinc "Dorfan alloy". Unfortunately impurities in this pioneer process caused the metal to expand and crack, with the result that Dorfan was replacing many defective castings for its customers. At its business peak, Dorfan had about 150 employees but was unable to weather the Great Depression because of its replacement program and its high-end design and output quality. Production ended in 1934 and stocks ran out about two years later. As a result of the crumbling diecastings, few Dorfan engines survive, but their rollingstock, having been made with tinplate, is easier to find. Some of Dorfan's Gauge 0 tooling found its way to Unique Art Trains, another Newark, NJ toy maker.
Louis Marx & Company was an American toy manufacturer started by Louis Marx and his brother David in 1919. The Marx logo was the letters "MAR" in a circle with a large X through it. Marx's contribution to the toy train era was its production of cheaper Lionel-style clockwork and electric trains starting during the Great Depression and after WWII. Between 1927 and 1935, the Marx brothers marketed the “Joy Line” trains, and between 1933 and 1935 they started to introduce lines of trains under their own name with the MARX logo. The Marx track was lighter than that of the more expensive makes such as Lionel and Hornby, and since eight of its curves formed a 27 inch diameter circle, it became identified as "027" track. Louis Marx was the Toy King for many years and was the first toy manufacturer elected to the Toy Industry Hall of Fame. His ideas of mass production and low pricing earned him the title of "The Henry Ford of the Toy Industry".
In 1972, Louis Marx retired from American toy manufacturing, and the firm was sold to Quaker Oats / Fisher-Price in 1972. Quaker Oats continued to make toys for a few more years, but closed the toy train plant in Girard, Pennsylvania in 1975.
The Marx brand train was reintroduced in 1992, based on old Marx designs. The year 2004 saw the end of New Marx trains and the Ameritrains brand replaced them. However, Ameritrains production was short-lived.
Founder Frank Hornby invented the Meccano construction set in 1901, with the subsequent incorporation of Meccano Ltd. in 1908. Meccano Ltd. moved to its fabled Binns Road, Liverpool UK address in 1914. Toy train production in Gauge 0 began in 1920 and the "Hornby Series" was developed in 1924. This Series was continuously expanded to become a UK household name for electric trains. These first appeared in 1925 (operating on a mains supply, soon to be changed to 6V DC, and then to 20V AC. The 00 Hornby-Dublo range was introduced (both electric and clockwork) in 1938, but all Hornby toy train production was closed down by 1941. Post-WWII resumption saw the further development of the Hornby-Dublo (now electric trains only) range and the decline of the 0 Gauge range with total cessation in 1962. Two-rail Hornby-Dublo electric trains were introduced in 1959. In 1964 Lines Bros. Ltd. acquired Meccano Ltd., the production of Hornby-Dublo ceased and the Hornby name was transferred to become Triang-Hornby Railways. In 1966 G.R. Wrenn (which had also been acquired by Lines Bros.) began production of some former Hornby-Dublo locomotives using the original H-D molds.The Tri-ang Group was disbanded and sold in 1971, and the system which had been known as Triang-Hornby was renamed Hornby Railways in 1972, with production continuing at the former Lines Bros. Margate, UK factory. The specification of a large part of the range was upgraded to make it more attractive to adult enthusiasts, and improvements were carried out to provide finer scale wheels, wire handrails on locomotives, better paint finishes on plastic bodies and the high definition printing of logos. All Hornby manufacturing was moved to China in 1995.
This firm was founded by Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke just before the turn of the 20th century, and had its headquarters in Northampton, England. During its history, the firm offered trains in all gauges from Gauge 0 up to 15 inches; clockwork, steam and electric. The firm was also renowned for its marine models. It started as a mail order business, but opened its first London shop at High Holborn in 1908 and went on to become a leading distributor of toy/model trains as well as earning a reputation as a manufacturer of fine Scale 0 locomotives. The Bassett-Lowke name became a fixture at trade shows and exhibitions. In its earlier days, the firm commissioned a lot of its products from other manufacturers, particularly Carette and Bing; also from Carson & Co., a primary supplier of Gauge 3 (2 1/2") locomotives until 1913 , when the firm acquired its tooling. Bassett-Lowke was instrumental in promoting and distributing the novel Bing 00 table top railway in the UK in 1922; and in the 1930s, distributed the Trix 00 trains in the UK under the name "Twin Trix Table Railway" (later simply TTR). Also during the 1930s, Bassett-Lowke refined and brought to a very high standard its Gauge 0 clockwork and AC or DC-powered locomotive range.
During WWII, Bassett-Lowke performed critical war-effort projects, and resumed train production (Scale 0 only) in the post-war period from 1946 to 1965. Business declined however from the late 1950s into the 1960s, as the focus of model railways shifted to the smaller scales. In 1964 the firm discontinued its retail sales and closed its shops including its flagship store on High Holborn, sold to Beatties' of London. The original Bassett-Lowke firm went out of business in 1965, but its brand name was perpetuated by various owners until it was acquired by Corgi in 1996, which in turn, ironically passed on to Hornby, one of Bassett-Lowke's original competitors in its heyday, when Hornby purchased Corgi in 2008.
Trix - see under Germany
SOURCES, and suggestions for FURTHER READING or REFERENCE:
Allen, Terry: Encyclopedia of Model Railways. Octopus Books, London UK 1979
Carlson, Pierce: Toy Trains, A History. Harper & Row, New York NY 1986
Corey & Ochoa: The Model Railroader's Catalogue. Fireside Simon Schuster, New York NY 1991
Color Treasury of Model Trains. Crescent, New York NY 1972
Ellis, Chris: Model Trains, Collector's Guide. Bison Books, London UK 1994
Foster, Michael: Hornby Dublo Trains, Hornby Companion Series, Vol. 3, New Cavendish Books, London, UK. 1980
Graebe, Chris and Julie: The Hornby 0 Gauge System, Hornby Companion Series, Vol. 5, New Cavendish Books, London, UK. 1984
Gurney, David-Paul: Collectible Model Trains. Flammarion, Paris, France 2002/3
Jones, Keith: Trix from 1935 to 1973. TTR Collectors' Association, Powerpoint presentation, unpublished
Levy, Allen: A Century of Model Trains. Crescent, New York NY 1974
Marsh, Hugo: Christie's Toy Trains. Watson Guptill, New York NY 2002
McCrindell, Ron: The Collector's All Colour Guide to Toy Trains, Salamander Tiger, London UK 1989
Riddle, Peter H: America's Standard Gauge Electric Trains. Antique Trader Books, Norfolk VA 1998
Shiphorst, Paul Klein: The Golden Years of Tin Toy Trains 1850-1909. New Cavendish Books, London UK 2002
Souter, G. and J.: Modern Toy Trains. Motorbooks Intl., St.Paul MN 2002
Souter, G. and J.: Classic Toy Trains. Motorbooks Intl., St. Paul, MN 1999/2002
Train Collectors Association, USA, Western Division: http://www.tcawestern.org/tips.htm
Williams, Guy R., The World of Model Trains, Railbird Reference for André Deutsch Ltd. London UK 1970