It’s Electrifying


The very first example of an electric train came way back in 1835 when Thomas Davenport invented a battery powered motor which he used to run a train-like device around a track. He received a patent in 1837, not for the electric train but for his DC motor.

Carlisle & Finch are credited with producing the first complete electric train sets back in 1897. It was, however, Murray Bacon who patented the electric toy train 13 years earlier. Unfortunately for Murray, he assigned the patent over to the Novelty Electric Co. who never bothered building it.

At the end of the video, the narrator said the major toy train manufacturers didn’t pay much notice to a 23 year old inventor named Joshua Cowen (big mistake). The name may not be familiar to most people until they find out that his middle name was Lionel.

As the years went by and electricity became more common in households the popularity of electric trains took off. In addition, German companies felt the wrath of the American people after WWI so the American toy companies did not face much foreign competition.

Lionel and American Flyer were big players in the toy train market and eventually they bought up Ives Manufacturing. It wasn’t until after WWII that these manufacturers, along with others, began adding better detail to their model train sets.

That leads us to today where the model train business is filled with passionate hobbyists who spend countless days, months, years creating their own miniature world using highly detailed scale model replicas… just don’t call them toy train sets.

The defining event in toy train history was the launch by Marklin in 1891 of the first complete system of trains. While the first models were derived from earlier products, what Marklin introduced was a series of standard track gauges, ready to use track sections for those gauges, and a range of locomotives, rolling stock and accessories to match. Now you could have an initial train set, but continually add and expand till your miniature railroad empire was complete - which it never was!

This was of course good for the toy manufacturer, indeed this is possibly the first example of the expanding range, with items at various price points (Christmas, birthdays, parents and relations and pocket money sized), which is one of the basic features of most successful toys since.


These first Marklin models were made in three gauges (called 1, 2 and 3, logically enough). Painted and soldered tinplate was the main material, and clockwork the driving power. And they were crude! But the range was clearly a great success. So Marklin expanded and improved its range, after a few years adding a fourth, small gauge (O). The range of accessories was greatly expanded. Other German toy makers introduced competitive products, most importantly Bing (then probably Germany's, and hence the world's, largest toy maker). Despite the odd divergence these makers generally adopted the same standards as to gauge as Marklin, while developing new production techniques, in particular the use of lithographed (printed) tinplate, allowing much cheaper and more colourful items, at the expense of some robustness.


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