Prewar Model Train Manufacturers


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Toy models of trains have been around for a long time. Companies like Marklin and Carette from Germany have been making model trains since the 1800s. Carlisle and Finch started making trains in North America in 1894. They are often credited as being the inventors of the electric toy train since they were the first American company to introduce electrically powered miniature trains in volume.

When I started collecting it was strictly postwar O gauge Lionel and S gauge American Flyer pieces that I found at yard sales, antique stores and at trains shows.  Rather quickly my attention shifted to prewar models and along with that the larger gauges as offered by C&F, Voltamp and Knapp.

The TCA Western division has put together a great list of model trains manufacturers and what they manufactured in great detail here. Their list includes notable modern manufacturers that I will not list here, rather I will concentrate on the ones that appeal to my collecting style.

American Made Model Trains

American Flyer
1907 – Started producing toy trains in Chicago under the name of the Edmonds-Metzel Hardware Company. The company only produced tinplate clockwork passenger train sets.
1910 -They changed the name of the company to American Flyer Manufacturing Company. They had 12 employees.
The first freight cars were produced.
1913 – William Hafner, one of the founders.  left to start his own company.
1914 –  the first boxcar to bear the herald of an actual real-life railroad was introduced.
1918 –  their first electrically-powered O gauge steam-outline locomotive was introduced.
1924-1930 – Electrified steam models are not catalogued
1920-1934 – Toy trains were modelled after real-life trains in use in New England at the time
1925 – Introduction of 2 1/8″ wide gauge trains to compete with Lionel’s Standard Gauge
1928 – American Flyer and Lionel jointly purchase and operate Ives until 1930 when AF sold its share to Lionel
1931 – AF announces it would not produce a train to sell for under $4 like its competition had and later relented.
1932 – No cast iron locomotives were catalogued after 1932.  Wide gauge production ceased.
1934 – Cast aluminum “Zephyr” first catalogued.
1935 – AF produced its first “streamlined” trains, the Aeolus and Minnehaha
1936 – High quality die-cast model of a New York Hudson is manufactured
1937 – AF’s sales were less that one million dollars. American Flyer sells company to AC. Gilbert the inventor and producer of the Erector Sets. Gilbert redesigned the line to the scale of 1:64
1939 – Gilbert releases line of HO scale trains.  American Flyer’s Chicago offices are closed. Gilbert introduces “S” scale
1941 – Total A.C. Gilbert’s sales were above four million dollars
1946 – AC Gilbert discontinues O gauge trains
1950 – American Flyer Manufacturing sold to Wyandotte

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Beggs
1871 – Eugene Beggs starts manufacturing live-steam toy trains in Gauge 1 with partner Jehu Garlick.  Beggs was the first American manufacturer to mass-produce live-steam trains.
Beggs receives patent for live-steam trains and sectional train track
1889 – Garlick goes out on his own to manufacture trains almost identical to Beggs.
1899 – Beggs produces their most deluxe set to date
1900 – Clockwork and electric trains gain popularity over live steam
1910 – Beggs ceases to exist

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Boucher
1905 – Boucher Model Shops is established  By H.E. Boucher and manufactures model ships in NYC
1923 – Boucher buys out Voltamp, drops Voltamp’s electric and trolleys and keeps three of the original five steam locomotives.
Boucher modifies the trains from 2″ 2 rail to 2 1/8″ 3 rail to be compatible with Lionel’s Standard Gauge.
1929 – Boucher Blue Comet set is first produced.  This is the only 6-wheel-drive locomotive to be cataloged by a manufacturer.
1930s – Toy train market dominated by the big four, Lionel, Ives, Dorfan and American Flyer
1934 – Standard Gauge train manufacture discontinued (Boucher was the last toymaker to do so)
1943 – Boucher ceases to exist

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Carlisle & Finch
1893 – Company began as a repair shop for small electric motors
1894 – The company is purchased from General Electric by Robert S Finch and Morten Carlisle
1895 – Most orders are for fixing electric motors for GE.  They start to make carbon arc searchlights.
1896 – In September of this year, C&F produces first toy trains which were brass trolleys that ran on metal track.  500 were produced by September of this year. 1000 more were made for the Holiday season of this year. These are the first electric-powered trains to enter the marketplace.
1897 – 4500 pieces of  C&F #1 Trolleys are manufactured.
1897 – Company is incorporated and their first catalog depicting trains is produced.  C&F produced a catalog every year thereafter (except 1915)  C&F begins producing searchlights on a regular basis and issues a separate catalog for them.
1898 – Catalog lists trains for use with battery power and others for AC or DC power
The #4 Inclined Plane Railway is advertised and 120 units are produced from 1898-1899.  No known examples exist today.
1899 – C & F introduces the very popular #4 0-4-0 steam type locomotive along with both passenger and freight cars.
1900 – Corrugated lines are embossed on the sides of the trolleys.  The company moves to a larger location and remains there for the next 47 years.
1904 – Electric Railway is also embossed on the trolleys
1907 – #1 Electric Railway Trolley is discontinued
1914- The manufacture of searchlights becomes their main focus
1915 – The US Government orders C&F to cease production of trains and make searchlights for the Coast Guard for use in WWI
1916 – Last tot trains are produced by Carlisle & Finch
1917 – Finch buys out Carlisle’s share of the company

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Hafner
1901 – Hafner founds his first toy company, the Toy Auto Company,  in Chicago to produce clockwork toys.
1904 – Name changed to W. F. Hafner Company
1905-1907 – Hafner produces clockwork trains, hand-painted cast iron locomotives and tin-plated rolling stock
1910 – Hafner enters into partnership with Chicago hardware store owner to produce American Flyer trains
1914 – Hafner left American Flyer to start the Hafner Manufacturing Company to produce clockwork-powered O-gauge lithographed trains. During peak periods, the company employed as many as 150 people.
1920-1930s – Locomotives were mostly cast iron steam types
1930 – Sheet-metal steamers of conventional outline are introduced.
1933 – “Century of Progress” special set is produced to commemorate Chicago;s Century of Progess exhibition.  The complete set retailed for $1.39
1937 – Model of the “Flying Yankee” was produced in 1937
1942 – Toy production prohibited in USA due to World War II
1951 – Company is sold to All Metal Products, the manufacturer of pressed-steel Wyandotte toys
1956 – Wyandotte goes bankrupt and Hafner’s tooling for trains is sold to Marx

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Hoge
1909 – The company is founded in Manhattan NY to produce office supplies.
1931 – Hoge produces first trains, 3-rail O-gauge of stamped tinplate construction.
1934 – The Tom Thumb freight train is introduced. #900 articulated model of M10000 articulated streamliner is introduced
1939 – Manufacturing of trains ceased and inventory was exhausted by 1942

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Howard Electric Novelty Company
1904 – Howard introduces its first electrically-operated toy train.
1904-1906 Howard produces more 2″ gauge toy trains than any other manufacturer.

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Ives Manufacturing Company
1880 – Founded in Plymouth Connecticut by Edward Ives.  Originally manufactured paper dolls and ventured into clockwork toys in the 1880s.
1900 – Fire destroys the Ives plant along with all of the drawings, dies and tooling.
1901 – Ives produces the first O gauge trains to run on prefabricated track
1910 – Ives produces its first electrically operated trains in  both Wide Gauge and O Gauge.
1913 – Ives released a Meccano-like construction toy in 1913 named Struktiron. They stopped production in 1917.
1917 – Ives introduces clockwork driven model boats and produced them until 1928.
1921 – Ives discontinues sale of Gauge one trains
1924 – Ives introduces a reversing switch that would reverse direction of a locomotive engine when power was disrupted.
1924 – Lionel’s sales surpass those of Ives
1926 – Lionel’s revenue was twice that of Ives
1928 – Ives was purchased by Lionel and American Flyer
1929 – Ives 1122 locomotive is the first “near-to-scale” locomotive to enter the marketplace.
1930 – Lionel buys out American Flyer’s share of Ives and closes Ives Connecticut plant.
1933 – Lionel uses the name “Lionel-Ives” for its entry level trains
1933 – Lionel ceases to use the Ives name

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Jehu Garlick
1889- Jehu Garlick leaves Beggs and starts his own company
1895 – First to market an electrically powered trains with limited run of 200 Electric Tunnel Locomotives.  There is only one known example existing today and is considered to be the oldest surviving example of a tinplate electric trains produced in the USA.  It was purchased at an auction in 2008 for $40,000 USD and the new owner is marketing reproductions for $5000 USD each.
The loco did not sell well and was never produced again.
1900 – Garlick continues to manufacture toy steam-driven locomotives until turning his attention to automobiles

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Knapp Electric & Novelty Company
1895 – Founded in NYC by inventor David Knapp making electric motors, toy cars, board games and electric specialties.
1902 – Produces first electrically-operated toy train. a KENCO #1 set which consisted of a trolley and an oval track.
1904 – Introduced a full line of 2″ gauge electric trains.  The trains were the only 2″ gauge trains made with cast iron bodies.
1913 – Production of trains ended
1931-1946 Knapp marketed HO scale trains
1937 – Knapp moved from New York to Indianapolis
1948 – All production ceased

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Lionel
1901 – Company is founded by Joshua Lionel Cowen. Lionel introduces 2 7.8″ Gauge electrically operated toy trains.
1903 – The Lionel #5 Standard Gauge locomotive appears and is decorated for B&O lines.
1906 – Standard Gauge 3-rail track is introduced.
1912 – A transformer that could convert normal household power to safer low-voltage DC is introduced.  The user could vary the output and therefore the speed of the train.  Lionel also introduces a racing car set.
1915 – O gauge trains and track appear
1926 – Lionel purchases Ives and gains the patented reversing unit.
1931 – Lionel releases the 400e locomotive, the largest locomotive that it will ever produce.
1937 – The famous 700EW is produced, the full-scale reproduction of the NYC Hudson.
1942 – Lionel’s train production ceases and they start making compasses for the war effort.  They produce a paper cut-out train during the war years.

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National Playthings
1942 – Reintroduced the Weeden Dart
1952 – Production of live-steam engines is halted

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Smith & White
1901 – Offers a Japanese-made trolley modelled after Carlisle & Finch’s number one trolley

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Voltamp
1897 – Manes Fuld experiments with trains for his son.
1903 – Introduces first train.
1907 – He introduces the first model train that runs on standard household AC power.  Trains made after 1907 had operating headlights.
1908 – Voltamp produces its first catalog
1910 – Line is expanded and includes the 2222 4-6-0 locomotive
1913 – Catalog is now 130 pages
1914 – Spring trucks were changed to solid-truck frames with simulated cast springs.
1923 – Full set of Voltamp trains with a B&O lined locomotive sold for $155, comparable to the cost of a used car at that time.
1923 – Voltamp sold the business and inventory to Boucher.

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Weeden
1883 – The Weeden Manufacturing company begins making stationary steam engines
1888 – The Weeden Dart, a live-steam locomotive is introduced and is produced until 1918.
1890 – A complete train set was offered featuring colored lithographs of buildings, people and accessories which could be cut out and mounted on cardboard.
1903 – Weeden #3 locomotive is offered.  A larger version of the Dart, it did not sell well and was discontinued after a few years.
1895 – Montgomery Ward catalog listed a Weeden set in a wood box for $3.50
1904 – Special track system is offered which was basically pre-assembled track sections.
1931 – Weeden #1, an alcohol-fired live steam locomotive is introduced and produced until 1933.  This was a live-steam O gauge locomotive. Cost $15 in 1931
1936 – Weeden #2 was also made which employed a 400 watt electric heater within the boiler to heat the water into steam.  This model was impractical and did not sell well.
1942 – The company is sold to National Playthings
1952 – The Weeden Mfg Company ceases to exist