American Model Trains
Heads up: which three American model train developer are the most widely remembered? I bet you’ll remember them when I give you the answer. The answer is: “Lionel, American Flyer and Bachmann Trains”. Bachmann’s American also. And you might have thought that American Flyer was just a line of trains and not a train maker, but it used to be both. Here’s the facts:
Until the post war Baby Boom Lionel was the front runner in the model training world. Thanks to great marketing Lionel outwitted its enemies. One technique it deployed was to connect model trains to Christmas traditions, making the circular train tracks around the Christmas tree a integral part of the Christmas tradition. Their O gauge trains which were one 48th the size of regular locomotives ruled the roast up until the 1950’s when HO scale trains started to take over the market. Starting in the 60′s Lionel went through several ups in downs but is still around. Now Lionel is making a comeback, again offering its O scale and some G scale models to a new audience of model train hobbyists. Their great trains are well loved by all.
We mostly recognize American Flyer trains as a line of trains now, but they were their own manufacturer until 1966 when they were bought out by Lionel. American Flyer was born in Chicago around 1900. They were bought out by A C Gilbert who also popularized the famous “erector sets” of the early 20thcentury. American Flyer is partly still so popular as a collectible today because it offered such a strong alternative to Lionel’s O gauge trains. Like Lionel these trains were produced largely in O scale until after World War II when they attempted to establish an S gauge train line that ultimately failed but that has remained American Flyer’s most popular trains. When Lionel bought American Flyer in 1966, they kept and refurbished much of the equipment. In the last ten years Lionel has started reproducing the most famous and popular of the American Flyer trains using the original manufacturing devices but updating the trains with new sound systems and 21st century quality controls.
Although this was the tardiest of the three toy train makers to enter the model train market, it is the the oldest of the three–having been started way back in 1833. Despite its move from Philidelphia to Beijing, the Carlisle’s and Bachmann’s ancestors still hold positions on the company’s board. Bachmann really began to catch fire just after World War II when it began catering starter kits for middle class hobbyists. Their success continues to this day and they remain one the leaders in HO model trains in the world.
We have never had more alternatives in model training. The World Wide Web has created whole new possibilities for model train hobbyists. You can choose from almost any gauge and from any era of train at just the touch of button. The three American classics I have been discussing are really American treasures.
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