History of Model Trains 1860 – Present

Introduction of toy trains.

The history of model trains is quite extraordinary and really outlines the improvements and advancements of electrics at a small scale. Model train kits were first introduced in England during 1829. Shortly after the Rainhills Locomotive Trials. From this period model railway systems continued to be innovated and improved, to then gain enough traction to be regarded as the most popular toy for boys in the United States. With the growth of demand for model trains, innovation began to strive, making model trains function more and more like regular trains, and look exactly the same as current trains just at a smaller scale.

The innovation of the model railway system has changed dramatically from its inception in the mid 1 8 0 0 s, where they began as wooden and metal figures that have a small resemblance of a micro scaled train. The clockwork winding model was then implemented which made the trains movable without pushing.

Metal Tracks

Metal tracks were first introduced in the late 1 8 0 0 s which would see the trains begin to accelerate around a circuit, which would then be customisable years after. The most popular configuration was the o gauge. This was a 30mm width track that became the most common scale in the United States up until the early 1960s.

Marklin Brothers

In 1891 the Leipzig Trade Fair was held in Germany, by the Märklin brothers. The duo presented the idea of different railway gauges which is still implemented in the 21st century. The Märklin brothers also introduced the concept of having a full railway system with customisable tracks (o gauge), different engines, engine sheds, stations, and everything else involved in the beloved model railway world.

Engines In A Model Train

An attempt at steam powered engines was then made which failed, but after prototyping, and reinventing the engine. Finally in the 20th century the steam train became a reliable engine for model trains to have. With the constant improvement of the train figures, the first electric motor was then implemented just before World War 1 which was more efficient and required less maintenance. Being a more favourable engine for users. The first model train set was revolutionary, making model trains more and more desirable for toy train hobbyists.

The popularity of the toy train

Toy trains became more and more popular in the 1920’s which enabled the trains to become more and more affordable, as the competition became stronger for manufacturers.

O scale & HO Scale

In the 1930’s the scale system was introduced. This contained the O scale (1:48 size scale, and the 30mm track gauge) followed by the ho scale which is half the size of the O scale (1:87 size scale, and the 16.5mm track gauge). Which made the models accurately sized much easier for trains to be sized similarly, and have variety to suit different setups. Overall making them even more realistic and give the model railroader a better experience.

Railroader Magazine

1934 was a pivotal year for the model railroad industry, because the infamous Railroader Magazine was first published. Railroader is an American magazine regarding everything the hobby of model railroading. The magazine has become the worlds biggest magazine on model trains and model railroads. With thousands of issues, this magazine has revolutionized the model train collectors, and boosted the industry to a place where no one would think it would go. The magazine can be found on their website or found in selected stores.

World War II

World War II was a traumatic time for both the population, and the production of model railway kits. Frim 1942-1945 electric model train sets production was put to a halt. This caused several businesses to go bankrupt and forced to shut down.

Increased Popularity

During the early 1950s toy trains are considered as the number 1 toys for boys. With the biggest company and distributer being “Lionel”. Lionel is a manufacturing company founded in 1900 in New York, United States of America. Lionel sky rocked in the post-war era holding majority of the toy train market share. “Every kid in America has a toy train set.”

Following the spike of popularity for toy trains during the early 1950s, the Mid 1950s contained a switch that not many people were prepared for. The extreme increase for men using model train sets, and it becoming a hobby. This led to a clear split between scale model trains for adults and toy trains sold for children. And a large switch was introduced train production, with the swap from metal to plastic being the majority used primary resource in constructing the model trains. The baby boomers would then grow the industry as trains became more and more detailed.


N Scale

With time comes innovation and improvement. In 1965 the engine motor technology and manufacturing techniques became more and more sophisticated. Which lead to the introduction of the N scale. The n scale is a very popular scale system used by model railroaders. the scale is 1:160. This makes it roughly half the size of the H0 scaled model railways. The track gauges in the N scale category are 9mm.

G Scale

During 1968 another scale was introduced. This was much different to all the other scales, as the large scale was introduced. Also know as the “G scale”. This scale has a ratio of 1:22:5, and consists of a standard gauge being 45mm in size. The g scale is often used out doors, due to its large size. Being quite popular as a garden monument.

Z Scale

The final scale was implemented in the 1970s by the Marklin brothers. The ‘z scale’, is half the size of the N scale. Making it the smallest commercially available model railway scales. With a size of 1:220, and a track gauge of 6.5mm. The replicas of the scale models is very minute, most trains are the size of a regular thumb. Making it difficult for toy train manufacturers to construct.

Introduction of digital control systems and sound systems

The 80s contained an extremely large step in the model railroading industry, with the implementation of the first electric control systems, and realistic sound producing systems. This would make the electric trains even more realistic. Model railroaders loved this upgrade, and it saw yet another spike in the industry making the model trains more popular than ever. Especially among Baby Boomers who lived through the improvements of the electric trains.


Toy train hobbyists have absolutely loved everything that has happened in previous years to take model trains what they are today. There about 500,000 model railroaders and toy train hobbyists in the United States, and Canada. Australia, Germany, England and Japan are also extremely considered to hold a lot of the model trains that have been produced. It will be interesting what the future holds for the production and engineering of model electric trains

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