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Historic Facts About Lionel Trains

3 min read
Historic Facts About Lionel Trains

When manufacturers first began making toy trains more than 100 years ago, they couldn’t possibly have known how popular these toys would become or how they would become a life long hobby and obsession of many people. Certainly Joshua Lionel Cowen did not know when he first put a small motor on a model flat car back in 1901 that his name would soon become and remain a household word for millions of people generation after generation. Nor could he have known that Lionel model trains would become one of the greatest names in miniature railroads in the world.

Ironically enough the first Lionel train which was known simply as the “electric express” was designed not as a toy but simply as an animated display to gain people’s attention. It certainly did and queries began flocking in from people who wanted to buy this incredible little railroad as gifts for their kids.

Over the years Lionel model trains popularity would grow and wane, the company would exchange hands many times, but, never would this toy completely disappear from American culture. Today there have been over 50 million railroad sets sold and over 300 miles of track are produced yearly.

The Rise of Lionel Trains

The popularity of model train building in general and Lionel trains in particular has its foundation in the romance of American culture. Railroads were the first symbol of modern transportation and people would watch real locomotives running down the track with their long line of cars and imagine what it would be like to hop aboard and to be carried to some new and different place. Later when the real railroads began dying out miniature railroads would become a part of America’ romantic history much like the old west and the mountain men of old.

One of the things that made Lionel model trains in such high demand was the quality of their construction and the fine attention to detail that went into each locomotive, each car and every building, person and piece of track. They all looked so real that people began to see themselves as conductors and owners and tycoons of their own railroads. It became a lifetime hobby that often began when a child would discover that first small Lionel model train running under the tree on Christmas morning. A cherished toy that over the years would develop into a hobby that would then be shared and passed down generation to generation.

Clubs would be formed and as more and more people would begin sharing an interest in model railroad building lively competitions would arise to see who could build the most realistic and largest toy railroad empire. In the 50s and 60s it was not unusual to see fathers and sons at the hobby stores every Saturday looking for the latest locomotive, or another building, tree, or lamp post to add to their growing railroads.

Today, grown men are the main purchasers of miniature railroad tracks, cars, and accessories as they have rediscovered the joys of model railroad building that their grandfathers, and great grandfathers enjoyed. Model trains have become a part of our heritage and Lionel model trains continue to lead the way in quality locomotives, rolling stock and track.

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