Children's Toys: Toy and Model Trains


Figure 1.--The English brothers are enjoying their model rilroad, probably in the late 1950s. A reader writes, "I wonder how many brothers of diverse ages would now willingly dress exactly alike in outfits chosen by their mothers. Also note the side-parted brylcreemed hair. The boys wear grey long-sleeve shirts, grey sleeveless sweaters, grey school shorts, and grey knee socks.

Trains appeared in the mid-19th century and quickly became a critical component of the industrual revolution. And as soon as trains appeared, they were quickly followed by toys based on them. (The same proces occured with planes and space ships in the 20th century.) Trains were big, powerful, and noisy. All characteristics which attracted the interest of boys. Most of the children interested in trains were boys. The first toy trains appeared in Germany. The first such toys were trains that the children could pull or push. Gradually an entirely new gype of toy train appeaed--the model train. These were actual scale replical of trains that could acyually move. Lionel in the United States became famous for building electric toy trains. I think this became a popular passtime for boys (of all ages) during the 1920s. I remember being fascinated by the mosel train set by my father and brother. They had a wonderful set. I was a little to young to work on it myself. One of the problems with model railroading is that it requires a good bit of permanent space. So beyond the cost of the trains and track, you had to hve a house that was big enough to set aside a space for the train set ups. British boys were keen on "train spotting"--identifying individual locomotives. Toy trains were also very popular in Germany. We are less sure about Fance and Italy.

Chronology

We do not know when the first toy trains appeared. We would guess probably the 1830s soon as real trains appeared, certainly by the 1840s. We would guess they first appeared in Britain, but some reports claim the first toy trains were madr in Germany. Trains today except for the bullet trains are primarily seen as slow-lumbering freight movers. This desguises the excitement at the time. They were for about a century the fastest way of moving. They revolutionized transport. Trains significantly shortened travel times between citie and itnto and out of cities. It is hard to conveive of industrial soiciety without trains. We do not have any photographic images of early toy trains. The earliest image we have found at thos time is an American boy, probably in the 1870s. As far as we know all the early toys were locomotioves, perhaps with a coupled car or two. We are not sure when the fitst train set complete with tracks appeared. Of course the tcks were needed when the first electrical trains appeared after the turn of the 20th century. And we are not sure when the first model train appeared. I think this became a popular passtime for boys (of all ages) during the 1920s. A good example is an American boy, Dick Trippe in 1921. I remember being fascinated by the mosel train set by my father and brother during the 1940s. They had a wonderful set. I was a little to young to work on it myself. Model railroading was still very popular in America during the 1950s, but began to decline during the 60s. I think about the same timeline was the case in Britain. I still see modeltrain stores in the malls in america, but the customers seem more adults than boys. A reader writes, "I wonder how many boys of the modern computer generation would have been content to pushing a toy train around a track!"

Popularity

Trains were big, powerful, and noisy. All characteristics which attracted the interest of boys. What boy could not be impressed and want one of his own. Most of the children interested in trains from the very beginning were boys. At first they were inanimate models. Pull toys were popular versions. Then an the tyrn-of-th 20th century, the electic train was invented. Interest in trains took on a life of its own. Interest in toy trains significantly expanded as well as the age of the boys wanting them. By the 1920s, an electric train along with trikes ad nbikes were at the very top of a boy's Cgristmas want list in America and mny European countries as well.

Toys and Models

There are two types trains enjoyed by boys. The first type and the first to appear toys is toy trains. We believe they were first made in Germany. These were toys boys could pull or push. These train toys appeared in maby different versions and sizes. And of course they followed developments in the railroad industry, especiallnew types of lovomotives. The second type is model trains. By this we mean actual working trains that had very forms of propullsion. (There are also model kits, but that we include in the general model category.) Model trains were were actual scale replica of trains. Some model railoroaders might even object to the term tous. Boys began wanting very realistic models. The scales for model trains varied. Over time for reasons we do not fully understand, the most popular scale ratio became 1:87 or 1/87th. Manufactures devised ways of making the model trains self propelled. At first this was wind up toys, but with the inventin of commercial applications for electricity we begin to see elcetric-powered model trains. At first they were powered by batteries, but as electricity began reaching homes, model trains powered by first DC and ten AC current appeaed. Gradually model trains became much more than toys as dads got interested in model railroading.

Christmas

Curiously model trains became associated with Chritmas. We are not entirely sure why this occurred. We know it occurred in America, but we think it also occured in Britain, Gernany and other European countries as well. It seems a strange juktaposition. Christmas is associated with peace abd traquility. Perhaps the greatest Christmas carol is 'Silent Night'. Yet the noisy, dirty, powerful locomotive became in the 29th century a Christmas staple. What appears to have happened is that department stores wanted to attract custimers and once self propelled model train were developed, they were ideal for adding interest to static store windows meant to attravt the inteest of children. Thus major department stors began creating such displays. Model train sets were fairly expensve, thus they became Chritmas gifts. The most surprising thing is that famiies began setting uo model trains to go around the Christmast tree right there with the creche and baby Jesus. The tracks were laid in a circular formation around the tree. I know this was common in America. And we see it in Gernany as well. We are less sure about other countries. We assume this was probably done to please the kids and gradually became a Christmas tradition.

Companies

Quite a number of companies have made toy and model trains. We notice the Beggs company in America making a rather realtic toy train that operated on an alcohol engine about 1885. Of course Lionel in the United States became famous for building electric model trains. A reader writes, "I think Marx also made wind up trains. These might have been before the battery powered ones. When I was a kid, I never liked Marx trains compared to Lionel." A British reader tells us that the train set in the Englisg picture was manutactured by the Tri-ang company (figure 1). He can tell from looking at the molded raiway track. This company started making train sets in the early 1950s in Hertfordshire. They used plastic to mold the carriage and engine bodies. They also had two tracks to carry the electricity. The track was grey molded plastic but later they manufactured more life like track. The rival Company was the Mecanno Toy Company in Liverpool. They used tin plate to make their feight cars and die cast metal for the engines.The trade name was Hornby 00 model trains. It was widely believed that Hornby trains were the better make. Our British reader writes, "Mine was the Tri-ang and I have no doult that this was the better model railway set. Both companies eventually merged and then restructured and the Hornby name survived but the model railways were the Triang models. The way you could tell was the couplings to attach the coarriages to each other. Noe the Hornby train sets are manufactured in China but still cost alot!" The manufacterers of the Triang trains were toy makers called The Lines Brothers. Around 1962 they produced a book called The First Ten Years. It was aimed at the school boy model railwayer and told an inspiring story of how they set up business and used the new plastic developed in the 1940's.

Difficulties

One of the problems with model railroading is that it requires a good bit of permanent space. So beyond the cost of the trains and track, you had to have a house that was big enough to set aside a space for the train set ups.

Countries

We have only limited information about model railroads in various countries. I know that model railroading was immensly popular in America. I had a toy trailroad in the United States during the late 1940s and early 50s. Mine was a Lionel. I absolutely loved it. My dad and I worked togerher on it. Virtually every boy wanted a model railroad setup. British boys were also keen railroads. Quite a number of middleclass boys had model railroads. A toy train even figures in a famouus British children's book, The Railway Children. There is even an activityb in England known as "train spotting"--identifying individual locomotives. I believe toy trains were also very popular in Germany, but I have no actual information on thus. Hopefully ourvGerman readers will providevus some information here. The militarization of the German economy by the NAZIs in the 1930s probably affected the production of electrical trains. This would of course impaired thee popularity or at least children's access to them. By thev time the German economy began to recover from the War, the popularity of trains had begun to wain. We are less sure about how popular model railroafs were in France and Italy.

Personal Experiences

A HBC reader in England tells us about his nephew who is a model train enthusiast. "Then there is Our Danial. He likes model railways. Has a model railway that he is modelling with scenary and rolling stock of the period he is collecting. He also does running trains for real. He is a member of a Steam Railway preservation society. They kitted him out in a period uniform and he collects tickets rides the trains and currently he is in the plate laying gang fixing the rails. Pointing brick work etc. There are pictures of him doing all these tasks. He is also good at getting his uncle to buy him stuff for his railway. Who said pick what every you want at christmas thinging ones wallet would be 30 pounds lighter shock and horrow when I found out how much a toy locomotive costs these days. Darn it George Stephenson built a real one in 1825 for the 2002 outlay!"

Railroads

The inspiration for model railroading is of course real railroads. Thesec railroads were the high tech vehicles of the 19th abd early 20th century. They were big, powerful, and noisy--all characteristics thatv appeal to boys. They were also of great economuc importance and played a major role in history, both in the 19th and 20th centuries.






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Created: April 28, 2003
Last updated: 6:22 AM 3/26/2010