History of Lionel Trains More News 1900's 1910's 1920's 1930's 1940's 1950's 1960's 1970's 1980's 1990's 2000's 2010's 1900's: Beginnings Youthful inventor Joshua Lionel Cowen wasn't the first to manufacture toy trains. But his talents as an engineer and salesman soon put Lionel ahead of its competitors. Cowen designed his first train, the Electric Express, not as a toy, but as an eye-catching display for toy stores. During Lionel's early days, Americans were captivated by the railroads and awed by electricity, still a rarity in many homes. Lionel's first trains were powered by wet-cell (acid-filled!) batteries, soon replaced by the 110-volt electric transformer. By 1906, with the introduction of preassembled track and a selection of engines and cars, the Lionel we know today was already taking shape. 1900 Joshua Lionel Cowen founds Lionel Manufacturing Company near City Hall in New York City 1903 The No. 5 electric locomotive appears, and is decorated for the Baltimore & Ohio. 1906 Three-rail "Standard Gauge" track, designed to eliminate short-circuits, debuts. So do the first transformer, steam locomotives, and assorted cars. 1909 Proclaims Lionel electric trains to be the "Standard of the World"! 1910's: Gathering Steam The decade between 1910 and 1919 saw Lionel's sales increase 15-fold. This resulted from a bustling economy, the growth of electric power, World War I defense production, and the end of German toy imports. Changing times were reflected by "Racing Automobiles" and a passenger train with internal lighting, the retirement of the quaint "Pay-As-You-Go" trolley, and the introduction of a war train with cannons. Smaller, less expensive O-gauge track debuted (and is used by Lionel to this day). Though the company became a corporation, the family tradition continued, with Cowen's son Lawrence ("The Happy Lionel Boy") gracing catalogs, packaging, and sales materials. 1912 Lionel's new "racing automobiles" presage the slot-car craze of the 1960s. Lionel introduces the Multi-Volt transformer and rheostat to control engine speed. 1915 O-gauge trains and track debut, ultimately replacing Standard Gauge by the 1930s. 1916 "Pay-As-You-Enter" trolley retires in the last year of pre-war innocence. 1917 Lionel marks an O-gauge armored train complete with a cannon-equipped locomotive. 1918 An era of expansion is marked by a new company name - The Lionel Corporation. 1920's: Roaring Ahead Following a brief recession, Lionel entered an era of unprecedented growth. People wanted to forget the war and indulge in life's pleasures - and more of them could afford luxuries like toy trains, thanks to easy credit. Cowen was among the finest practitioners of modern advertising. Lionel ads appeared nationally in newspapers, boys' magazines, and "Grown-up" publications like The Saturday Evening Post. Cowen got endorsements from celebrities, and even started a Lionel radio show. Slogans such as "Lionel: The Father and Son Railroad," and "Real enough for a man to enjoy - simple enough for a boy to operate," were the first of many to pitch family themes. Meanwhile, Lionel's fabulously illustrated catalogs became children's cherished "wish books." The products they portrayed - like the No. 402 electric engine, the Hellgate Bridge, and the No. 840 Power Station - grew ever more elaborate. Working accessories - including crossing gates, highway flashers, and traffic warning bells - became more and more lifelike. This was a golden age for Lionel, but like the Roaring Twenties, it wouldn't last. 1923 Lionel establishes La Precisa in Italy, where some if its finest prewar products were tooled. 1924 The Standard Gauge No. 402 passenger set is featured on the cover of the 1924 Lionel consumer catalog. 1926 With the purchase of competitor Ives Manufacturing, Lionel gains the reversing unit, an innovation allowing trains to change direction. 1928 The magnificent Hellgate Bridge debuts, just one of a dizzying array of detailed accessories. 1929 The luxurious State Set passenger train appears, just before "Black Monday" ends the decade with a crash. 1930's: After the Crash During the Great Depression, Lionel's sales and profits slumped, and 1931 was its first year in the red. Ironically, as times grew tougher, the company introduced its greatest standard-gauge steam locomotive, the No. 400E, whose $42.50 price was beyond the means of most families. In 1934, financial troubles led Lionel into court-ordered receivership to stave off bankruptcy. That year the company's fortunes were boosted by the debut of the wildly popular Mickey and Minnie handcar, a $1 windup toy. Meanwhile, streamlining was all the rage on America's railroads, and Lionel followed suit with its own designs, like the Union Pacific, the Hiawatha, and the Flying Yankee. Lionel showed profits again in 1935, and the receivership was discharged. The No. 700E New York Central Hudson, with its blueprint-accurate details, appealed to adult hobbyists. It also marked the ascendancy of affordable O gauge over the more expensive standard gauge, which was discontinued in 1939. 1930 In an attempt to capture the "female market," Lionel introduces a porcelain-steel, working electric range for girls, soon discontinued. 1931 The magnificent No. 400E is released. The largest of all Lionel's standard-gauge steam locomotives, it heads up the stunning Blue Comet passenger set. 1934 The Mickey wind-up handcar - priced at only $1 for Depression-era families - boosts Lionel's fortunes. The streamlined Union Pacific diesel M10000 is released with great fanfare. 1935 The steam whistle comes to Lionel Lines®. The No. 45N automatic gateman debuts. Lionel manufactures this all-time classic accessory to this day. 1937 The No. 700E New York Central Hudson steamer signals Lionel's emergence as a world-class scale-model builder. Lawrence Cowen joins Lionel's board of directors. 1938 The No. 97 coal elevator sets the tone for future accessories - rugged, stylish, and wildly popular. 1939 Lionel participates in New York's World Fair. 1940's: War, Peace, and Prosperity Lionel benefited financially from defense production during World War II, but toy train production was put on hold. So boys (and their dads) were encouraged to "plan your postwar railroad" in Lionel's Model Builder magazine and Railroad Planning Book. Lionel engineers were busy too, and in 1946 the company unveiled a stunning array of milestone products. These included locomotives with real puffing smoke (like the all-new Pennsylvania S-2 steam turbine), a remote-controlled coupling system, and a realistic water tower with a moving spout. Lionel's offerings, many styled to match actual railroads, reflected America's renewed love affair with trains. And the postwar baby boom was just getting started... 1940 Several animated accessories appear, including the No. 313 bascule bridge, which raises and lowers automatically, and the No. 164 log loader, with its working conveyor belt. 1942 Lionel ceases production of electric trains and builds compasses and compass cases for the war. The hard-to-assemble Lionel "paper train" is produced during the holiday season. 1944 Lionel perfects the magnetic knuckle-coupler concept and readies it for postwar production. 1946 "Smoke" for Lionel steam locomotives debuts, as do the Pennsylvania S-2 steam turbine locomotive and a realistic water tower. Remote uncoupling is introduced with Lionel Electric Set. 1947 Lionel's version of the massive, twenty-wheeled Pennsylvania GG-1 electric engine features working pantographs that draw power from overhead catenary lines. 1948 The F3 diesel locomotive, its all-time biggest seller, and the mighty ZW transformer, whose 275 watts could power four trains at once. 1949 Lionel expands its offerings with the NW2 diesel locomotive switcher, No. 6462 New York Central gondola car, No. 6520 searchlight car, and No. 3656 cattle car and platform. 1950's: Halcyon Days Lionel was at its peak in the early 1950s, with record profits and some of its best products ever. Its catalogs of the period were absolute stunners. Unfortunately, Lionel was selling far more engines and rolling stock than existed on real railroads, which were rapidly overwhelmed by competition from highways and airlines. Lionel actually had its own television show, but the new medium soon mesmerized America, and interest in toy trains waned. Lionel products of this period included a stereo camera, the pastel-colored Lady Lionel train set, and trains with space age and Cold War themes. The "father and son railroad" of Joshua Lionel Cowen and Lawrence Cowen ended in 1959, when they sold their interest in Lionel to distant relative Roy Cohn. 1950 Joe DiMaggio, star player for the New York Yankees, hosts the "The Lionel Club House" on NBC television. Lionel equips its engines with Magne-Traction®, which uses magnets to increase traction, pulling power, and grip at high speeds. 1952 The No. 445 animated switch tower premiers and becomes an instant classic. A set of sleek aluminum passenger cars is released to run behind the powerful No. 2343 Santa Fe. 1953 The highly detailed No. 6417 porthole-window caboose debuts. Lionel announces record profits. It is the world's largest toy manufacturer, and a household name to millions. 1956 Two popular accessories appear - the No. 342 culvert unloader, which grabs metal pipe, and the No. 464 animated sawmill, with "whirring blades". 1957 The No. 746 Norfolk & Western debuts as Lionel's greatest steam locomotive. Lionel releases the ill-fated Super O track with plastic ties. The Lionel No. 6800 flatcar with 6800 Beechcraft Bonanza airplane appears. 1958 Lionel introduces the No. 175 rocket launcher car, "Atomic Energy Commission" rolling stock, and HO gauge. 1959 New items include the No. 470IRBM missile-launching base (complete with radar array and Quonset hut), and the No. 6470 exploding boxcar. Joshua Lionel Cowen and Lawrence Cowen sell their shares to an investment group headed by Roy Cohen, ending the Lionel Cowen era. 1960's: End of an Era Lionel in the 1960s was a company that had lost its founder and its bearings. America was undergoing social upheaval, and the idealized image of Lionel railroading no longer fit in. In a doomed effort to diversify, the company introduced slot cars, science kits, and even phonographs. Despite several creative covers, Lionel catalogs soon featured uninspiring product shots, devoid of all romance. Joshua Lionel Cowen passed away in 1965 at the age of 88. Another American legend, the venerable Twentieth Century Limited, made its last run in 1967. That same year Lionel filed for bankruptcy. The company licensed its electric train manufacturing to breakfast-cereal conglomerate General Mills in 1969. 1960 Former U.S. Army general John Medaris becomes president of Lionel. 1961 New train cars that launch satellites and Minuteman nuclear missiles debut. 1962 The Talking Teddy, containing a hidden speaker, is wired to a Lionel-Spear phonograph. The No. 3357 "Cop and Hobo" train car is introduced. 1963 This unintentionally symbolic cover from the 1963 catalog shows a racecar outrunning a locomotive. 1965 Lionel president Francis R. O'Leary claims the "Lionel has never tried to cash in on passing fads," but the Beatlesque catalog cover contradicts him. 1966 This illustrated cover recalls the good old days, but photographs are used inside. 1967 Lionel files for bankruptcy. 1969 This year marks the Centennial of the Golden Spike as well as Lionel's demise as an independent corporation. 1970's: New Beginnings By the 1970s, what remained of the original Lionel Corporation was a holding company specializing in toy stores. It had leased the Lionel name to Minneapolis-based General Mills, which bought other toy companies like Parker Brothers, Kenner, and MPC. By 1973 Lionel was folded into General Mills subsidiary Fundimensions, which carried on the Lionel tradition with many trains that equaled or bettered the originals. One highlight of the decade was The Mickey Mouse Express -- an instant hit and prized collectible, which revived an association with Disney dating from 1934. With the Fundimensions slogan, "Not Just a Toy, A Tradition," Lionel appeared to be getting back on track. 1970 The new Lionel plant in Mount Clemens, Michigan opens for business. Lionel purchases American Flyer name and tooling and resurrects the "S" gauge brand under the General Mills toy group "Fundimensions". 1973 Fundimensions versions of Lionel classics are equal to or better than the originals. 1974 This cover is created in response to a letter from seven-year-old Caroline Ranald, who wrote, "Girls like trains too!" 1975 The Anniversary Special train proves that the Lionel spirit lives on. These freight cars are decorated with pictures of old catalogs, logos, and images of beloved classics. 1977 The Mickey Mouse Express, pulling a dozen hi-cube boxcars, recalls the success of Mickey and Minnie in 1934. 1980's: Moving Along In 1980, Fundimensions celebrated Joshua Lionel Cowen's self-claimed hundredth birthday (he was actually born in 1877) with seven commemorative boxcars. Then in 1982, General Mills shocked Lionel employees when it decided to relocate production to Mexico. The move was disastrous, and production returned to Michigan in 1984. That year Lionel recreated its greatest steam locomotive, the No. 773 Hudson, as the No. 783. In 1985, General Mills sold off its toy divisions, with Lionel absorbed by Kenner-Parker. In 1986, Detroit-based real estate developer -- and railroad enthusiast -- Richard Kughn bought the brand and established Lionel Trains. In 1989, Lionel rolled out RailSounds™, heralding an era of high-tech audio realism, and trumpeting better things yet to come. 1980 Joshua Lionel Cowen's life story is highlighted on the sides of these "hundredth birthday" commemorative boxcars. 1982 General Mills decided to relocate the Lionel factory to Mexico, which proves disastrous. 1984 Lionel resumes production in Mt. Clements, Michigan. 1989 The stunning No. B6 switcher of the late 1930s reappears, this time sporting the all-new Railsounds™ audio reproduction system. 1990's: Building the Future A reinvigorated Lionel started off the 1990s with the reissue of the legendary No. 700E locomotive. In 1992 Richard Kughn and rock musician Neil Young, an avid model railroader, created Liontech, chartered to develop exclusive new model train control and sound systems. Liontech's RailSounds II™ debuted in 1994 on the Santa Fe Mikado. This all-new digital system captured a real-life Mikado's actual sounds, and propelled Lionel to the forefront of model train technology. Also debuting in 1994 was the TrainMaster® control system, which can command any locomotive via a wireless remote. Richard Kughn sold Lionel in 1995. In 1996, Lionel issued its first fully illustrated catalog in more than 30 years. The Lionel Century Club, announced in 1997, was the first event in the ongoing celebration of the company's upcoming centenary. 1990 The No. 700E locomotive returns - and is so popular that production stretches for an astounding four months. 1994 Railsounds II™ debuts on the Santa Fe Mikado, digitally reproducing all the detailed sounds of the actually locomotive. The all-new, wireless TrainMaster™ control system finally fulfils the promise of the 1940s-era Lionel Electronic Set. 1995 Richard Kughn sells Lionel. 1996 Lionel issues its first fully illustrates catalog in over three decades. 1997 The Century Club inaugurates activities celebrating Lionel's first hundred years. 1999 A retooled Lionel.com debuts on the World Wide Web, bringing a century of model railroading into the next millennium! 2000's: A New Millenium As Lionel welcomed the 21st Century along with the rest of the world, the model train company celebrated its centennial in a big way - a sign of other big things to follow during the next 10 years. To commemorate the special anniversary, Lionel produced a special 700 E J-1E Hudson that included platinum and 24-karat gold plating. In 2004, Lionel and Warner Bros. teamed up to release The Polar Express™ train sets, based off the popular movie of the same name. The Polar Express quickly established itself as one of Lionel bestsellers ever. For the more serious model railroaders, Lionel introduced the popular Legacy® and Vision Line in 2008 and 2009, respectively. 2000 A year of celebration and change. Lionel celebrates its Golden Anniversary by introducing the beautiful 24k Gold-Plated 700E J1E Hudson locomotive. Lionel moves its 100 years of American manufacturing to Korea and China. The 100-year-old company had no choice if it was to remain competitive and the industry leader. Angela Trotta Thomas, a renowned artist of toy trains, illustrates the Lionel catalog cover in commemoration of its centennial. This is the beginning of many illustrations she will do for Lionel. 2002 Lionel introduces "Standard Gauge" icons from its early history by introducing the beautiful "Tinplate NYC Commodore Vanderbilt" set and the Tinplate Milwaukee Road Hiawatha set. Lionel reproduces the famous 50th Anniversary set from 1950, the No. 2148WS Deluxe Pullman set pulled by a J3a Hudson locomotive. 2003 Lionel re-enters the HO gauge market with the introduction of the all die-cast metal UP Veranda diesel locomotive and a line of highly detailed Challenger locomotives complete with realistic sounds. The LionMaster name appears with the introduction of semi-scale locomotives with many of the same features of their sister scale locomotives, but with a retail price that is considerably lower. 2004 Jerry Calabrese joins Lionel as the President and Chief Executive Officer. He guides Lionel through several legal matters that could have resulted in the demise of Lionel. Instead, he successfully led the legal affairs that resulted in a favorable outcome in 2006. At the New York Toy Fair the famous "The Polar Express" set from Warner Brothers Studios was introduced, becoming the all-time best-selling set. 2006 With its legal issues in the rearview mirror, Lionel moves forward, setting the stage for manufacturing the most highly detailed and technically advanced railroad realism in the model train industry. Lionel begins manufacturing and offering the K-Line brand of toy trains. A former competitor, the K-Line company was awarded to Lionel as the result of a court case. The technically advanced "Legacy Control System" is introduced. Corporate headquarters is moved from Chesterfield, Mich., to New York City, just a few blocks from the founding location in 1900. 2007 "Celebration Post War Series" appears. A reproduction of famous sets with the original style packaging from the postwar era is offered. 2009 The "Vision Line" of highly detailed scale locomotives with the most advanced features ever offered is introduced. The first locomotive in this category was the highly acclaimed and massive #3000 S.F. 2-10-10-2 locomotive. 2010's: Looking to the Future As Lionel looks to the future, it strives to ignite the imaginations and hearts of today's children and adults through continued success with branded and licensed products, an increased presence in the digital space and recapturing its rightful place "under the tree." Through partnerships with evergreen brands such as NASCAR, Warner Bros., Crayola, Coca-Cola, John Deere and many others, Lionel has lined itself up for guaranteed success for many years to come. With innovative products such as the LCS®, iCab, Battle Trains®, Lionel Tracks and a revamped, more user-friendly Lionel.com, the 115-year-old company has made sure it stays on the cutting-edge of technology. The Lionel name has always been synonymous with Christmas and a train set under every Christmas tree, and now more than ever the company's ensuring that they are a major player in any holiday plans. For Lionel, the future is indeed bright. 2010 The newly tooled and Legacy-featured ZW-L transformer appears. The Famous "Girls Train" from the 50's fame is offered in the Conventional Classic Series category. The K-Line brand of toy trains was discontinued due to declining sales. MADE IN AMERICA - Lionel introduces the "Presidential Boxcar Series" that will be manufactured in America. The market is informed that this is the beginning of other products that will be stamped "Made in America." Lionel partners with NASCAR to create Lionel NASCAR Collectables (die-cast models) headquartered in Concord, N.C. 2012 Lionel moves product distribution and operational headquarters to Concord, N.C., to share facilities with newly acquired NASCAR Collectables (die-cast models). Lionel restructures its deal with NASCAR Collectables and LNC becomes Lionel Racing. 2013 Howard Hitchcock is appointed General Manager of the combined companies in Concord, N.C. Lionel introduces a new technology for Ready-to-Run (RTR) sets called LionChief. LionChief technology allows RTR sets to be operated remotely with the added features of speed control and enhanced train sounds. It will operate on any "O" gauge layout remotely or with any traditional transformer. 2014 Howard Hitchcock is named president of LIONEL L.L.C. Lionel shuts down its offices in New York City and moves its global headquarters to Concord, N.C. LionChief Plus technology was introduced to mid-level steam and diesel locomotives. LionChief Plus allows these locomotives to be operated remotely with the added features of speed control, electro couplers, and enhanced train sounds. It will operate on any "O" gauge layout remotely or with any traditional transformer. Lionel introduces LionChief technology to American Flyer Ready-to-Run (RTR) sets, allowing the sets to be operated remotely with the added features of speed control and enhanced train sounds. It will operate on any "S" gauge layout remotely or with any traditional transformer.