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Historical facts about Lionel trains

When manufacturers began making toy trains over 100 years ago, they had no idea how popular these toys would become or how they would become a lifelong hobby and obsession for many people. Certainly Joshua Lionel Cowen did not know when he first placed a small engine in a flat model car in 1901 that his name would soon become and remain a household word to millions generation after generation. Neither could he have known that Lionel’s model trains would become one of the biggest names in model railways in the world.

Ironically, Lionel’s first train, known simply as the “electric express”, was not designed as a toy, but simply as an animated display to attract people’s attention. He certainly did and inquiries started coming in from people wanting to buy this amazing little railway as a gift for his children.

Over the years, the popularity of Lionel model trains would wax and wane, the company would change hands many times, but this toy would never completely disappear from American culture. At present, more than 50 million railway sets have been sold and more than 300 miles of track are produced annually.

The rise of Lionel Trains

The popularity of model railway building in general and Lionel trains in particular is rooted in the romanticism of American culture. Railways were the first symbol of modern transportation and people would watch real locomotives speeding down the tracks with their long line of carriages and imagine what it would be like to get on board and be taken to a new and different place. Later, when the real railroads began to die out, the miniature railroads would become a part of America’s romantic history, just like the old west and highlanders of yore.

One of the things that made Lionel’s model trains so in demand was the quality of their construction and the fine attention to detail that went into every locomotive, every carriage, and every building, person, and stretch of track. They all seemed so real that people began to see themselves as conductors, owners, and magnates of their own railroads. It became a lifelong hobby that often began with a child discovering the first little Lionel train running under the tree on Christmas morning. A treasured toy that over the years would become a hobby that would later be shared and passed down from generation to generation.

Clubs would form, and as more and more people began to share their interest in building model railways, lively competitions would break out to see who could build the largest and most realistic toy railway empire. In the 1950s and 1960s it was not uncommon to see fathers and sons in hobby shops every Saturday looking for the latest locomotive or another building, tree or utility pole to add to their growing railway tracks.

Today, grown men are the primary buyers of miniature train tracks, carriages, and accessories, having rediscovered the joys of model train building enjoyed by their grandfathers and great-grandfathers. Model trains have become part of our heritage and Lionel model trains continue to lead the way in quality locomotives, rolling stock and track.

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