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The timeline of garden trains

Published: October 8, 2010
At-a-glance facts about garden railroading

1859: Oldest known photograph of a garden railway (France)

1859: Märklin Brothers (Germany) is founded

1860s: Wooden and metal floor toys that resemble trains are first made.

circa 1891: Märklin standardizes gauges

1891: Pioneering toy company Marklin of Germany establishes a series of standard track gauges for its clockwork (wind-up) and later electric-powered trains.

1896: Carlisle and Finch in the United States develops electric- powered trains that run on metal track.

1901: Lionel produces its first electric train, built initially only as a store-window display. Shoppers are more interested in the display itself than the store's products.

1920s: Toy electric trains blossom in popularity in what today is known as the "Golden Age." However, most are big, expensive, and associated with rich kids.

1920s: American Flyer (US) promotes "Backyard Railroading" in their advertising

1924: Garden railway that would ultimately become the attraction at the LA County fairgrounds in Pomona was begun

1930s: Accurate model trains in O scale and later HO scale, more realistic in proportion and detail than "toy" trains, come into existence. They are primarily kits built by adult craftsmen.

1930s: Prewar heyday of garden railroading, especially in UK and Europe

1934: First issue of Model Railroader magazine.

1942-45: World War II halts toy production, including production of electric train sets.

1945: WWII ends; large-scale railroading begins long decline

1949: R.E. Tustin writes his classic book, Garden Railways

Early 1950s: Toy trains are the no. 1 toys for boys, as pervasive in American culture as video games are today. Lionel for a time is the biggest toy maker in the United States. There is not a single boy who doesn't have trains or have a friend with a train set.

Mid-1950s: There is a clear split between scale model railroading for adults and toy trains sold to children. Plastic takes over as the primary material used to produce model trains.

1965: Ever improving electric motor technology and manufacturing techniques lead to the introduction of N scale trains, about half the size of HO trains.

1968: LGB of Germany introduces large scale or "G" scale trains.

1969: Märklin begins making gauge-1 trains (again)

1970s: Z scale, half again as small as N scale, is introduced by Marklin. Developments in the field of electronics begin to influence how electric trains designed and are controlled on the track.

1972: Charles Small writes the first article on LGB in Model Railroader magazine

1975: Aster Hobby Company (Japan) begins production of gauge-1 live steamers

1978: Beck (Germany) produces 1st mass-produced live steamer for use with LGB trains

1978: LGB Model Railroad Club (USA) is founded

1980s: Digital control systems and realistic sound-producing systems are developed.

1981: Kalamazoo Toy Train Works (US) begins production and produces the first American-style locomotive, a 4-4-0

1984: Garden Railways magazine begins publication

1985: LGB releases first American steam locomotive, the Mogul

1987: Lionel begins producing large-scale trains

1987: USA Trains (originally Charles Ro) begins producing large-scale trains

1988: Aristo-Craft Trains (originally REA) begins producing large-scale trains in 1:29 scale

1988: Bachmann Trains releases the Big Hauler set

1995: Hartland Locomotive Works begins producing large-scale trains

1996: Accucraft begins producing large-scale trains

2000: Garden Train Association formed to promote the hobby

2002: MTH begins manufacturing large-scale trains

2006: Ernst Patent Lehmann (EPL), the parent company of LGB, declares bankruptcy

2007: Märklin acquires EPL

2008: Walthers Inc. becomes North American distributor for LGB products

Today: There are about 500,000 model train hobbyists in the U.S. and Canada. Model trains are more popular than ever, especially among Baby Boomers who were children when Lionel trains were the "must have" toys. Model trains are also popular in England, Germany, Australia, and Japan.
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