Building:Automatic Gateman #145

Lionel LLC1997

The Strong National Museum of Play

The Strong National Museum of Play
Rochester , United States

Joshua Lionel Cowen, an engineer and entrepreneur, built his first electric train as a store-window attraction around 1900. When a customer bought the train rather than the product it advertised, Cowen realized the toy's potential and started the Lionel Manufacturing Company in 1902. There were other toy trains, even other electric trains, but Lionel trains soon became the most popular. Sales climbed steeply to $22,000 in 1907; $57,000 in 1910; $355,000 in 1916; and $839,000 by 1921. Rivals such as Ives and American Flyer eyed the electric train market, but Lionel remained the preeminent producer of electric trains and accessories. Sales topped two million in 1929, declined during the Great Depression, but rebounded to $10 million in the hungry postwar toy market in 1946. Sales peaked at $32.9 million in 1953, making Lionel the biggest toy maker in the world. But competition and a lack of interest among American boys accounted for declining sales. Model railroaders began favoring cheaper engines that ran on smaller gauges and thus demanded less household real estate. Lionel continued to introduce a new train line each year through the 1960s, even while finding a buying public less enthusiastic for its durable product. General Mills leased the Lionel name in 1969, producing the trains through its Fundimensions group, but met with mixed success during fifteen years of ownership. In 1985 model train buff Richard Kughn bought the company and held it for ten years. Today the toy landscape is vastly more complex and varied. But Lionel remains an important player in the niche electric train market.

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  • Title: Building:Automatic Gateman #145
  • Creator: Lionel LLC
  • Date Created: 1997
  • Location: USA
  • Subject Keywords: land transportation, train, hobby
  • Type: Transportation Toys
  • Medium: metal, plastic, cardboard
  • Object ID: 107.1716
  • Credit Line: Gift of Elizabeth Drake Shook and Charles Harwood Shook