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. Here are some important dates in the company’s history:
1900 – the company is founded by Joshua Lionel Cowen in New York City, near City Hall.
1909 – Cowen proclaims Lionel trains to be the “Standard of the World.”
1912 – Lionel introduces “racing automobiles” – some 50 years ahead of the slot car craze of the 1960’s.
1915 – O Gauge trains and track debut – they will make standard gauge obsolete by the 1930’s.
1926 – Lionel purchases competitor Ives Corporation, and gains their reversing unit technology, which allows a train to change direction.
1931 – the magnificent no. 400e is introduced – it is the largest standard gauge steam locomotive produced and pulls the striking Blue Comet passenger set.
1942 – Lionel ceases train production to produce compasses and compass cases for the war effort.
1946 – Lionel introduces the first locomotive to actually belch steam from its stack. That same year, remote uncoupling is introduced.
1948 – Lionel introduces the F3 diesel locomotive – its all time best seller.
1967 – Lionel files for bankruptcy, and just two years later it is no longer an independent company, as the famous Lionel name is leased to General Mills.