Manufacturers History

Some History About Manufacturers


It was the year 1932 when the great depression was just beginning. In spite of this, Bill Walthers started the Walthers model train company in Milwaukee with its O scale trains. It made a decent amount of money in its first year, even if it wasn’t a huge amount of money by our standards. Of course if one thought the great depression was bad for business, then they would cry over what came next. World War II saw the rationing of materials all over the country, meaning that the company itself had entered yet another depression. But through the years the Walthers company has proven again and again that it can come back from a hard time, and still offer the quality merchandise.

Today the company is managed by the founder’s grandson, and they offer many reference books along with N scale trains. A company that has survived through so many trials certainly deserves a chance, that’s for sure.


The Kato company does not have quite as colorful of a history as Walthers, but the Kato trains are nonetheless worth having.

Kato Model Trains was founded by Hiroshi Kato in 1957, in order to satisfy the needs of the Japanese market, which was booming thanks to the industrial revolution that was happening in Japan at the time and which was the result of the re-modernization of the country after World War II.

What set Kato Model Trains apart from the competition was the design and manufacture of local Japanese trains. Up to that time, model trains in Japan were representations of western trains. Kato Model Trains was the first company that manufactured trains that Japanese people actually rode.

The company had such a great success that they grew to dominate the Japanese market. In 1987, Kato Model Trains decided to penetrate the highly competitive and demanding market of the United States of America, opening its subsidiary, Kato Model Trains USA. Learning from their experience, Kato Model Trains USA decided to make its first entry to the American market with an American train: the diesel-electric hybrid EMD GP38-2 locomotive produced by General Motors Electro Motive Division.

The company also created what is known as UNITRACK. This is a track that is combined with the roadbed, making it much easier for people to lay their track. The Kato company has been going strongly ever since it was founded.


Bachmann trains have become the leader in volume sales of model trains all around the world. Bachmann trains might not have the long term presence that other train manufactures have, for example, Lionel Trains, who have been in the market for almost one hundred years. However, what they lack in history and nostalgia, they more than make up for with price, quality and ease of use.

When I say recent entry to the model railroad market, I mean it in relationship with other manufacturers who have sold model trains for far longer. Nevertheless, Bachmann trains have been around since 1968, so there might be model train fans out there for whom there have always been Bachmann trains.

Another thing to consider is even if Bachmann trains have been around for around nearly 50 years, what would become Bachmann industries was founded in 1833 by Henry Carlisle. Back then, it didn’t sell Bachmann trains. It sold Spanish combs. And they were made of materials that are forbidden today: ivory and tortoiseshell.

In 1899, it was merged with a rival company and the Bachmann family took over. The Bachmann family expanded the production lines to include optical frames and sunglasses, which had a tremendous success with the American government during the first half of the 20th century. The name of the company was established as Bachmann Bros.

Starting in 1940, they again expanded their line to include small figures. Some of these were meant for decoration, while others had an educational value, like the reproductions of animals. Some early railway modelers started using Bachmann’s figures to decorate and set up their model train layouts. Seeing that there was a market for their products, Bachmann started to develop more accessories at model train scales. By the 60s, Bachmann realized the potential of the model train market and in 1968, Bachmann trains started being produced.

The company has gone through several changes since then. It was bought in 1981 by a company from Hong Kong called Kader Industries, who dropped the old name and changed it to Bachmann Industries.

Bachmann trains are now apparantly produced in China, in order to reduce costs. This makes Bachmann trains some of the cheapest trains in the world. Although there are Bachmann trains for every level of train modeling skill, the focus of the company is in trains that are easy to use.


Much like other companies in the model train industry, the story of Atlas model trains is a story of vision, entrepreneurship, and hard work, combined with a passion for a hobby that resulted in a company that grew bigger than what anyone would have imagined at the beginning.

They origin of Atlas Model Trains goes back to the first decades of the 20th century, when Stephan Schaffan Sr. founded what would become Atlas Model Trains. Back then, it was a tool company, not a model train company and Stephan Schaffan Sr. was so undermanned that he had his son Stephan Schaffan Jr. come and help him with the business.

Stephan Schaffan Jr. wasn’t happy with the money that he earned at his dad’s business (if he earned anything at all). He was a young and inventive man who liked machinery. He would go after work and built model airplanes at his house. There was a local airplane model shop where he lived, and he would visit it often. He used to pester the owner by asking for a side job that he could do to earn some extra money, to which the owner would always refuse.

However, one day, the owner of the store grew so tired of Stephan Jr.’s requests that he gave him some old railroads and model trains that he didn’t want to use anymore, in the hopes that Stephan would go away and leave him alone.

Little did he know that these old railroad tracks and models that he discarded so easily would eventually become what today is known as Atlas Model Trains.

Stephan Jr. went back home and worked on those trains. Being an inventive and intelligent young man, he designed a switch set, which would become the staple of Atlas Model Trains, and that allowed the user to start and stop the trains by controlling the voltage on the tracks.

Later on, Stephan Jr. invented more products which made the company grow even more, while his father’s business started to look small in comparison. Somewhere along the line, the original name was dropped and the company took the name of Atlas Model Railroad, although most people know it by the name Atlas Model Trains.

Now with Atlas Model Trains officially existing, Stephan invented several devices that saved work for the people who enjoyed the model train hobby. For example, he invented pre-assembles tracks, that saved his customers the problem of assembling it themselves. In general his inventions made track assembling much easier.

Today, Atlas Model Trains is one of the biggest names in the industry. Although Stephen Jr. is no longer alive, Atlas Model Trains and his legacy made model trains a much more accessible hobby for train lovers.

LGB Trains

It was LGB Trains that made garden trains so popular. LGB is the abbreviation of Lehmann Gross Bahn, which in German means “Lehmann Big Train.”

If you are new to the concept of garden trains, they are very much what they sound; trains that run in tracks set out in gardens, or in outdoors areas. However, unlike indoor trains, garden trains can withstand most weather conditions, so they never really have to be stored away. However, a lot of people keep the train indoors when it’s not running. While it’s not really necessary except in the worst of weathers, it can avoid theft.

Regarding garden trains, LGB Trains are the most famous name there is. Not only because LGB Trains single handedly made garden trains the hobby it is now, but also because LGB Trains introduced the concept of G scale.

LGB Trains’ G scale refers to the scale of the track, not the scale of the train. Actually, it’s a misnomer, since it refers to the gauge of the track, not the scale. The gauge is 45 millimeters and it doesn’t correspond to a scale related to real tracks, for example 1:22. It’s the trains that fit to a scale, and that scale may vary from train to train.

When setting a garden railroad for your LBG Trains, there are two main factors you should consider.

– Levelness of the terrain. Even thought LGB Trains will pull way much heavier loads in relationship with their size than their real counterparts, unevenness in the terrain is still a factor. This is because their pull does have a limit and also because it might be difficult to install the track in very hilly terrains. On the other hand, you might want to use parts of that terrain as mountains or maybe even for building tunnels. In any case, you have to consider the topography of your garden before you design the railway, just like real engineers would.

– Real sized objects. While plants can become trees and rocks can become hills, LGB Trains can’t look realistic next to a swimming pool or a yard gnome. Of course, it all depends on the level of realism you want and the practical issues of your garden. Some people have their LGB Trains pass through their houses via a hole in the wall. Other people make the track go through their garages, so they can keep their LGB Trains safely there at night or when not working.

You may find that installing a track for LGB Trains is not as easy as it seems. However, like all good things in life, the result pays off.


When talking about classic model trains, it’s almost imperative to mention Lionel model trains. There are few other names in the industry that can compare to the history and quality that is associated with Lionel model trains. For the most enthusiastic, collecting Lionel model trains has been a life time hobby. Of course, a lot of the fun comes with creating a small city, desert, or forest for your train to run through.

The story of Lionel model trains goes all the way back to 1900, just a bit over 100 years ago, to a time when trains were as common as buses and taxis are today. Joshua Lionel Cowen, a son of immigrants, created his first train, no doubtless after having first hand experience of watching and riding real trains. The earliest Lionel model trains reflected Lionel’s own handcraftsmanship and love for the machines, with a level of detail and quality that were the staple of the Lionel Brand.

Because of their age and rarity, old Lionel model trains are considered collector’s items, with some models selling for big quantities of money. And that is if you can find them in the first place, as most owners of those rarities will refuse to sell their prized trains.

There have even been instances when a person backs away from a deal at the last moment, when he or she realizes that he or she has to give his Lionel to the buyer.

However, not all Lionel model trains are such valued pieces of collection. Most of them are just that, model trains to enjoy as a hobby.

Some people think that Lionel model trains are an expensive hobby. Actually, it all depends on how much you love model railroading. Money can relative to the value you feel your getting, and this is no different from any other hobby. For example, some people would pay a lot of money for a plasma TV, even if they have a standard TV already. Others wouldn’t think the change in quality is worth the price.

Well, the same thing happens when buying Lionel model trains. Some people will think the locomotive, a couple of cars and a simple indoors oval rail track is enough. Others will buy equipment to build tunnels and holes through their walls, and modify their gardens with bonsai tree to give the whole area where the train will be a more realistic look.

You can choose any of those approaches or something in the middle. At the end of the day, you select your level of commitment to model railroading.

MTH Trains

If you like model model trains, you must have heard of MTH Trains, one of the most famous train manufacturers.

Like most successful companies, MTH Trains started as a small business managed by an entrepreneur. Its founder, Mike wolf was barely 12 years old when he started selling trains that he assembled for another company, Williams Electric Trains. At the time, it must have been a great deal for Mike. He got to enjoy his favorite hobby and he made some side money out of it. And he didn’t even have to move around, as he worked from the comfort of his own bedroom and received and dispatched orders by mail.

With time, he bought equipment and started manufacturing the trains himself. He sold them under his own brand until 1987, which he called Mike’s Train House. This name would eventually be abbreviated and become MTH Trains.

In 1987, Lionel, which was a giant manufacturer of toy trains and wasn’t bankrupt existed at that time, approached MTH Trains and made a deal with Mike. The negotiations ended with MTH Trains becoming a subcontractor of Lionel and manufacturing the Lionel models under Lionel’s name. This allowed MTH Trains to grow even more and become the second biggest distributor of Lionel orders by mail in the US.

MTH Trains, who by then had long stopped being a business in a bedroom in Mike’s parents’ house, began expanding its lines and its products, manufacturing not only trains, but also other models. For example, it started making models of New York’s subway cars, as well as models of Chicago’s “L” cars. The license for the reproduction of these cars was given by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

By the end of the 90’s MTH Trains had grown so successful that it was employing a staff of 135 people and had become the largest manufactured of O gauge trains, with revenues of $60 million dollars.

Nevertheless, MTH Trains has had its share of problems. The most common being a series of constant legal battles against other train manufacturers and trademark owners. These lawsuits have almost always been about trademark infringement, and in fewer cases, industrial espionage.

MTH Trains’ most constant opponent has been Lionel. After their break up in the 90’s both companies have sued each other several times. MTH finally won a lawsuit in 2007, and was told that it had to wait until Lionel comes out of bankruptcy in order to be able to claim the money.


Hornby is a household name and is famous as the UK brand leader in the model railway hobby. The company’s founder was Frank Hornby (1863 – 1936). Hornby trains went into production in 1920. Hornby Trains were powered by a high quality clockwork motor, made of metal pressings held together by Meccano nuts and bolts, and ‘0’ gauge in size.

Hornby Trains were an instant success and the company was quick to introduce more engines and accessories. In 1925 the first Hornby electric train was produced, operating from a mains supply of 100-250 volts. By 1929, Hornby had evolved a much safer system and electric models worked from a six volt DC source.

There was a steady flow of new locomotives during the 1970s including the A4, ‘Footballer’, King, Patriot and Duchess Classes. New diesels included the High Speed Train (HST) which became a popular model instantly. At the same time a new range of regional and BR Mk3 coaches were introduced, which would serve the system for many years.

Other products included a 31/2” gauge steam powered model of Stephenson’s Rocket, Zero 1 (the forerunner to DCC) and a model of the ill-fated tilting Advanced Passenger Train (APT).


In 1859, when tin smith Theodor Friedrich Wilhelm Märklin (1817-1866) made his decision to start producing doll’s house accessories of lacquered tinplate, you can be sure he had no idea he was founding a firm of world renown. In 1891 Märklin introduced their first system railroad: A windup locomotive with cars and an expandable track system.

In 1935 came the “halving” of 0 Scale to H0 (half of zero), and Märklin expanded the world of model railroading: The compact dimensions allow complete layouts as table top railroads. In addition, the three-rail track system makes for trouble-free setup and reliable operation.

In 1953 the solid third rail lain on top of the ties; is now placed under the roadbed and only stud contacts stick up through the ties. This makes the three-rail track visually more acceptable to model railroaders and becomes a synonym for the Märklin system.

In 1984 Märklin Digital moves into the electronic age. The digital signal processing – with electronic receiver circuits in each locomotive – makes it possible to have independent, multi-train operation.

In 2009 Märklin celebrated its 150th anniversary with several commemorative anniversary models.