Lionel Corporation was an American toy manufacturer and holding company of retailers that have been in business for over 120 years. It was founded as an electrical novelties company; Lionel specialized in various products throughout its existence. Toy trains and model railroads were its main claim to fame. Lionel also produced the diecast cars for NASCAR.
Lionel trains have been produced since 1900, and their trains drew admiration from model railroaders around the world for the solidity of their construction and the authenticity of their detail. During its peak years in the 1950s, the company sold $25 million worth of trains per year. In 2006, Lionel’s electric train became the first electric toy inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame. In 1969, they sold their model train lines to General Mills but continued to operate until 1993 as a holding company for their toy stores. Its model trains are still in production as a separate company.
LIONEL MODEL TRAINS
Lionel made many models, including scale models, of actual trains. The Red Comet and Blue Streak sets included models of New York Central’s Commodore Vanderbilt locomotive. In 1934, Lionel made a 1:45 scale model of Union Pacific’s M10000 diesel streamliner (also called the city of Denver) that runs on an O gauge track. It was followed by a model of the city of Denver’s successor, the city of Portland. The 763E and 700E are 1:48 scale models of 4-6-4 Hudsons. In 1938, Lionel made a Chicago, Burlington model, and Quincy Railroad’s Burlington Zephyr streamliner called the flying Yankee.
Lionel resumed producing toy trains in late 1945, replacing their original product line with less-colorful but more realistic trains and concentrating exclusively on O-gauge trains. Many of Lionel’s steam locomotives of this period had a new feature: smoke, produced by dropping a small tablet or a special oil into the locomotive’s smokestack, which contained an electric heating element. Many types of diesel, electric, and steam engines made after 1950 had Lionel’s Magne-Traction, which made the wheels magnetic to grip the track better. Lionel’s most popular toy train ever mass-produced was the Santa Fe F3, numbered 2333, released in 1948.
Lionel started the postwar period in 1945 with a train set introducing remote-control uncoupling. The locomotive was the 224, a pre-war carryover 2-6-2 prairie. In 1947, Lionel produced a model of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s GG1. One year later, Lionel began production of their famous Santa Fe F3. As a direct descendant of the pre-war 763E locomotive, in 1950, Lionel released the 773, another scale Hudson. The Lionel FA model was also introduced in 1950. Many collectors and operators have considered the best postwar Lionel locomotive is the 746 released in 1957.
It is a model of Norfolk and Western’s J class steam engine. During both the pre-war and post-war eras, Lionel made many models of electric locomotives; during the post-war era, Lionel made models of the EP-5 and Virginian EL-C to the GG1. From 1946 through 1949, Lionel issued the 726 2-8-4 Berkshire, a prized item today. from 1950 to 1951; Lionel produced the 736 Berkshire, which was basically a 726 with Magne-Traction. In 1952, the Vietnam war caused a shortage of magnetic materials, so Lionel reissued the 726 as the 726rr (726 reruns). From 1953 all the way until 1968, the 736 was produced again.