When we think of early model trains, the names Märklin, Lionel, and American Flyer naturally come to mind. After all, Märklin Bros. and Company debuted its first wind-up model train in 1891, Joshua Lionel Cohen designed his first electric train in 1900, and American Flyer got into the model-train business in 1907.

Ives beat them all. Edward Ives established his Ives Manufacturing Company way back in 1868. Between that date and the end of the 19th century, Ives trains were of the pull-toy and wind-up variety, made out of tin or cast-iron. The technology was primitive, spurring unique innovations, such as the “smoking locomotive,” whose stack belched smoke produced by a lit cigarette. Another train was designed to self-destruct when it ran into a barrier, as if its boiler had exploded. Ah, those were the days.

After 1900, Ives made tracks for its trains, and by 1910, electric trains running on O-gauge tracks were added to the product line. Ives had been late to the electric-train party, and its competitors, particularly Lionel, were anxious to keep another manufacturer out of the model-train business. Lionel even went so far as to run ads mocking the quality of Ives products—Lionel trains were made out of steel, with baked-enamel graphics; Ives trains were still being produced in cast-iron, and the designs on its rolling stock were lithographed.

Ives fought back by coming out with its own number-2, or wide-gauge, tracks and trains to compete with Lionel’s larger “standard gauge” offerings (that phrase had been trademarked by Lionel). The company’s shift, as well as the high quality of the motors in its locomotives, made Ives a force to be reckoned with in the 1920s, when ads promised “Ives Toys Make Happy Boys.” Today, vintage 1920s Ives trains such as the 3243, 3237, and 3245 locomotives are quite collectible.

But Ives ran out of steam in 1928, when it filed for bankruptcy. Lionel and American Flyer bought the assets of their former rival, and in 1931 Lionel purchased all of American Flyer’s shares in Ives. For a brief period, Lionel produced a few Ives trains, such as the highly prized 1764E, which was branded with both the Ives and Lionel names on its side. Lionel also made an Ives line of less-expensive wind-up trains, but Lionel’s management dumped the line entirely in 1932.


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