Germany’s Gebr. Märklin & Cie (Märklin Bros. and Company) debuted its first wind-up model train meant to ride on a track in 1891 at the Leipzig Toy Fair. Märklin was not the first company to produce a clockwork train that ran on tracks, but it was the first to offer customers entire layouts that they could put together, one piece at a time.

That same year, in an effort to standardize its offerings, the firm introduced its 1-5 track gauges. The 0 gauge followed shortly thereafter, and by 1900, the Märklin gauges were adopted as international standards.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Märklin and another German trainmaker, Bing, dominated the toy train market—Lionel and other U.S. manufacturers would not hit their stride until the 1920s. Early Märklin trains from this period typically feature the letters MC on them, which stands for Märklin Company.

Some of the early Märklin steam engines in the larger scales actually operated like real steam engines, with fuel, a burner, and steam power to move them along the tracks. This attention to detail extended to the doors of the passenger cars, which could be opened and closed, and roofs that users could remove to reveal papier-mâché passengers inside.

In 1911, Märklin built a six-story headquarter for itself just outside of Stuttgart. The building, which is still standing, accommodated 600 workers by 1914, but World War I drained the company’s staff and caused Märklin to switch to the manufacture of wartime products.

By the time the company got going again in the 1920s, it had done away with the wide number 2 and 3 scales in an effort to focus and regroup. But the company continued to produce realistic trains and accessories, including handsome electric lamps to illuminate layouts.

In fact, the way in which electricity was delivered to Märklin trains was the company’s first major breakthrough of the 1920s. It came in 1925, when Märklin introduced a new 20-v...

The major Märklin innovation of the 1930s occurred in 1935, when the company introduced its H0 scale, which was so named because it was half the size of 0 scale (today it is more commonly known as HO, pronounced 'aitch oh' rather than 'aitch zero'). H0 made tabletop railroads possible. Other train manufacturers quickly seized on the H0 system for their sets, but Märklin trains were not always compatible—the wheels on Märklin cars were not insulated, which caused shorts.

Models from this period include the RV 12890 steeple cab locomotive (the clockwork version was numbered 890), the HR 66 12920 locomotive, the 1750 Rheingold baggage car, and the 1780 sleeper car with real bunks. One particularly prized antique Märklin model locomotive from this era is the SLR 700. Even rarer is the R700; those made for export to the U.S. had a cow catcher in front, while ones bound for England did not.

By the end of the 1930s, Märklin had devised a "perfect circuit," which permitted remote-control-reversing of cars on a track. The company also introduced a fully functional catenary system so that rail lines that relied on such overhead power systems could be realistically depicted in Märklin layouts.

The most famous train to take advantage of this new technology, the Crocodile, would become Märklin’s flagship. The articulated train was a reproduction of a Swiss train of the same name that took passengers over St. Gotthard Pass. Deliveries began in 1935 for 0 and 1 gauge tracks (models CCS 66/12920 and CCS 66/12921 respectively).

Another world war put Märklin’s toy train production on hold. When the factory resumed production, one of its first new products for 1947 was an update of the best-selling Crocodile, only this time it was produced in H0 scale. The articulated frame of this new CCS 800 Crocodile helped the train negotiate the sharp curves of H0 layouts.

The 1950s saw refinements to Märklin’s third rail (it was placed below the roadbed with contacts that stuck up through the ties). The company also produced its only clockwork locomotive in H0, the S870. A circus-train set with steam locomotive, a cage wagon for animals, and an exotic "Oriental caravan" whose bedroom boasted a hand-painted interior was also sold, although it never made it into any of the company’s catalogs.

Technical breakthroughs in the decade included the shift from tin to plastics for train bodies and other parts, as well as the introduction of the TELEX coupler, which enabled remote-controlled uncoupling. By the mid-1960s, sound effects for horns were introduced, and by the end of the decade, Märklin was marketing a K Track system, which allowed tracks to be laid on surfaces that lacked roadbeds.

In the 1960s, Märklin was known as a predominantly H0 company, but in 1969 it revived many of its 1 scale models, sparking a resurgence of interest in this larger scale. A few years later, in 1972, Märklin would go in the opposite direction when it launched the 1:220 Z scale, which was for decades the smallest train in the world.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Airfix Model Railways

Airfix Model Railways

Dave McCarthy's Airfix Model Railway treasure trove is an in-depth archive of the company's plastic railway kits fr… [read review or visit site]

Gateway NMRA

Gateway NMRA

This great reference site for model railroaders, from the Gateway (St. Louis) division of the NMRA (National Model … [read review or visit site]

HOseeker.net

HOseeker.net

This site is a treasure trove of HO scale model railroad manufacturer catalogs and other reference information, inv… [read review or visit site]

Postwar Lionel Trains Library

Postwar Lionel Trains Library

Bernie Schulz’s Lionel Trains Library focuses exclusively on postwar Lionel trains and accessories. The site cont… [read review or visit site]

Eric's Trains

Eric's Trains

Eric Siegel's site displays his collection of O-gauge/O-scale trains, tracks, turntables, and other accessories. A … [read review or visit site]

Tech Model Railroad Club of MIT

Tech Model Railroad Club of MIT

MIT's model railroad club, as one might expect, has one of the best websites for learning about how people play wit… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Marklin Rare 3010 Dl800 Articulted Aa Diesel Original Box MMMarklin 45097 Airplane Transport Car Set Ln/boxMarklin 8862 Amtrak F7 Loco Z Scale Marklin Dl800 4-4-4 Articulated Twin Unit Diesel Original Box O.b. ExcellentMarklin 8892 Royal Bavarian Loco Z Scale Marklin 3082 Br 41 Ho Scale Steam Locomotive & Tender Ln/boxMarklin 37522 Seetahl Crocodile Electric Locomotive Ex/boxMarklin 37095 Ho Digital Br 85 2-10-2 Steam Locomotive Ln/boxVintage Marklin Three Rail Ho Gauge Die-cast Steam EngineMarklin 3094 Ho Scale 4-6-2 Steam Loco & Tender Ln/boxMarklin 86601 Z Db Era Iii 6 Car Freight Set. As New! Factory Sold Out!MMarklin 26533 Ho Scale Metronom Commuter Train Ln/box MMarklin 3419 Ho Scale 2-10-0 Steam Locomotive & Tender Ln/boxMarklin 37132 Digital Ho Scale Br 75 2-6-2 Steam Locomotive Ex/boxMarklin Z Scale Mini - Club 88590 Electric Locomotive Class Re 4/4 Ii Sbb As NewMarklin Z Scale Mini - Club 87401 Db Express Train Passenger 5 Car Set. As New!MMarklin 3025 3 Coach Articulated Railcar Near Mint ConditionsMarklin Die Cast 314 Bp Petrol Car Obx As Nice As They Come For The Serious MmenMarklin 41551 Harry Potter Hogwarts Express Set Ln/boxMarklin 3170 Sj Swedish Litt D 109 Engine Ln/boxMarklin/bing Composition Lot Of 24 Seated Figures For Passenger Cars/accessoriesMarklin G800 2-10-0 Db Br44 Class Steam Original Wood BoxMarklin 3302 Borsig Cl 53 2-6-8-0 Steam Loco&tender Ln/boxMarklin Mini Club Z Gauge 8104 Prussian Passenger Set Boxed Tested Runs Eja7Marklin 81437 Steam Locomotive Passenger Set Ln/boxMarklin 3027 Steam Loco. & Tender/boxNoch 87090 Z Scale Train Layout Tirol 30"x20" NewMarklin/bing Composition Lot Of 12 Seated Figures For Passenger Cars/accessoriesMarklin Digital Ho Railroad "goliath" Crane Set 49950Marklin 37866 Sbb Red Arrow Rail Car & Boxcar Ln/boxMarklin 3722 Ho Scale Digital Br E 94 Electric Locomotive Ex/boxMarklin 3108 Ho Scale Br 44 Steam Loco. & Tender Ln/boxMarklin Ho Scale Vintage No 3068 Locomotive Diesel With Box Instructions C8 ExcMarklin 8862 Z Scale Amtrak Emd F7 Locomotive A Unit #105 Ex/boxMarklin 3106 Ho Db 78 355 Steam Locomotive Ln/boxMarklin Z: 81001 Express Freight Set, BoxedMarklin 37845 Ho Digital Br 50 Steam Locomotive & Tender Ex/boxMarklin 81520 Z Scale 0-6-0 Steam Locomotive ExMarklin Z Scale Mini - Club 88592 Electric Locomotive Class Re 4/4 Ii Sbb CargoMarklin 3027 Steam Loco. & Tender Ex/boxMarklin Ho 3609 Tank Locomotive - Produced 1987 Dcc In Near Mint Condition Vintage Marklin Ho Electric Loco Es800, Solid Body, Missing PartsMarklin 3015 Ho Scale Crocodile Electric Locomotive Ex/boxMarklin 29751 Ho Fire Fighter Digital Starter Set Ln/boxMarklin 39618 Class 61 Steam Locomotive Dr Ex/boxMarklin 37771 Digital Ho Scale Baureihe Svt 137 Rail Car Ln/boxMarklin 36336 Ho Scale Reihe El 10 Electric Locomotive Ln/boxMarklin 37482 E70-22 Digital Crocodile Ln/boxMarklin 3050 Sbb Cff Swiss Ho Electric Locomotive/boxMarklin/bing Tin Litho Hand Cart With Piano CreatMarklin 81510 Solar Set Z ScaleMarklin 37662 Type Di3 628 Norweigen Snowplow Diesel Ln/boxMarklin Mini-club Z Scale # 88601 Santa Fe F7a Engine- Brand NewMarklin 3393 Ho Digital Drg 2-10-0 Br 52 Steam &tender Ln/boxMarklin 3089 Ho 4-6-2 Steam Locomotive & Tender Ln/box