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]

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    

Antique Live Steam Engine Toy Tractor Hit & Miss Case Farm Model Whistle MarklinMarklin Original Prewar Gauge 1 Locomotive Clockwork 0-4-0Marklin Avr 3131 Gauge 1 American Market Nyc Loco -- In PiecesPre-war Marklin Sk800 Streamline Loco Set & 4 Cars In Original Boxes W/track EtcMarklin Gauge I Trackside Toilet Building Pissoir C. 1907Vintage Marklin 7294 Transfer Table W 7295 Add On Kit For Catenary Ho ScaleVintage Marklin F 800 Maerklin Db 01 097 Loco Ho Scale Kolls V 2 Fr 1952-53Rockwell Franklin Mint Celebration Of America Z Train Set W/layouMarklin Rs800-sk800 & Tender-8478-4203-82553-84627-track-parts To Nib C1Prewar Marklin Lithographed Operating Switch Tower Marklin 410 M Turntable Koll Vsn. 3 Powered By 800 Series Wide Block Motor Runs!Vintage Marklin 300 Series Metal Freight Cars Lot Of 4 From Mid 1950s Ho Scale Marklin 45093 Drg Era 2 Junkers Airplane Bmw Motor Freight Car Set Ho Scale Marklin Dl800 4-4-4 Articulated Twin Unit DieselMarklin Hand-painted Gauge-1 Train Penn. Railroad 4-wheel Passenger Coach Marklin 4228 Ho Scale Drg Rheingold Five Car Set Illuminated Interiors Cl EmMarklin Ho 3607 Digital 4-6-4 Wurt T-18 Steam Engine In Box 503091Ho Scale Marklin Digital 150th Reihe T 12 K.e.p.v. Epoche 1 36741 Rare Piece Marklin Hr800 Vintage Ho 4-6-2 Steam Locomotive & TenderHo Scale Marklin Digital & Sound Steam Powerd Rotary Snow Plow 49963 Rare Piece Marklin 37843 Db Cl 50 Cl Steam Loco Telex Ho Scale Mfx Brakeman's Cabin TenderMarklin Mini Club Z Scale 8168 Santa Fe & Set Box & Paperwork Vg+deal!Vintage Marklin 410ng (7027) Electric Loco Turntable Solid 3rd Rail TrackMarklin 7186 Ho Scale Analog Turntable, Boxed Cl EmMarklin Ho 46118 Green Db Snow Plow In Box 503102Ho Scale Marklin Digital Serie 81 0-8-0 37553 Rare Piece Marklin Mini-club Z Scale Train Freight Car Set W/ Two Extra Cars 8165 Ho Scale Marklin Digital Serie Bb 12000 37330 Rare Piece Marklin Coal Tender 6 Wheel Germany 1 Gauge #x2155Ho Scale Marklin Mfx Akku Lokomotive 36811 Rare Piece Marklin 45251 K.bay Bavarian 7 Piece Beer Car Set Munich Beers Ho Scale Era IMicrotrains Z Scale Set Of 5 Boxcars Marklin Z Connectors Rail BoxMarklin Ho Remote Controlled Transfer Table 7294Marklin Digital Ho Ae 8/14 "150 Years Swiss Railways" Electric Locomotive 37591Marklin Z Scale Snow Plow Train #81361Vtg Post War Marklin Sncf Steam Locomotive 1001 & Coal Tender 291 150 X 29 HoMarklin/kibri Circa 1940s Art Deco Train Station W/clock-large 6x26"-post War CbMarklin Jamaica Banana Reefer Nice Quality Original 326 No Reserve Super Clean Marklin Ho Ccs 800 Electric Krokodil Crocodile LocomotiveVintage Marklin Ho Scale Set 800.2 Electric Train. Near Mint! Original Box Too!Ho Scale Marklin Digital & Reg Ac 4-6-4 T18 3109 Rare Piece Lot Of 3 Marklin Ho Scale Train Tee Compartment Car 4070 Original Box Nr YqzMarklin 3001 Ceb800 E6302 0-8-0 Electric LocomotiveHo 4 Marklin Passenger CarsPrewar Marklin Railroad Station Destination Sign - Made In GermanyVintage 1950s Marklin Metal Bridge Solid Third Rail Track Pieces Lot Ho ScaleKoll's 2014 Marklin Complete Price Guide For Ho Scale Trains Hardcover EditionZ Marklin Mini-club 8165 Train Set Steam Locomotive W/ 2 Freight Cars & TrackZ Märklin 8802 Track Cleaner Locomotive /marklin MiniclubBrawn German And Japan Ho Trains Overhead Trolley Span Wire System+ Masts Used Marklin Ho Hs 800 Locomotive Version 5 Or 6 1947 GoodVintage Marklin Ho Tender For Any Sk 800.3/8/9/10/14 Streamline LocomotiveMarklin Z Scale Cars And Z Scale Figures And Animals Ho Scale Marklin Digital & Delta Br 365 Db 34641 Nice Piece Z Marklin Mini-club 8892 Steam Locomotive & Tender K.bay.sts.b (4-6-2)Prewar Marklin No.61 Railroad GuardhouseHo Scale Marklin Digital Br 212 3072 Nice Piece Ho Scale Digital Primex For Marklin Milwaukee Road Electric Nice Piece Marklin Digital Ho 37780 Ice 3 Train SetZ Märklin 8860 Usa Locomotive Santa Fe /marklin Miniclub