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    

Marklin Ccs 800 Ho Scale Vintage Crocodile (krokodil) Vintage LocomotiveMarklin Train Dl 800 Twin Diesel Locomotive Dl 800 Ho Scale Articulated MOriginal Box Vintage 1954 Marklin G800 Locomotive Train Large Lot Germany YqzVintage Marklin Dl 800 Ho LocomotiveMarklin Rs800 0-4-0 Green Electric LocomotiveMarklin Z Scale Train Set # 81780 Nib No Transformer M5Marklin Z Scale # 81465 Santa Fe Loco 4 Cars 26 Pcs Track With Transformer M4Marklin Ho Huge Catenary Wire Lot 7016 7017 7018 7019 And More #1 Cheap!Marklin 3014 Ho Scale Sbb Cff Electric Locomotive #427Marklin #2644 Station Destination Signpost *** Excellent (1926-37)Liliput H0 Scale Steam Locomotive Br 078134-4 Db 4-6-4 ClassMarklin Ho Lot Of 20 # 7046 Catenary Tower Masts With Lights #1Marklin Ho Huge Catenary Wire Lot 7018 7019, 7022, 7023 And More #2 Cheap!Marklin Mini-club Z Scale Chessie System Frieght Set Model 8106Marklin 3030 Ho Scale Swedish Electric LocomotiveMarklin Mini-club Z Scale #8106 Loco And 4 Cars Chessie System M14Vintage Marklin Ho Early Version Se 800 Obx Electric Lok - Box OnlyMarklin Sk 800 Locomotive-tested-does Not Run-vintage-3007 Ca71Marklin Z Scale Caboose And Tank Cars: 8610, 8640, 8643 (3) Ln/boxVintage Marklin Rm800 Ho Scale Steam Locomotive - Box OnlyMarklin Z Scale #8133 Grand Hotel Auf Schienen 7pc Loco And Car Set M16Marklin Z Scale Tank Cars (6) LnMarklin Ho Lot Of 20 # 7046 Catenary Tower Masts With Lights #2Marklin Roco Roskopf Ho Scale German 10 Truck Lot Era I-iii (like Wiking Herpa)Ho Scale Marklin 3 Rail Br64 Steam Locomotive 64041 Nk W/tender 22226Marklin Mini-club Z Scale Santa Fe Loco Engine #8860 M10Marklin 2870 Historic Express Train Set Of 1938 Ln/boxMarklin 3556 Swiss Federal Railway Sbb "crocodile" Locomotive - Ho ScaleZ Scale Marklin Mini-club/8172 Locomotive, 2 Cars, Track & Transformer Train SetMarklin Z Scale Mini-club # 88601 25th Annaverary Santa Fe Engine M9Marklin 3450 Ho Minex Steam Locomotive SetMarklin 8734, 8735, 8736, 8737, & 8738 Freight Cars (5) Ln/boxMarklin 37081 Steam Loco & Tender--digital Ln/boxMarklin 4271 Swedish Postal Car Lighted Ln/boxMarklin Z Scale 5pc Loco & Car Set California Zephyr # 8189 Super Nice M17Marklin 3356 Ho Scale Crocodile Electric Locomotive/boxMarklin Z Scale 3pc 9 Volt Starter Set With Track Does Not Run M3Marklin 4068 Express Restaurant & Swiss Railways Passenger Cars (3) Ex/boxMarklin 3022 Db Electric Locomotive W/ Pantographs Ex/boxMarklin Roco Roskopf Ho Scale German 11 Truck Lot Era I-iii (like Wiking Herpa)Ho Scale Marklin Digital 3689 Ptt Post Class Mp 3000 Ns Electric LocomotiveMarklin Z Scale Freight Cars: 8630, 8635, 8685, 86351 & 8610 (5) LnMarklin 2681 Express Locomotive Royal Prussian-kaiser Wilhelm Ii-nib Tested Ca83Vintage Marklin Ho 3 Coach Articulated Metal Rail Car 3025Marklin Hamo 3023 Locomotive W/box-3 Rail Ac-tested-lights Work Ca76Marklin 7051 Remote Controlled Gantry CraneMarklin Ho Lot Of 20 # 7021 Catenary Tower Masts #1Marklin 2681 Attendants Car For Ladies/dining-kaiser Wilhelm Ii-nib Ca82Hamo MMarklin Ho Set Of 8 4624 Erz Iiid Db German Hopper Cars Factory Weathered! Marklin Mini-club Z Scale 6 Car Set Baltimore And Ohio #87845 M15Marklin Tank Car 334 EMarklin Ho Scale Tank Cars: 4502, 4750 & 4779 (6) Ln/boxMarklin Brawa Ho Lot Of 8 Led Street Lamps + Sockets New/obx #5829Marklin Roco Roskopf Ho Scale German 4 Truck Lot Era I-iii (like Wiking Herpa)Marklin 42702 Sj Type C3d Pass. Car Ln/boxMarklin Z Scale Tank Cars: 98013, 87702, 4440, 88703, 86124 (5) LnMarklin 2681 Emperor Salon Car/baggage Car-kaiser Wilhelm Ii-nib Ca81Marklin 3797 Digital Locomotive-nib-tested-runs Great Ca79Marklin Mini-club Z Scale Regional Set B&o Model 8807 A