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    

Vintage Ho Train 13 Cars Engines Locomotives Marklin Liliput Mantua Pocher YqzNeat Bing Marklin 34th St And 5th Ave Toy Train Lamp PostZ Scale Marklin 8819 Alaska Arr F7 Aba Diesel Locomotive Set Ho Scale Marklin Digital 3602 Borsig (1'c) Dh4 Mallet 1943 Steam LocomotiveZ Scale Marklin 87845 B&o 6 Car Passenger Set Baltimore & OhioMarklin "o" Gauge Rail Zeppelin, Circa 1930's, All Metal, Restoration Project!Ho Scale Marklin 4228 Rheingold Passenger 5 Car Set Z Scale Marklin Mini-club 8686 Arr Cn Alaska Canadian National 4 Freight Car SetZ Scale Marklin 88602 B&o #945 F7 Ab Diesel Locomotive Set Baltimore & OhioZ Scale Marklin 88601 Atsf F7 Diesel Locomotive Santa FeMarklin 88021 Track Cleaning Car (z-scale)Marklin Maerklin 37564 Limited Issue Blue Swiss Crocodile Digital Mfx Sound HoMarklin 8831 Jaegermeister Rail Bus (z-scale)Marklin 88164 Prignitzer Eisenbahn Rail Bus & Trailer (z-scale)Neat Bing Gbn Marklin Toy Train Lamp PostHo Marklin Digital 3628 Dr #e91102 E91-9 Electric Locomotive Deutsche ReichsbahnAntique Marklintoy Train SetsMarklin 37612 Ho H0 Rio Grande Double Diesel Locomotive Lok Used - Item 41Z Scale Marklin Mini-club 8687 Arr Acfx Alaska Basf 3 Freight Car SetMarklin Ho Scale Electrical And Parts Lot No ReserveMarklin Ho Scale Vintage Crocodile 3015 Original Box Exc. No Reserve Marklin 37566 Austrian Museum Model Of Swiss Crocodile Loco Digital Mfx Metal Marklin Central Station Marklin Operating System # 60212Marklin 88163 Ulmer Spatz Rail Bus & Trailer (z-scale)Marklin Ho 7186 Turntable And Controller Set Metal, Ln!Marklin Unique Custom Train Moutain Mid 1930s-niceHo Marklin Digital 3662 Atsf 330/333 Gm Emd F7 F7a F7b A/b/a Diesel Set Santa FeMarklin Maerklin 37344 Swiss Sbb Cff Re 4/4ii Digital Metal Ho Electric Ho Scale Marklin Digital 3667 Set Of 2 Db Br 118 (e 18) Electric LocomotiveMarklin Digital Maerklin Diesel 30747 Tee 218 Cl Converted W 6090 Chip Ho ScaleVintage Marklin 3022 Ho Scale 3 Rail E94- 276 Die-cast Crocodile Electric LocoZ Scale Marklin 82340 Set Of 2 Sp Milw Flat Cars W Tractor Trailers Tlc Services? Marklin R700 Lner 1930 1940 Vintage Rare 700 800 MMarklin Ho 3027 2-10-0 Db Br 44 Heavy Steam Locomotive Telex Couplers Serviced!Marklin/brawa #40157 Steam Lok Class Hh [br 57.4]. N.r.Marklin Mini Club Special Edition Miller Set Z 88165a W/nostalgia Car 1988 NewZ - Marklin 8566 Lot Of 18 Empty BoxesMarklin Maerklin 3052 Austrian Obb 1020.31 Electric Rare 1965-67 Only Ho ScaleMarklin 42990 Mhi Ho Maerklin Tee Coach Set W/ Factory Installed Interior LightsMarklin Maerklin 43850 43860 43870 43880 Rheingold '62 Livery Ho Scale CoachesMarklin 43600 Ho H0 Amtrak Passenger Car Set Lighted! Lightly Used - Item 43Marklin 88817 Z-club International Rag Rail Bus & Trailer (z-scale)Ho Scale Kier Olen Hier Olen Possible Marklin Electric LocomotiveMarklin Z Mini-club 81466. American Steam Locomotive And Track Set-free ShippingMarklin Se 800 Green Metal Electric Locomotive With Original Box Z Scale Locomotive Marklin Santa Fe F-7Marklin 45648 Ho H0 Freight Box Car Set American New York Central Used - Item 35Ho Scale Marklin Digital 3690 Db #011 056-9 Br 011 Steam LocomotiveMarklin 42991 Mhi Ho Maerklin Tee Coach Set W/ Factory Installed Interior LightsHo Scale Marklin Digital 3687 Db #98 308 Br 98-3 Steam LocomotiveMarklin Ho 3048 Db Br01 German Steam Locomotive Metal, Serviced, Working Smoke!Marklin #49963 Rotary Snowplow. Slightly Used /orig. Packaging. N.r.Marklin Ho Mini-club Z Scale Train Set-nice!Vintage Marklin 23014 Ho Scale Da800 2-6-2 Steam Engine And Tender NiceMarklin 88162 Austrian (obb) Rail Bus & Trailer (z-scale)Marklin 88165 Elbe-weser (evb) Rail Bus & Trailer (z-scale)Ho Scale Marklin Digital 3709 #85007 Db Br 85 Steam LocomotiveHo Scale Marklin 4862 Usa Freight Cars Milw Rdg D&rgw Nyc Tlc 5 Car Set Vintage Pair Of Marklin Panthogrphs (1950-54)Marklin Z 88943 Class 94.5 Steam Locomotive Db Era Iii Used With Box