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 Gauge One Adler 150 Year Anniversary 1985Marklin 0-4-0 Steam Locomotive Early Model Nr 1030MÄrklin Germany No 374 Vintage 1940's Tinplate Esso Standard Wagon Ho Rare VgMarklin Z Gauge # 8860 Santa Fe Diesel Locomotive LnobMarklin Mini Club Sante Fe Z Scale Train 8168 3 Car Set In Box Mib NosMarklin # 8892 Z Gauge K.bay.sts.b. 4-6-2 & Tender Steam Locomotive LnobZ Scale Marklin 81520 Mini Club Start Set Ho Scale Marklin 4580 Texas T&p Caboose Mkt Flat Car With Fire TruckMarklin Steam EngineMarklin Pass. SetDd Marklin Z 8101 -- Commuter Passenger Train Set - El. Loco + 3 Cars - Lnib Marklin 3448 Br E 70 Ho Dc For Fleischmann,trix,roco,bacchmaMarklin 1 Gauge Locomotive - 5706 - Ac/dcMärklin Ho 46020 K.bay.sts.b. Regensburg Hopper SetMarklin Z Gauge # 8131 Diesel Allgau Zollern Bahn Passenger Train Set Nice! LnobMarklin Ho Scale Lot, Catenary Wire, 7022, 7023, 7278, Mixed Lot Marklin Vintage Ho Bridge And Pier LotMÄrklin Maerklin Germany Vintage 1940's Tinplate Crane Wagon Ho Scale Rare VgHo - Marklin Lot021 Switch Boards Plugs - No BoxMarklin 29845 Premium Digital Starter Set Ln/boxMarklin Locomotive 3046 ? 150x29 Engine 34x223 Coal Tender Vintage Train SetMarklin Z Gauge # 8700, 8750, 8751, 8752 2" Green Passenger Cars LnobHo - Marklin Lot008 Curved Switches M-track - No BoxMarklin Ho Scale Lot, Catenary Wire, Mixed Lot B Marklin Ho Scale Lot, 7021 Catenary Mast Tower, 8 PiecesMarklin Ho #45642 - 10 Car American Freight Car SetMarklin Ho Br V 36 Diesel Switching LocomotiveMarklin Ho Scale Lot, Catenary Wire, Mixed Lot CMarklin 24905 C Track C5 Extension Set Ln/boxMarklin Electric Locomotive. Ho. Model 3366. Amtrak X995German Made Marklin Ho Gauge Locomotive Da 800Z 1:220 Märklin 8883 Super Locomotive Db Marklin Miniclub Led`s 5pol. MotorMarklin Z Gauge 4 3" Petroleum Tank Cars LnobZ Scale Marklin 80312 Jahres-wagen 2002 Flat Car With Load Mini Club InsiderSet Of Marklin Z Gauge Track, Excellent, Ready To Runs-no ReserveZ 1:220 Märklin 88111 Super Locomotive Db Marklin Miniclub Led`s 5pol. MotorMarklin Z Scale Mini Club 8972 Container Terminal KitMarklin Ho Scale Lot, 7011 Catenary Mast, For Bridges, 6 PiecesMarklin 3 Rail Ho Scale, 4081 Db Silver Passenger Car, Original BoxMarklin Z Scale Mini Club 0302 Track Planing SetVintage Marklin Ho Model Train Passenger Car In Box Ho Marklin 00751-21 Lowenbrau Beer Tank Car (162)Brawa Trolley Bus For Marklin Nice!Set Of 5 - Marklin Z Gauge Scale Trains, Including Electric Locomotive Br 260Marklin Train Remote Control Crane Tower Ho Scale #451 W/control Box (lqqk)Marklin Ho Scale Fs 2nd Class Tin Plate Passenger Car #bz 33010 (4036)Marklin #8353 Ho Scale Electric High Speed Clas E03 Locomotive Parts Repair OnlyMarklin Marklin-4415 Var Coca-cola German Railcar, Coca-cola, Plastic M137Ho - Marklin Lot016 Catenary Masts M-track - No BoxMarklin 3 Rail Ho Scale 7163 Bridge 7 Antique Märklin & Other Model Train Freight Wagon Cars O-gauge & 6 TendersHo - Marklin Lot024 Accessories - No BoxMarklin Ho Diesel Electric Rail Car # 3125Marklin Z Scale Mini Club 8985 Depot Station Z 1:220 Märklin 8879 Super Locomotive Db Marklin Miniclub Led`s 5pol. MotorHo Scale Marklin 4581 Texas Tank Car Set Utp ShamrockMarklin Ho Parts Train Cars Mix Lot 8 Trains Total - For PartsVintage Z Scale Marklin Mini-club Locomotive Engine Train Set Engine & Aral Car Marklin Ho #48035 Obb- Long 4-axle Sliding Wall "rail Car Austria" - Ln In Box2 Marklin Mini Club 8594 Z Scale Train Track Mib 10 X 660mm + 6 Extra Pieces