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 "sk-800" Streamlined Steam Loco & Tender, & 3-rail Tracks, Very Nice!!Marklin Ho Scale (3040?) Double Unit, Very Clean!0 Or 1 Gauge Marklin German Tinplate Northern Railway Wagon 4cm Between WheelsMarklin Locomotive & Tender Sk800-ho Scale-used-broken/missing PartsMarklin Locomotive & Tender Sk800-ho Scale-usedMarklin Locomotive & Tender Sk800-ho Scale-usedMarklin Goliath Ho Digital CraneMarklin Ho 3352 Swiss Electric "crocodile" LocomotiveMarklin Ho # 37970 Nyc Mikado, Dcc & Sound, Runs Well, Excellent JlMarklin Z Scale Mini-club Train Set Alaska Railroad # 8819 A-b-a Rare 70 Jahre Marklin 4 Car Set Tee Trans Europ Express Set-ho-scale-usedMarklin Maxi 5452 G Scale Bavarian Aloisius Steam Engine No Reserve!!! Vintage Trix Express Dining Car Plus Marklin Shell Twe 700 R, 37791 Marklin Ho Thalys High Speed Train NibMarklin Ho 3068 Nohab Nsb Norweigian Diesel Locomotive Metal + Serviced RareMarklin Ho No.3047 3 Rail Ac 2-10-0 Heavy Goods Steam LocomotiveMarklin Locomotive & Tender 44 690-ho Scale-usedMarklin 37610 Digital Up Alco Pa-1 Ln/boxVintage Metal Marklin Ho Box CarZ Scale Trains Marklin #88446 "swiss Federal Railways" Train Set (very Good)Marklin Ho 7051 Metal Electric Working Crane + Magnet Serviced + Awesome Shape!Marklin 46340 Ho H0 Freight Dump Car Ns Dutch Used Nederland Used - Item 32Markin 346/1 1st Class Coach With Roof Lights, CleanMarklin Ho # 39800 Db Diesel Locomotive, Dcc & Sound, Runs Well, Excellent Marklin Electric Locomotive E1835-ho Scale-usedHo Marklin Digital 2668 Passenger Train Lufthansa Airport W/ Electric LocomotiveMarklin 56190 #1 Gauge Water Tower/box4 Vintage Marklin Model Railroad Catalogs, Color. 1938-1959Vintage Marklin Trains - Rs800 Locomotive, 6 Cars And TrackMarklin 49610 Union Pacific Alco Pa Diesel Locomotive (a Unit Only) Ln/boxZ - Marklin 861? Tank Car Set Of 3 "aral,bp,shell" - New No BoxZ MLarge Lot Of Buildings, Lights, Figures, Parts - Faller, Pola, Airfix, Triang...Marklin Z 88998 4-6-0 Class 38 Steam Locomotive With Tender In Box81522 Marklin Z Christmas Fun Starter Set, New In Box , Box Is Not Perfect !Marklin Emd F-7 Aba Locomotive Set Atsf Bluebonnet - Z Scale - Micro Trains LineMarklin Digital Control 80f 6036 Appears Unused? With Manual/instructions.Vintage Marklin Tin Train StationVintage Hafner Windup Steam Fright Set Engine&tender And 3 Freight Cars NiceMarklin Ho Scale Sbb Cff Coach, 348/1, Very NiceIves 127 Livestock Car. Circa 1915-17 With High Marklin Trucks!!!Marklin Ho & Z Scale Repair Parts And PiecesZ - Marklin 8659 Tank Car Set Of 2 "vtg" - New No BoxMarklin 37607 - Tee Diesel Powered Rail Car Train - NibMarklin Ho 3047 2-10-0 Db Br 44 Heavy Steam Locomotive Telex +smoke Serviced LnMarklin Ho 3151 Sbb Ae 3/6ii Electric Locomotive Great Shape & Serviced!Ho Marklin Digital 3615 Db #503143 Br 50 Steam LocomotiveHo Scale Marklin Digital 3636 Sbb/cff #11425 Br Ae 6/6 Electric LocomotiveHo Scale Marklin Digital 3739 Sbb/ffs #11426 Br Ae 6/6 Electric LocomotiveMarklin Mini Club 8760, 8762, 8763, 8764, 8765 €Marklin Ho Gooseneck & Double Lamp Light Street 7280 & 604017 Parts Extras TrainVintage Marklin E6302 Locomotive 43421 Marklin Ho Thalys High Speed Train Add-on Set #1 NibMarklin Ho 3347 Br212 Diesel SwitcherMarklin 26560 - Db Br232 Steel Freight Train Set - NibHo Scale Marklin Digital 3638 Sbb/cff #11414 Br Ae 6/6 Electric LocomotiveMarklin Z 8760 Amtrak Passenger Coach.Marklin Ho Incomplete Delta Train Set 2995Z MZ - Marklin 8629 Tank Car Set Of 2 "texaco" - New No Box