Unlike Lionel and American Flyer, Marx never set out to make the fanciest toy trains when it acquired the rights to the Joy Line train sets in 1934. Its goal from day one was to make the best toy trains at the lowest price. In the Depression, that proved to be a strategy that earned the company and its founder, Louis Marx, rich rewards.

Like the Joy Line trains, the first Marx trains were key wound, made out of inexpensive tin and decorated with lithographed designs and logos. Locomotives cost only a dollar, cars went for a dime.

Unlike the Joy Line trains, which were toys first and foremost, Marx trains were amazingly realistic considering their low cost. Its first train was a Union Pacific Articulated Streamliner, followed by a New York Central Mercury, whose sleek, streamline shape was in tune with the Art Deco aesthetic of the 1930s. The Commodore Vanderbilt locomotives came shortly thereafter (the tenders for these are very hard to find), as did the Nos. 897, 898, and 994 locomotives.

Another early Marx locomotive was the Canadian Pacific, which debuted in Canada in 1936 to celebrate the Canadian Pacific Jubilee train. Marx sold the Canadian Pacific locomotive in one form or another until 1949, but the clockwork-engine version was only sold as a set in 1938, making its cars, particularly the uniquely designed flatcar, very rare.

Behind these locomotives were bright, cheerful boxcars and gondolas, some with working searchlights. Bringing up the rear on most Marx sets would be a caboose, usually labeled New York Central. For Depression-era kids and their parents, a complete Marx railway could be had for the price of a single Lionel train. One way Marx kept costs down was to limit its product line—for every Marx model or accessory, Lionel offered perhaps ten.

That said, Marx’s assortment of accessories ranged for run-of-the-mill signals to nifty barrel loaders. Most ran on track power or were track-activated (crossing signals, for example). Chief among these were the bells and flashers, which would come to life as a train’s wheel triggered it into action, and would remain animated until the train’s entire length had passed by.

In 1952, Marx started making scale trains in plastic in four- and eight-wheel versions. From freight cars to diesel locomotives, plastic soon replaced tin. Some bore the road name of a particular train line, but others featured a Marx line called Marlines. Whatever it was called on the outside, the same motors that had powered the tin trains drove these new plastic models. As for the layouts, the metal ones still worked fine but most customers preferred to purchase the new plastic scenery kits that were being offered...

Marx trains chugged along through the 1960s, but the societal pressures that were putting the squeeze on Lionel were also testing Marx. By 1975, the company’s offerings appeared rather quaint to the young boys who were its target audience, so Marx sold itself to Quaker Oats, which proved to be the end of the line for the once great maker of toy trains for the masses.

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    

Marx Prewar O 3000 Canadian Pacific Steam Train Set 552 553 554 555 556 7pcs.Vintage Marx # 333 Locomotive200+ Tin Toy Train Wheels Original Pre-war, American Flyer,lionel,ives,marx EtcMarx Toys Train Locomotive 333 Vintage Rare 1948-55 O Scale 3/16 Die CastMarx Prewar Camouflaged Army Tank For Army Train, Windup Works, 1940 WyandotteMarx Lot Of Cv Locomotives - Look!Super Nice Hafner Prewar M10,000 Boxed Set Red & Cream, 1940 Wyandotte, MarxMarx Pullman Locomotive , Bogota, Montclair And Observation Train Cars Pre War% 1950's Marx O-scale Tin Mechanical Train Set In Box W/ Engine 400 WorkingMarx 333 Locomotive With Cast Metal TenderMarx O Gauge Diesel Locomotive1960,s Vintage Wind-up Tin Train Plastimarx Marx Mexico Engine Coal GondolaC-5, Clean Vintage Marx 0-4-0 #597 Commodore Vanderbilt Steam EngineVintage Marx Tin Plate 1940s Flat Car Streamline Red Dump Truck Train 0 GaugeVintage 1952 Louis Marx Diesel Electrical Train Santa Fe 1095 In Box W/ Instruc.Marx 2124 Boston & Maine O-gauge Budd Rdc (1956-1959) C-6 Very GoodMarx Military Tank # 572st In Olive Green. Marx Military #552m Ordnance Car W 30 Original Shells Vintage Louis Marx & Co Stream Line Steam Type Electric Train Set Engine W/ Cars2 Vintage Marx 333 Steam Locomotive Engines For Parts Or RepairToy TrainsToy Train Marx 1666 Locomotive W/ Tender And 3 Tin Cars Smokes Old Train SetMarx O-gauge Train Atsf Scale Lithographed Stock Car-santa FeMarx 999 Engine And Metal TenderMarx Marline Gray Tender 8 Wheel. Modern Marx. Light Run Time.Marx Military #572g 6" Siege Car Marx Metal Train CarsMarx Trains #73714 Nyc Flat W/rutland Girders, Looks New In The Original BoxMarx Military #557m Radio Car W/ Antenna Marx Military Flat For 557st Tank Lionel Vintage Accessory Lot 12 Pieces Look!!!Marx Trains Repair ManualMarx Freight Train Set.Marx Train SetVintage Louis Marx & Co. Commodore Vanderbilt Electric Train Set With BoxMarx Canadian Pacific Red-base 8-wheel Set - Nice!Marx Train 555 Box Car Man In Door Version 027Marx Toys Train Railroad Track Set Power Supply Connect Switch O GaugeMarx Stream Line Steam Type Electrical Train Set With Box Lot# Mar-9Marx Vintage Train Loco's And Cars For Part's Look!!!!!Rare Prewar Marx "easter Colors" Truck Red & Pastel Green Orig. 1940 Wyandotte Marx Military #572 Field Gun Car Marx Military #572mg Machine Gun CarVintage Marx O - Scale Erie Flatbed Train CarHo Scale Train Varney Marx Lot Of 5 Coal Cars Gondola Hopper Gn Virginian LoadsVintage O Scale Marx Steam Locomotive The Canadian Pacific 2-4-2Marx - Lionel O-27 Trains ... "assortment Of (82) Metal 3-rail Track Sections"Marx O Postwar Baltimore And Ohio #790 Steam Locomotive & Tender (repainted)% 1960's Marx O-scale Train Set W/ Engine 666 Transformer And More Lot T-1Lionel Marx 11 Piece Used Junk Train Lot Engine Track Train Cars CabooseVintage Marx Tin Plate 1940s Train Red Search Light 0 Gauge Floodlight3 - Marx Toys 249319 Marlines~28236 Virginia~21429 Lehigh Valley~ O Gauge 1950sMarx New York Central Train O Scale, Coal Tender, Dome Tanker, Box Car, CabooseMarx O Scale Pre War Marlines New York Central Train SetVintage Marx 355 13549 Cattle Car At&sf Santa Fe O GaugeMarx-marline New York Central Black Box Train CarVintage, Mint Marx Ho Overhead Block Signal New In Box Plus Factory Box!Vintage Marx Plastic Lehigh Valley #112 Switch Engine*o Scale Fast Shipping*Lionel & Marx Transformer & Layout Accessories (7)Marx O Scale Short Track Powered Spot Light--light Works