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    

Vintage Marx O-gauge # 81f Monon Ab Diesel Train Set Nr Lot-1Set Of (6) Marx 6" Tin Litho Cars & Nyc Tender - Montclair, Bogota & ObservationMarx Boxed 5954 Stream Line Steam Type Electric Train Set. Marx Trains Rare Blue Mercury Wind Up Train Set With Whistle Tin & Metal Look!!!Marx Army Custom Train Louis Marx New York "o" Gauge 333 Die-cast Locomotive & Tender-1949-beautiful!Marx Red Handcar With Yellow Men (complete And Original)1970's Marx O Gauge Big Rail Train SetMarx O Scale, 1217 Western Pacific Passenger Car Free ShippingVintage Marx, Model No. 9522, Diesel Type Electric TrainMarx Remote Train Engine Dummy Engine And Passenger Train Tested Rare 0 ScaleVintage Marx & Hafner Toy Train Lot-30pcs +Marx - #500 Army Supply Train Steam LocomotiveRare 1940s Louis Marx Train Set Stream Line Steam Electrical 3 Rail O Scale Marx 2124 Boston & Maine Train Car For Parts Or RepairOld Marx TrainLouis Marx New York Pre-war "o" Gauge Army Train Set-6 Pieces-late 1930's?Vintage Marx Model Railroad Train Complete Set 1950's Metal Cars Engine 999Marx American Refining Co. Ltd Flatcar. Marx Trains. Modern Marx Rolling StockMarx Santa Fe 1095 Diesel Locomotive & Dummy Electric Train EngineMarx 62 Postwar Baltimore & Ohio Aa Diesel Engine Set - 18"l - Works - VintageVintage Marx Nyc Us Mail Train Car 0 Scale!!Marx Diesel Train 6000 Tin Litho Powered Unit "a" - Southern Pacific - W/ DummyMarx New Haven # 2002 A&b And Caboose O GaugeDiesel Type Electric TrainPair Of Marx O-gauge Train 4-wheel Tin Seaboard Passenger Cars{ Marx O Trains .. Factory Sealed .. "railroad & Village Construction Set" Marx O Gauge Box CarVintage Marx 18 Piece Electric Train Set 15765 Plus Accessories New York CentralUncommon Marx O-gauge Train Plastic 8-wheel #28236 Brown Virginian Hopper Modern Marx O-gauge Train #7672 Tca Bm&lp Hopper Car - Mint In Ob Rare Marx Ho Scale Train Set With Rare Green Caboose3 Marx 6" Prewar 8 Wheel One-way Coupler Flat Cars. Partial Loads. For Rebuild.Marx O-gauge Western Pacific 901 Dummy Engines And Car Lot Of 3Marx Plastic Glendale Train Station In Original BoxMarx Postwar O Gauge, Southern Pacific 600 Aa W/ 3 Cars, RunsMarx The Reliable Train Set In Original Box Excellent Clean ConditionMarx O-gauge Train 8-wheel Nyc Cast TenderLot Of Model Train Books Collector Guides Lionel Marx HornbyMarx 73410 Tin Nyc Sinclair Boxcar With Barrel Loads Nib!Vintage Marx Train Set Lot O Scale Electric Engine 490 Model New York Central Marx O-gauge Train 4-wheel Tin #90171 Ble Sliding Door Boxcar Marx O Train Locomotive Motor Engine Assembly - Runs! - Lot M87Vintage Marx New York, Haven, Hartford #3200 8 Wheel Train Car!!!Rare Vintage Marx 7-piece 1950’s Grey 1666 Nyc Steam Engine Train Set Nr Lot-6Vintage Marx Sou 51100 Flat Cars (2) With 4 Auto'sModern Marx O-gauge Train #7484 Tca P&w Boxcar - Mint In Ob Lionel & Marx O Scale Layout Accessories (9)1950's Marx New York Central Steam Engine & Coal Tender With 4 CarsMarx, O Scale, Observation Passenger Car, #1007western Pacific, Free ShippingModern Marx O-gauge Train #5161-2 Tca Tarantula Rr Passenger Car - Mint In Ob Marx 6000 Southern Pacific 2 Powered 2 Dummy Diesel Engines (5) 1950s Marx Model Railroad Cars With Knuckle Couplers: D.l. & W. 86000Small Lot Of Marx Track And Cars(all Vg) 1950'sMarx 1666 Postwar O Steam Engine W/smoke Cracked Top (see Images) Tested - WorksMarx Trains: No. 414 Bell Ringing Metal Crossing Signal = Works Good - Box & EtcVintage O Scale Marx Tin St Paul & Pacific Passenger Car Vintage LookUsed Marx Straight Train Track 7 1/2" Long On Road BedModern Marx O-gauge Train #19932 Sp Ttos Oregon Coach - Mint In Ob Vintage Marx Model Train Set-electric