This past weekend, my wife and I took our grandson to the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. Over the holidays that have run a program called the “Gardenland Express.” It features a room filled with Christmas trees of all types and hundreds of flowers. Running through this room was 5,000 feet of small miniature railroad track. The room was set up to display five of America’s National Parks. Each park had at least one electric train running through it. Over all there was eight different sets of trains. Parents and children walked through taking pictures and just viewing the awesome sight. Needless to say my grandson was in total amazement.
Lionel trains got their start in 1900. Today they are located in Chesterfield, Michigan. Sad to say, they are currently in bankruptcy. However they recently released their newest train the “Hogwarts Express.” It is designed after the trains in the Harry Potter movies. Forty of these are on display around the country at different dealer locations.
In 1969 General Mills bought the rights to a production line but not the company. This allowed Lionel to have the income to buy a group of East Coast Toy Stores that they renamed the “Lionel Leisure World.” In 1989, toy guru Richard Kughn bought the company and named it Lionel Trains Inc. He began having the plant in Michigan start making Lionel Trains again. They began making the trains that were reproduced before World War II.
In 2006, Lionel Trains along with the Easy Bake Oven were inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame. They became the first two electric toys to be inducted. Oddly enough, the first electric trains made by Lionel were not to be used as toys but as window displays. However, people were so impressed with them, that they wanted them for themselves. The trains were used for Christmas displays. People felt that they would be nice in their homes for decorations and even gifts to their children.
By the end of World War I, Lionel was one of three major manufacturers of electric trains. Lionel painted their trains very bright colors. This was to attract mothers of small children. Joshua Cowen, one of Lionel’s founders, discovered that mothers were attracted to bright colors, and he used it to market his trains over other off color trains. As a result, Lionel became the number one producer of electric trains.
Like everyone else, the Great Depression, hurt Lionel’s business. Electric trains were considered as a luxury item. During World War II, Lionel stopped producing trains to make equipment for the military. However, during the late stages of the war, they started preparing for the post war era. During this time they also introduced the pop out, cut out cardboard paper train. It was very hard to put together.
Lionel’s “golden age” was from 1946 through 1956. Their peak year was in 1953. From that period on, Lionel started experiencing financial difficulties that lead to bankruptcy in 1982. To add to their problems the factory that made many of their trains , burned in 2004.
Today, many of the old Lionel trains are considered to be collectors items. Trains from certain periods of time can sell for as much as $1000. However, some of them that aren’t as rare, go very cheaper. Like other items, value is determined by age, rarity, and quality of the product.
Even though I am now a Senior Citizen with a grandson, I still get excited when I see an electric train exhibit like I did at the Missouri botanical Garden. It brought make memories of my childhood.