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Lionel Train Collecting

Updated on August 16, 2015

I've loved Lionel trains ever since I can remember. The O gauge may not be to scale, but it's both beautiful to look at, and fun to run around on the tracks. Lionel's O gauge tracks came in two different styles: O and O27. My favorite was always O gauge. I lived around, and grew up around Lionel trains all of my life. So I would like to now pass along some of what I've learned throughout the years to all of you. So here's a brief history of the little Lionel Train.

An immigrant by the name of Joshua Lionel Cowen founded the Lionel Manufacturing Company near City Hall in New York City in the year 1900. He got his start by first manufacturing an electric fan. He eventually made the first Lionel train to attract window-shopping New Yorkers using the power of animated display. Since its humble beginning Lionel has sold more than 50 million Lionel train sets and today produces more than 300 miles of track each year. Today Lionel trains are divided up into three categories. From 1901 through 1942 they are referred to as pre-war Lionel trains. From 1945 to 1969 they are known as post-war Lionel trains, and from 1970 to present day they are called modern Lionel trains. In 1906 Lionel designed three-rail "Standard Gauge" track to eliminate short-circuits debuts. In 1915 O-gauge trains and tracks made their debut, ultimately replacing Standard Gauge by the 1930s. The Great Depression badly hurt the sales of Lionel trains.

In 1942 Lionel had to cease production of electric trains and build compasses and compass cases for the war. The hard-to-assemble Lionel "paper train" was produced during the holiday season. Today those paper train sets are worth a pretty penny. After the war in 1947 Lionel produced a version of the massive, twenty-wheeled Pennsylvania GG-1. It's electric engine featured working pantographs that drew power from overhead power lines. I made a special mention of this, because I grew up around this one particular Lionel train, and I can vision it still as i write this today. In 1967 Lionel Trains had to file for bankruptcy. In 1982 General Mills decided to relocate the Lionel train factory to Mexico, which proved to be disastrous. In 1984 Lionel resumed production once again in Mt. Clements, Michigan.

In 1999 A retooled debuts on the World Wide Web, bringing a century of model railroading into the next millennium! Also in 1999 Lionel trains were selected as one of the top 10 toys of the 20th century. Lionel finally closed its last manufacturing plant in the United States in 2001, outsourcing production to Korea and China. In 2006, Lionel's electric train, along with the Easy Bake Oven, became the first two electric toys to be inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame. I grew up around them both. The polar express train designed by Lionel enjoyed immense popularity and became an instant collectible. Lionel continues to release new and innovative designs today. The Lionel brand name continues today, owned by Lionel, LLC, and they are an American classic that continue to remain popular today. The original carved "LIONEL CORP" stone over the entry way at the old Lionel plant was purchased in 1997 and moved to TCA's National Toy & Train Museum in Strasburg, Pennsylvania. If you enjoy trains, you'll want to visit the Strasburg Train Museum at some point in your life. Not only will you get to see up close all of the old trains, but you'll be able to take a train ride on an old locomotive down the tracks to a place called Paradise. That's actually about a 30 minute trip to the real town of Paradise, Pennsylvania.

Collecting, operating, and displaying Lionel trains can be a lot of fun. There are some very valuable Lionel trains out there as well. My father always told me that something is only worth what someone else will pay for it. But I've always had a love for those little O gauge trains. There's other gauge trains out there also like HO and even smaller that people enjoy collecting and using. There are many other makes of O gauge trains, but there's only ONE Lionel. There are other toy companies like Lego who have working trains. Restaurant chains like McDonald's and Burger King have put trains in their kid's meals over the years. The cosmetic company Avon even has a train out during Christmas time. But the value always holds up strong for the good old Lionel train, and looking at Lionel trains is certainly among fun things to do when your bored.

The Lionel lamp complete with running train and whistle sounds
The Lionel lamp complete with running train and whistle sounds
The 1997 Anastasia train set from Burger King
The 1997 Anastasia train set from Burger King
Toy freight cars a part of the 2006 graffiti diecast train collection
Toy freight cars a part of the 2006 graffiti diecast train collection
The 2002 holiday express train village by Avon
The 2002 holiday express train village by Avon
There's tons of other toys out there on the market, which are great accessories with Lionel trains.
There's tons of other toys out there on the market, which are great accessories with Lionel trains.

I've been really looking forward to doing this hub, and it was a lot of fun. You won't find these photographs anywhere else on the internet, because they are all mine. I hope you enjoyed looking at them as much as I had making them. But that brings me to another subject which I would like to touch base on for a moment. I find the hub pages and the internet as a whole a wonderful way of sharing with others. I write on the hub pages just for fun as so many others do. There's no way that anything which I have written in my hubs could have ever been seen by so many other people if it was not for the internet. It's a great way to express ourselves, pass on knowledge, and leave something from us behind after we are long gone.

That being said, I would like to point out that anything you post on the Internet, which includes both words and photographs, is out there for the entire world to utilize however they see fit. The world's a much bigger place then most people realize. If it's something that you don't want anyone else to copy, then don't post it. I am fully aware that at some point, something I've posted, will be copied and used elsewhere. This is a simple fact of life, and it's just the way it is. One of my more popular hubs was copied in it's entirety, and posted on an overseas web site. I accidentally discovered it one day when I Googled my own hub title, and it popped up on my computer screen with this weird looking orange back ground. I discovered that another hubber from the hub pages, and no I won't name names but I know who it is, copied my entire hub to that web site in their name. At first I was a little upset, but someone close to me said that I should be flattered.

So I left a comment on their site thanking them for displaying my work, complete with a link to my hub. I went back the next day, and they had deleted my comment, so I left another similar comment. After the third deletion of my comment, I just simply contacted the administrators of that web site and explained everything complete with a link to my hub. By the next day it was gone. Now if it's like other things are in life, for example only 10% of crime is reported, Then there's probably another nine copy cats out there in the world. But that's life, and I don't understand why other hubbers get on the forums here, which I try to stay away from, and complain that someone else took their work. Complaining about it to others isn't going to fix it. Be an adult, as everyone is supposed to be here on the hub pages, and if it bothers you that much then address the problem yourself. I would like to thank everyone who took a moment to visit my little hub here, and if you feel a need to use one of my photos or something which I've written in anyone of my hubs, then you have my blessing.


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    • profile image

      david sparkman 

      4 years ago

      like your collection i am a collector to you can see my train room on facebook i am in to prewar and postwar lionel and one marx train i am doing a western layout love to meet people in to lionel trains.

    • Derby Deals profile image

      Derby Deals 

      5 years ago from Jeffersonville, Indiana

      Nice article. When I was a kid my dad worked for the ICG railroad. Because of that my brother got interested n the Lionel trains. He had quite a set up.

    • cynthtggt profile image

      Cynthia Taggart 

      6 years ago from New York, NY

      My brother had Lionel trains and I loved them. He built a whole village around them, complete with all the details, as you probably know well (little trees, trucks, stores, people, etc.). I remember one of them actually spewed out smoke. He loved to make them crash at full speed, which was cool I guess. I think he sold one of them for a grand amount. Anyway, brings back memories. Not everyone remembers Lionel trains, unfortunately. Voted up.

    • sheilanewton profile image


      6 years ago from North Shields, UK

      Wow - what a collection! You must be worth a fortune. And looking at the images, everything's in pristine condition. I'm a collector - but I do let things gather DUST - oh dear!

    • TheHoleStory profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Parsons, West Virginia

      I tried to clarify that some after I read your comment michiganman567. I also hope you will be able to locate your old train sets someday.

    • michiganman567 profile image


      6 years ago from Michigan

      Ok, thanks for the clarification. I still enjoyed your hub. The quality of the trains weren't that great when I was a kid. I had some plastic ones that didn't last very long. I got an old steel workhorse from the 70's that never stopped.

    • TheHoleStory profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Parsons, West Virginia

      Thank you for the comment michiganman567, but Lionel trains finally closed its last manufacturing plant in the United States in 2001, and is now outsourcing their production to Korea and China.

    • michiganman567 profile image


      6 years ago from Michigan

      Thank you for sharing your hub. I didn't know that they still made trains in Mount Clemens. Lionel was in a lot of financial trouble a while back and I thought that they were gone. It is good to know that they are still around.

      This hub has me wondering what happened with my train sets. I know that they have to be around somewhere!

    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I enjoyed learning about the trains as well as seeing your photos of your own trains. That is a good warning about others stealing your on-line content, I may start searching Google for my own titles to see if they have also be printed on other sites. The nerve!

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 

      6 years ago from United Kingdom

      Nice job. Here in the UK, Hornby trains rule. Very similar to Lionel with some pretty cool models.


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