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Encyclopedia > American Flyer
This American Flyer S gauge 4-4-2 steam locomotive and tender dates from 1960
This American Flyer S gauge 4-4-2 steam locomotive and tender dates from 1960

American Flyer was a popular brand of toy train and model railroad in the United States in the middle part of the 20th century. American Flyer locomotive from 1960. ... American Flyer locomotive from 1960. ... A toy train is a toy which represents a train, distinguished from a model train by an emphasis on low cost and durability, rather than scale modeling. ... This article needs cleanup. ...

Contents


The Chicago Era, 1907-1938

Although best remembered for the S gauge trains of the 1950s that it made as a division of the A. C. Gilbert Company, American Flyer was initially an independent company whose origins date back nearly a half century earlier. Chicago, Illinois-based toymaker William Frederick Hafner developed a clockwork motor for toy cars in 1901 while working for a company called Toy Auto Company. According to the recollections of William Hafner's son, John, he had developed a clockwork train running on O gauge track by 1905. S gauge is a scale in model railroading. ... // Events and trends This map shows two essential global spheres during the Cold War in 1959. ... The A. C. Gilbert Company was an American toy company, once one of the largest toy companies in the world. ... Chicago, Illinois is the current Good Article Collaboration of the week! Please help take it from Good to Featured article status. ... Gear with escapment mechanism In mechanical engineering, a clockwork is either a lightweight mechanical linkage, especially one involving multiple axles, or a complete mechanical device whose functioning relies on internal clockwork (in the preceding sense), especially where muscular effort is the sole source of operating power. ... 1901 (MCMI) was a common year starting on Tuesday (see link for calendar) of the Gregorian calendar (or a common year starting on Wednesday of the 13-day-slower Julian calendar). ... O scale (or O gauge) is a scale commonly used for toy trains and model railroading. ... 1905 (MCMV) was a common year starting on Sunday (see link for calendar). ...


Hafner's friend, William Ogden Coleman, gained control of the Edmonds-Metzel Hardware Company, a struggling hardware manufacturer in Chicago, in 1906 or 1907. Hafner and Coleman began producing toy trains using Edmonds-Metzel's excess manufacturing capability after Hafner was able to secure $15,000 worth of orders. By 1907, two American retailers, G. Sommers & Co. and Montgomery Ward, were selling Edmonds-Metzel trains. In 1908, Edmonds-Metzel adopted the American Flyer brand name for the trains, and by 1910, Edmonds-Metzel was out of the hardware business and changed its name to American Flyer Manufacturing Company. 1906 (MCMVI) was a common year starting on Monday (see link for calendar). ... 1907 (MCMVII) was a common year starting on Tuesday (see link for calendar) of the Gregorian calendar (or a common year starting on Wednesday of the 13-day-slower Julian calendar). ... G. Sommers & Co. ... Montgomery Ward (later known as Wards) was an American department store chain, founded as the worlds first mail order business in 1872 by Aaron Montgomery Ward. ... 1908 (MCMVIII) was a leap year starting on Wednesday (link will take you to calendar). ... -1...


Initially American Flyer -- aka "Chicago Flyer" -- was something of a budget brand, undercutting the prices of Ives, which was at the time the market leader. The trains proved popular, and American Flyer was soon expanding its product line. However, the company's rapid growth led to strains in the relationship between Hafner and Coleman. The Ives Manufacturing Company, an American toy manufacturer from 1868 to 1932, was the largest manufacturer of toy trains in the United States from 1910 until 1924, when Lionel Corporation overtook it in sales. ...


In 1913, Hafner left the company. Believing he would be given a significant portion of the company if the trains proved successful, Coleman refused when Hafner asked to exercise this option. Hafner started the Hafner Manufacturing Company, which sold a line of trains called Overland Flyer. Sommers immediately stopped carrying the American Flyer trains in favor of Hafner's brand. Initially, the Hafner and American Flyer product lines were very similar, suggesting they may have been built using the same tooling. This suggests the possibility of the two companies continuing to collaborate. Hafner's business surivived as a manufacturer of clockwork trains until 1951, when he sold his business to All Metal Products Company. 1913 (MCMXIII) was a common year starting on Wednesday. ... The Hafner Manufacturing Company was a maker of clockwork-powered O gauge toy trains, based in Chicago, Illinois, from 1914 to 1951. ... 1951 (MCMLI) was a common year starting on Monday; see its calendar. ... All Metal Products Company was an American toy company founded in 1920 and based in Wyandotte, Michigan for most of its history. ...


American Flyer's business grew during World War I, which locked out German manufacturers, which had dominated the U.S. toy train market to that point. During this time, American Flyer also introduced bicycle and motorcycle toys, segmented its market by creating both a low-priced and a high-priced line, and began to depart from its earlier designs by William Hafner. Combatants Allies: Serbia, Russia, France, Romania, Belgium, British Empire, United States, Italy, and others Central Powers: Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Ottoman Empire Casualties Military dead:5 million Civilian dead:3 million Total dead:8 million Military dead:4 million Civilian dead:3 million Total dead:7 million The First World... This racing bicycle is built using lightweight, shaped aluminium tubing and carbon fiber stays and forks. ... Imme R 100,Germany, 1948/1949 Contemporary racing motorcycle A 125 cc motorcycle, the Italian-manufactured Cagiva Planet. ...


In 1918, American Flyer introduced its first electric train, an O gauge model that was simply a windup model with an electric motor in place of the clockwork motor. This was a common practice at the time. The same year, William Coleman died and his son, William Ogden Coleman, Jr., took over the company. 1918 (MCMXVIII) was a common year starting on Tuesday of the Gregorian calendar (see link for calendar) or a common year starting on Wednesday of the Julian calendar. ...


In 1925, American Flyer began offering Wide gauge electric trains at a premium price, attempting to compete with Lionel Corporation at the high end of the market. Like most of its competition, American Flyer did well in the 1920s, selling more than half a million trains in its best years, but suffered in the Great Depression, during which the company's focus shifted back to the more economical O gauge trains. 1925 (MCMXXV) was a common year starting on Thursday (link will take you to calendar). ... Wide Gauge was an early model railway and toy train standard, introduced in the United States in 1906 by Lionel Corporation. ... Lionel Corporation was an American toy manufacturer, specializing in toy trains and model railroads. ... The 1920s were a decade sometimes referred to as the Jazz Age or the Roaring Twenties, usually applied to America. ... Dorothea Langes Migrant Mother depicts destitute pea pickers in California, centering on Florence Owens Thompson, a mother of seven children, age 32, in Nipomo, California, March 1936. ...


In 1928, American Flyer's competitor Ives went bankrupt. American Flyer and Lionel jointly purchased and operated Ives until 1930, when American Flyer sold its share to Lionel. During this time of joint operation, American Flyer supplied Ives with car bodies and other parts. 1928 (MCMXXVIII) was a leap year starting on Sunday (link will take you to calendar). ... 1930 (MCMXXX) is a common year starting on Wednesday. ...


During the early 1930s, American Flyer struggled under increased competition, especially at the low end of the market. In 1931, Flyer announced it would not produce an electric train set to sell for less than $4 like its competition had. However, within three months, it relented and released a train without transformer that sold for $3.95, and in 1932, it released a set with transformer that retailed for $3.50. Sales increased, but the company was not profitable. Expansion into other toy arenas also failed. 1931 (MCMXXXI) was a common year starting on Thursday (link is to a full 1931 calendar). ... 1932 (MCMXXXII) was a leap year starting on Friday (the link will take you to a full 1932 calendar). ...


A. C. Gilbert Company, 1938-1966

In 1938, W.O. Coleman sold American (Chicago) Flyer to Alfred Carlton Gilbert, a former Olympic pole vaulter who first made a name for himself in the toy industry earlier in the century when he created and manufactured Mysto Magic sets for youthful magicians. A few years later, his A. C. Gilbert Company also became the makers of Erector Set construction toys. The two toy magnates were just finishing shooting on Gilbert's game reserve in New Haven when Gilbert casually mentioned he was thinking about manufacturing toy trains. Instead, Coleman said he'd give his struggling American Flyer Co. to Gilbert in return for a share of the profits. Gilbert quickly agreed. 1938 (MCMXXXVIII) was a common year starting on Saturday (link will take you to calendar). ... The A. C. Gilbert Company was an American toy company, once one of the largest toy companies in the world. ... Erector Set is the trade name of a construction toy that was wildly popular in the United States during much of the 20th century. ...


Gilbert soon moved the company from Chicago to New Haven, Connecticut, and re-designed the product line. He pioneereed the 3/16" to one foot (S-scale) variant of O gauge in 1939, in which the locomotive and car bodies are scaled to 1:64 scale, making them approximately 25% smaller than the standard 1:48 for O gauge while still running on the same type of three-rail track. This allowed the S-scale trains to navigate tighter 27-inch curves that would cause a conventional O gauge train to derail or jump the track. While this resulted in curves that were much tighter than those that appear in the real world and O27 gauge train cars that appeared "stubby" in length, it allowed more track in a smaller space. Official language(s) English Capital Hartford Largest city Bridgeport Area  - Total   - Width   - Length    - % water  - Latitude  - Longitude Ranked 48th 5,549 sq mi  14,371 km² 70 miles  113 km 110 miles  177 km 12. ... 1939 (MCMXXXIX) was a common year starting on Sunday (link will take you to calendar). ...


By 1941, Gilbert had discontinued the earlier designs and advertised his new American Flyer products as "Every train 3/16" scale from front end to rear end." Some boxes were labeled "3/16 scale" and others labeled "Tru-Scale." As most prior trains from American Flyer and other manufacturers paid little attention to scale (proportional size mirroring the prototype), this new wrinkle made Gilbert American Flyer distinctive, as his cars at 1:64 were much closer to the prototypes on real railroads than the comparatively stubby 1:48 scale rolling stock that ran on O27 track. For the movie, see 1941 (film) 1941 (MCMXLI) was a common year starting on Wednesday (the link is to a full 1941 calendar). ...


At the same time, Gilbert also released a line of HO scale trains. HO scale (H0 scale in continental Europe) is the most popular scale of model railway in most of the world outside the United Kingdom, where the slightly larger in scale OO scale is most common. ...


In 1946, after World War II, Gilbert discontinued manufacturing three-rail O gauge trains entirely in favor of the slightly (25%) smaller and more realistic S gauge and in the process eliminated the most unrealistic aspect of toy trains -- the center rail. His 3/16" American Flyer used two-rail track sized closer to 1:64 scale, or about seven-eighths inches between rails. Combatants Allies: Poland, British Commonwealth, France/Free France, Soviet Union, United States, China, and others Axis Powers: Germany, Italy, Japan, and others Casualties Military dead: 17 million Civilian dead: 33 million Total dead: 50 million Military dead: 8 million Civilian dead: 4 million Total dead: 12 million World War II... S gauge is a scale in model railroading. ...


In order to further differentiate his product line from that of Lionel, Gilbert employed a bullet-shaped (link) coupler, but within a few years (1952), a newer, more realistic knuckle coupler design appeared. Flyer played up its improved realism and attention to details, with two-rail track and prototypical couplers, with Gilbert himself saying the design was inspired by his son's dissatisfaction with other toy trains available on the market. "Kids want realism," he said. His trains, which were closely proportioned to their prototypes, also had more detail elements than most O gauge competitors.


Although popular, American Flyer was always the No.2 brand to Lionel in terms of market share at the high end of the market. With Marx and a handful of other brands relegated to the low end of the market, Lionel and American Flyer shared premium status. A rivalry emerged between both companies' fans that continues today.


Like Lionel, Gilbert was caught off guard by the popularity of HO scale trains that offered better realism at a lower price than its American Flyer S gauge products. But the true reason for the demise of the toy train industry was the changing interests of American youth. A new technology called television was taking the place of many traditional hobbies, and the toy market was subject to the success of unpredictable overnight fads like the Hula-Hoop and yo-yo. Kids were also eschewing their Lionel and American Flyer trains in favor of remote-control slot car racing sets.


Finally, the national phenomena of the discount store craze was ravaging toy train companies' traditional distrubution network -- mom-and-pop hobby shops -- and sending them into financial oblivion. The discount stores demanded train sets at a low wholesale price and refused to offer the personal attention and repair services of the hobby shop. In order to get product on the shelves of discounters, toy train manufacturers cheapened their lines to get the price point down on sets -- which exacerbated the downward economic spiral. Longtime train collectors and hobbyists were offended at this newer production, dismissing the new products as "cheap junk," an accurate description.


These problems were compounded by the death of its founder, A.C. Gilbert in 1961. With the popularity of toy trains and construction toys declining, and without another successful product line to buoy the company's finances, Gilbert found itself in serious financial trouble. Finally, a majority of the company was sold by the family to a holding company, the Wrather Group, in 1962 with A.C. Gilbert, Jr., acting as CEO. Within a few months, though, A.C. Jr., died. The company continued to manufacture trains of limited appeal, thanks to the questionable quality. 1961 (MCMLXI) was a common year starting on Sunday (the link is to a full 1961 calendar). ... 1962 (MCMLXII) was a common year starting on Monday (the link is to a full 1962 calendar). ...


Under the new ownership, the A.C. Gilbert Co. continued to struggle, although the new owners took a more aggressive approach to advertising and marketing than when the firm was headed by the more conservative A.C. Gilbert. It manufactured a wide variety of poorly-designed and poorly-conceived toys (dolls, racing sets, games) that sold slowly, if at all, and was nearly overwhelmed by store returns of defective merchandise. Gilbert took an especially-hard hit when a majority of a poorly-designed and manufacturered James Bond 007 slot car racing set flooded back as returns after component failures. In addition, the company delivered many of its toy line products to discounters with a "100% sale guarantee." When the merchandise didn't sell through, it ended up back in Gilbert's warehouses. The company discontinued the American Flyer train line in 1966 and finally declared bankruptcy in 1967. 1966 (MCMLXVI) was a common year starting on Saturday (the link is to a full 1966 calendar). ... 1967 (MCMLXVII) was a common year starting on Sunday of the Gregorian calendar (the link is to a full 1967 calendar). ...


Lionel, 1979-present

In May 1967, Lionel Corporation announced it had purchased the American Flyer name and tooling even though it was teetering on the brink of financial failure itself. A May 29, 1967 story in The Wall Street Journal made light of the deal, stating, "Two of the best-known railroads in the nation are merging and the Interstate Commerce Commission couldn't care less." Former Lionel treasurer Robert A. Stein said Lionel did not initiate the deal; both companies had farmed out their accounts receivable departments to Arthur Heller & Co., who initiated the transaction. While various accounts published over the years valued the deal at $150,000, Stein's recollection was that Lionel simply liquidated $300,000-$400,000 worth of American Flyer inventory for Heller in exchange for the tooling, which, by some accounts, sat unused and neglected in a parking lot for some period of time. Lionel Corporation never manufactured American Flyer trains. May 29 is the 149th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar (150th in leap years). ...


Within two years, Lionel Corp. was bankrupt itself and had sold its train lines to General Mills, including the unused American Flyer tooling. In 1979, General Mills' Lionel division started to reissue Flyer products under that name employing a mix of previously unused railroad heralds and traditional Gilbert American Flyer designs. General Mills NYSE: GIS is a Fortune 500 corporation, mainly concerned with food products, which is headquartered in Golden Valley, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis. ... This page refers to the year 1979. ...


In 1984, General Mills sold the Lionel Co. to Kenner, a toy manufacturer. One year later, the company was sold to Richard Kughn, a Detroit toy train collector who made his fortune selling and developing real estate. For over a decade, Dick Kughn moved both the Lionel and American Flyer brands forward, getting a shot of momentum from a resurgence in the toy train hobby in the early 1990s. In 1996, Kughn sold a majority interest to Wellspring Partners LLD, a Chicago-based national turnaround firm headed by Martin Davis. Kughn retained a small percentage, and rock star Neil Young, another toy train buff, also became a minor investor. Young's contributions include designing a sound system for trains (TrainSounds) in 1992, as well as the TrainMaster Command Control (TMCC), a unique radio control system. The new company is known as Lionel, LLC. 1992 (MCMXCII) was a leap year starting on Wednesday. ...


The American Flyer brand name survives today under the guidance of Lionel, LLC, although Lionel's advertising and marketing emphasis seems to remain locked on promoting its own O and O27 gauge product lines. True American Flyer afficionados claim this narrow focus is a conflict of interest and prevents the growth of S Gauge among new train operators. Most of the American Flyer-branded product sold by Lionel, LLC today is reissues of 1950s designs utilizing refurbished old Gilbert tooling, decorated in traditional road names and paint schemes used by Gilbert, as well as an influx of some of today's modern railroad heralds. One complaint by longtime American Flyer devotees is that Lionel isn't creating Flyer products that appeal to the toy train masses -- rather, focusing instead on a small market of Flyer collectors. Lionel, LLC is a designer and importer of toy trains and model railroads, based in Chesterfield Township, Michigan and currently in bankruptcy. ...


However, there are winds of change on the horizon. In late 2004, Lionel finally debuted a new steam locomotive -- a highly-detailed, 2-8-2 Mikado. Utilizing all new tooling and issued under the American Flyer name, the Mike is the first original American Flyer steam locomotive design since the late 1950s. Complete with TMCC (Lionel's proprietary wireless remote control technology) and a superb sound chip/system, the Mikados proved to be a hot seller and their success may lead to future similar issues. In 2006, Lionel began delivering an updated remake of its largest steam locomotive, the famous 4-8-4 Northern; the new version has digital sounds.


Sources

  • Osterhoff, Robert J (May 1999). "When the lights went out at Lionel." Classic Toy Trains, p. 76.
  • Otten, Waldo (December 2002). "American Flyer -- no silly third rail" S Gauge Online.

  Results from FactBites:
 
AMERICAN FLYER BOOKS (691 words)
Covers American Flyer and other S gauge manufacturers from the postwar period to present.
Written by the leading American Flyer authority in the U.S., this guide examines the post war S Gauge era, including engines, rolling stock, sets, accessories, period ads, and Lionel-built Flyers.
American Flyer: Classic Toy Trains (Hardcover) By Gerry Souter (Author), Janet Souter (Author), Bill Milne (Photographer) This book gives you the complete story of American Flyer trains and competition in the toy train industry.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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