When you think of electric trains – even if you’re not a fan – the name Lionel probably comes to mind. It is one of the oldest train manufacturing companies in the world, and they are known for their outstanding quality, true-to-life design, and huge selection of trains and sets that range from real-life railroads to fictional ones in North America. are based on lines. Harry Potter.
A common question about Lionel trains is, “Do Lionel trains run on AC or DC power?” Today, you can find the answer to that question as well as learn more about Lionel’s history, their popularity over the years, the electric train options they offer and more.
The Lionel Company was founded by a man named Joshua Lionel Cowen, who was born in 1877, even before the first electric light bulb was introduced. Cowen grew up in an exciting time, when the railroads that would facilitate the Industrial Revolution were being built from coast to coast. Virtually every child during this time was fascinated by passenger rail lines such as the peerless Twentieth Century Limited, and they all dreamed of the chance to ride through the beautiful countryside themselves.
Cowan founded the Lionel Company in 1900 and by then was known for several successful inventions. One of his first patents, in fact, was a small device that ignited the flash powder in primitive cameras, changing photography for the better. Later, he used another variation of this invention to detonate mines with the US Navy.
His first toy train, the Electric Express, was one of his favorite creations, so it’s not surprising that much of his attention and money went into developing it further. He built it for a toy store owner where he saw his first wooden toy train on display in the window. Later, the battery used to power the Electric Express was changed to a 100-volt electric transformer, and it was included in all 12 Electric Express models eventually sold.
History of Electricity in Lionel Trains
The first Lionel train, the Electric Express, was battery powered. However, shortly after the first Electric Express hit the market, Lionel began adding a 100-volt AC/DC transformer to the model and all subsequent offerings. While today’s Lionel trains use a relatively inexpensive DC motor, the trains contain electronics designed to convert AC power to DC. Must be used. Only Modern AC transformers in today’s Lionel trains.
In the 20th century, most homes had only alternating current, or AC, but there were parts of the country that ran primarily on direct current, or DC. At the time the first electric trains were developed, there were still many homes with no electricity at all, and parents connected their children’s train sets to car batteries. (This is not recommended today, but it was very smart for the time.)
By the 1970s and 80s, things had changed a lot. Most homes used to run on AC power, as they do today, and thanks to new technologies, smaller, cheaper DC motors hit the market. This resulted in a huge influx of electric toys, which gradually eclipsed electric trains. To stay relevant, the Lionel Company began to include these affordable DC motors and power packs in some of its offerings directed at what we today call “big box stores” – such as K-Mart. Places Unfortunately, those trains were not at all compatible with their top-of-the-line AC offerings, leading to confusion among enthusiasts who wanted to mix and match their sets. Thus, Lionel discontinued its low-cost offering in the 1980s and stuck to its high-end merchandise.
Eventually, the technology improved to the point that Lionel could go back to using cheap DC motors thanks to electronics that safely converted AC to DC, and it remains so to this day. There are many enthusiasts who claim to run their trains on DC power, and while this may be possible, there are significant risks involved. Thus, you should only use Lionel AC transformers on their latest products.
The Rise and Fall of Lionel Between 1900-1960
Lionel trains were huge from their invention until the late 1920s, but the Great Depression caused Lionel some heartbreak as he did a lot of business in those days. In fact, in 1931, Lionel experienced his first year in red, and things got tougher for him from there. By 1934, he found himself in court doing everything he could to stave off bankruptcy. Fortunately, they succeeded, as the company was profitable again the following year – and every year since! One of the most famous collector trains ever invented, the No. 700E New York Central Hudson, was released that same year, and had picture-perfect details that appealed to adults more than children.
The 1940s introduced a new set of challenges for the popular electric train manufacturer. Although they made some financial gains due to defense production, toy train production was halted during WWII where they were most needed. Lionel’s Model Builder Magazine became the pride and joy of every hobbyist, so even though they couldn’t buy new train models at the time, families would use the magazine to dream up new configurations.
Production soon picked up again, and in 1946, Lionel unveiled new products the world had never seen before, including engines that belched real smoke, a remote-controlled coupling system, And a life-size water tower that came with it. America’s love affair with moving locomotive trains was rekindled, and Lionel’s product offerings – many of which were modeled after actual rail lines – reflected this.
The 1950s was Lionel’s true golden age. They had record profits every year and released their best-selling products of all time – some of which continue to trade for thousands of dollars in today’s modern world. In 1959, though, Cowan and his father, Lawrence Cohen, who had owned the company since its inception, sold all of their interest in Lionel to a distant relative, Roy Cohen. During the 1960s, during America’s social revolution, Lionel lost some of its footing, so Cohen tried to diversify the company with slot cars, science kits, and phonographs. They were not well-received, and the once-loved Lionel catalogs are no longer interesting. Twentieth Century Limited last operated in 1967, and the company sold its license to cereal manufacturer General Mills in 1969.
From 1970 to present
By the time the 1970s rolled around, Lionel had little left but holdings in toy stores. General Mills bought them along with several other brands, including Kenner, Parker Brothers, and more. Fortunately, General Mills rebranded Lionel as part of their Fundimensions line, eventually launching new offerings that were just as amazing – if not better – than the original trains! The Mickey Mouse Express was a highlight of the 1970s for Lionel, and is still a collection favorite today. Collectors trade them for thousands of dollars to restore and proudly display.
The 1980s brought them another brush with disaster as General Mills outsourced production of Lionel trains to Mexico in 1982, only to bring production back to the U.S. just two years later due to the sheer loss of profits. Came. He also brought out No. 783 that year, a recreation of his most beloved steam locomotive of all time – No. 773 Hudson. The following year, Lionel became part of Kenner-Parker, and in 1986, the company was bought by Richard Kagan, who bought the brand and re-established it as a clear winner. They added realistic sounds to its offerings in 1989, and since then, they have been an essential part of the collection for decades.
Sold by Richard Kagan. Lionel in 1995, and its first full-color catalog in decades was sent to the public in 1996. To commemorate the 21st century, the company introduced the 700 E J-1E Hudson, complete with 24-karat gold and platinum plating. Their Legacy® and Vision lines were introduced in 2008 and 2009, and gained the attention of avid adult collectors.
Today, Lionel Trains is a household name among avid collectors of all ages, and fathers lovingly pass on their collections – some of which take up entire rooms and include lovingly hand-painted scenes – To your children. Lionel hopes to continue providing the world’s most popular electric trains for many years to come. With more than 120 years of providing quality products, collectors insist that their trains are not toys. They are incredibly realistic replicas of some of America’s most beloved rail lines, and their memories will live on forever.