A lot of those trains were the American Flyer brand. These were considered by many to be the top of the line. Lionel and Marx had good trains, however the American Flyer was in another class.
When the American Flyer first appeared in 1908, it was not the very best train set. The honor of number 1 belonged to the trains produced by Ives Manufacturing Company. William Coleman and his friend William Hafner pooled resources to start out the toy train business, in Chicago, circa 1906. Hafner had developed the clockwork mechanism for the train, and Coleman had a tooling company for the production. The American Flyer name started to be well known because Hafner was able to contract with retailers like Montgomery Ward to carry it within their stores. In 1910, the tooling company changed its name to The American Flyer Company.
Eventually, Coleman and Hafner split ways over a disagreement, and the Flyer begun to decline in market share. Coleman died in 1918, and his son, William O. Jr., took control. The value of the business further decreased following the senior’s death. Whitney Port W. O. didn’t really care much for the toy train business.
In 1938, Coleman basically gave The American Flyer Company to his friend Alfred Carlton Gilbert. When A.C. took over, the Flyer started to gain momentum, probably due in part to Gilbert’s expertise in advertising. The business was moved from Chicago to New Haven, Connecticut, where in fact the trains were produced that collectors still seek today.
The 2nd World War curtailed production for the Flyer along with other toy makers, nonetheless it 1946 they were underway again. For twenty years the American Flyer tried in vain to top Lionel for the marketplace, eventually bankrupting in 1967. Almost all of the models open to collectors were from the years after the war.
American Flyers are called S gauge, derived from sixty-forth, the ratio of the train to the full size prototype. This is simply not the most used size for model trains. Small HO scale is the hottest worldwide, however the S gauge still has a following. One American company began because of the inability of the owner to find quality parts for his personal American Flyer. American Models is producing its own rolling stock, tracks, and engines to help preserve the Flyers which are still in operation.
Lionel collectors may say that the Flyer is second rate, but also for every one of them there seems to be another who feels the opposite. The great thing is that there still are lots of the old American model trains running the rails today. What would you like for Christmas?