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December 2002 - Nr. 12


The Editor
Winter Air
Elizabeth Kuehn
Hier O.K. Berlin!
K-W and Beyond
Art Transcends...
Herwig Wandschneider
Never Forgotten
Dick reports...
Sybille reports
Ham Se det jehört?
Cultural Landsmarks...
To the Comic Book
Christkind Eröffnet...
Märklin's Model Trains
Familienfest Weihnachten
Not Just Fun
Begehbares Bild
Renewable Energy
Karneval Eröffnung
Airship Inventor
Loriot Begeistert
Peter Ustinov

Märklin, Maker of the First Model Trains

    TWIG - Driving a locomotive is a dream some kids never get over. And they hardly have to, thanks to the model railroad, a holiday icon developed by a German family in the 19th century. In 1859, Wilhelm Theodor Friedrich Märklin and his wife Caroline launched a firm manufacturing miniature kitchen appliances for young homemakers and their dolls. Thirty-two years later the Märklin company took tinyness a giant step forward by producing the first operable railroad systems on a Lilliputian scale.

Born in 1817 in Balingen (Baden-Württemberg), Wilhelm Märklin began his career as a bottle manufacturer, entering the toy business after marrying at 38. His company flourished until his sudden death in 1866. Caroline picked up the pieces with help from her sons Eugen and Karl, and in 1888 passed the enterprise on to them.

Just three years later came the company’s turning point: a wind-up railroad set presented at the Leipzig Easter fair. Other toy trains existed at the time, but this one was different. The figure-eight-shaped track could be altered and expanded. This subtle innovation allowed train set owners to create their own landscapes. It was the beginning of the intricate, ever-expanding world of the model train.

Still, some tinkering had to be done before the railroad ran smoothly. The wind-up model, for example, could only make a few trips around the track before its engine sputtered out and had to be rewound. The next step was a steam engine that ran on alcohol, which literally became too hot to handle after just a few rounds. In 1895, the company produced its first electric train, which also had its drawbacks: even the firm’s hometown, Göppingen, didn’t get its own electric works for another five years.

The trains were a big hit anyway. By 1909, Märklin was producing 90 different models of locomotive, all based on life-size engines. Another big step came in 1935: the company began making railroads on the so-called HO scale - small enough to fit on a tabletop. Setting up the model train had once been an activity reserved for Christmastime, when indulgent parents let their kids take up the living room floor. But with the even tinier scale, the set could be operated year-round. HO model railroads are still the most popular, but in 1972 Märklin came out with an even smaller set. At a scale of 1:220, the "mini club train" is the world’s smallest functioning toy train. Model railroads went digital in the 1980s. By 1984, hobbyists could - in theory, at least - steer 80 locomotives and 256 switches and signals at the same time.

Last year Märklin produced its largest HO engine ever, a replica of the Union Pacific steam locomotive "Big Boy" that is about 19 inches long and weighs about four pounds. A starter pack sold in the U.S. includes Big Boy, along with seven cars, and "War Bonnet," a Santa Fe Railway engine, with three cars.


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