The online magazine on the history and operation of vintage scale model trains in American OO gauge

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Lionel and the Scale Market

Over the holidays I have been looking at a few back issues and was reading an article on Lionel for 1955 in the January, 1989 issue of The Train Collectors Quarterly. The focus is on their advertising but in the section of conclusions the author Max Knoecklein presents an interesting theory about why Lionel was not able to adjust to a more scale oriented market after the war. The theory involves their experience with scale trains in the pre-war period, which would include of course the OO gauge line. He noted
By the mid 1950’s … prepackaged “H0 train sets” accounted for 50% of the “ready-to-run” train sales at hobby shops and threatened to take even more. A contemporary market survey revealed buyers to be favoring “H0” because it appeared to be more realistic, and appealed to their concepts of “crafts” and “modeling”. Tinplate, on the other hand, seemed toy-like to these shoppers, and was therefore no longer acceptable. At Lionel the reaction to such talk went something like this: “Our business is toy trains, and there will always be a market for them. We became involved with scale models before the war, and nearly lost our shirt in that venture. We have no intention of making that mistake a second time!” Sound familiar? In 1955 the idea of far-reaching changes to satisfy a real or imagined quest for realism was unthinkable.
It is hard to imagine that Lionel made much money on the OO line (more on the launch of the line here), and they obviously dropped it after the war.

My brother has a small collection of pre-war Lionel O gauge and it always blows my mind a bit when I visit him to see what they were making right before the scale line was introduced. The post-war O gauge line is more scale in character but not as cutting edge as the scale line was before the war. It is interesting to ponder what they could have done if they had a better handle on where the market was heading and angled the OO line toward the market that HO train sets were cornering.

1 comment:

Phil said...

Good post John, I have often wondered what it would be like if they had gone to two rail in their O gauge line after WWII. They could have done it. AF did. Then we would not have to deal with all the three rail today.