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

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Mantua Midjet Motor

I have recently been reading through The Modelmaker from Volume 1 Number 1 (1924). One item that caught my eye a couple days ago was the original advertisement for the Mantua “Midjet Motor.” Partially it stood out just because it was for something different than I had seen much of to that point (the big advertisers in The Modelmaker early on were lathe manufacturers) but it also looked very much like the motor in this early model by Temple Nieter (which in part one of the same article he states is Mantua). Doing a quick Google search I found an article on in the site on Mantua, which is an upgraded version of an article by Russ Larson that appeared in the November, 1984 issue of Model Railroader. The whole article is worth reading but this part quoted below is especially important to us in OO.
The Mantua story began in 1926 in Mantua. (pronounced Man-chew-ah), New Jersey, Two friends, James P. Thomas and John N. Tyler, formed a partnership with the purpose of manufacturing wood and metal sailboats. John, an electrician, had recently emigrated from England. In 1927 the partners made a 3-foot model of a cabin cruiser they owned. The unique aspect of this model was the small electric motor that powered the boat. Fellow boat owners admired the electrically powered model and encouraged them to build more boats to sell. With all this encouragement, the partners decided to produce the battery-powered boat in quantity.

The model boat proved to be popular but as the orders for the boats increased finding enough good quality motors became a big problem. To solve this problem the partners decided to design their own motor. The result was a dandy - being both rugged and inexpensive to build….

John Tyler had been interested in model railroading since his boyhood in England where the hobby developed much earlier than in the US. Mantua's motor development soon led to a motor small enough for use in 00 scale locomotives. John was aware of the growing interest in 00 and HO scales in England and the US so he placed a small ad for his motor, dubbed the "Midget Motor," in the March 1930 issue of The Modelmaker magazine. The number of orders received was a pleasant surprise so they continued to run the ad.

The Midget motor measured only 1 1/2 x 1 1/4 x 1 5/16 inches. Soon a second small motor was added to the line. - The Midget Senior. It was more powerful and only 1/4 inch longer. In a June 1931 article on building a OO scale locomotive appeared in The Modelmaker magazine. In the article, F. D. Grimke wrote, "The only motor worth considering is the one manufactured by Mantua Toy Co. Either the Midget or Midget Senior can be used."

In 1932, a friend from England showed John Tyler a British-made HO locomotive. He informed John that British model railroaders were going crazy over these small-scale model trains. However, there was a problem. The current motors were only powerful enough to haul short trains. This must have started John thinking as he immediately began experimenting with a motor for HO scale engines. It would be some time before an actual product was announced

Sales of Midget motors to the OO scale model railroad market continued to grow and Tyler and Thomas directed more effort towards products for this market. In 1933, Increased business prompted a move from the town of Mantua to a new, small shop the partners built in Woodbury Heights. By 1935, when Mantua's first ad appeared in Model Railroader, they had an additional line new line of motors for 0, and larger scale locomotives called "Right of Way."
The article also notes that the Mantua Midjet [the correct spelling!] Motor was “the universal type with a field winding that could be operated from either AC or DC.”

This motor clearly was the right motor at the right time to spur the development of American OO as basically it was the size that you could put it inside the superstructure of a 4mm scale American prototype locomotive but too large to power a 3.5mm scale American prototype locomotive. The available motor dictated the scale and gauge. Only later, when smaller motors come on the market, did 3.5mm (HO) scale models become practical.

Just because it fit did not mean it worked well for OO—those early models were quite heavy and I believe would have stressed this early motor design. I quote Red Adams on his struggles a couple years later in this article; he says that he did not find a really good OO motor until 1937.

Note also the mention and quote in the Larson article of F. D. Grimke. He has been called the father of American OO, and he figures very prominently in the pages of The Modelmaker right from Volume I Number I. The quote is from an article in a very interesting series on OO in 1931 on page 109 and was actually shortened in editing. The full quote is
The only motor worth considering, and one that can be easily adaptable, is the one manufactured by the Mantua Toy Co. The Senior or Midget can be used. For this type of locomotive [a NYC Hudson] the Senior motor is recommended. It will not be worth the trouble to adapt the motors of foreign manufacture.
I plan to come back to Grimke and his 1931 series on OO in a follow-up post soon.

UPDATE: I got to it right away. The first post is here.

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