A Historical Timeline of Model Train Kits

Less than a half a century after the invention of the first steam-powered locomotive, model train sets were well on their way to becoming one of the world’s most popular hobbies. Model railroad trains started as a toy that only wealthy families could enjoy, but rapidly evolved to be more affordable as technology improved.

scale model of a locomotive steam train

The first mass market model train sets were invented by a German company called Marklin in 1891, and by the early 1950s model trains were the number one most popular toy for boys in the United States.


As technology advanced model train kits became more realistic. New applications of electricity improved model train engines, and the invention of plastic allowed designers to create incredibly detailed, life-like model trains. Today, a variety of different train scales exist, and it is estimated that over a half a million people in the U.S. and Canada collect model trains.


At ExactRail, we are dedicated to upholding the rich culture and heritage of the model train industry by creating fine scale replicas that are high quality and precise. Browse our selection of detailed parts and railroad kits today to see what we have to offer!

  • 1860s Toy floor trains are made of wood and metal
  • 1891 First mass market model train sets made by Marklin in Germany
  • 1896 Carlisle and Finch develop electric powered trains that run on a metal track
  • 1901 Lionel invents its first electric powered train
  • 1920s The “Golden Age” of model trains
  • 1930s HO and O scales are introduced
  • 1942-45 Production of model trains stops during WWII
  • Early 1950s Toy trains are the number one toys for boys
  • Mid 1950s Plastic replaces metal as the primary material used to make model trains
  • 1965 N scale trains introduced
  • 1968 G scale trains introduced
  • 1970s Z scale trains introduced
  • 1980s Digital control and realistic sound systems introduced
  • Today There are over ½ million model train collectors in the US & Canada


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