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A Short History of American Flyer Trains

American Flyer Trains were first manufactured by the American Flyer Manufacturing Co. in Chicago, IL. They manufactured Clock Work trains and later Wide Gauge and “O” Gauge Electric Trains. In the late 1930’s the American Flyer line was bought by The A.C. Gilbert, Co. of New Haven Connecticut, headed by A.C. Gilbert the inventor of Erector sets and many other toys. Gilbert had already begun the manufacture of an HO line of trains. At the end of World War 2, Gilbert resumed train and toy production, but introduced a new gauge, “S” Gauge. Scaled to 3/16″ to the foot and running on two rail track.

The A.C. Gilbert, Co., acquired by The Wrather, Corp., in the early 60’s, was closed in 1966. The American Flyer name, along with all the tools and dies, were sold to the Lionel Corp.

Gilbert also made the famous ERECTOR sets and many other toys. They made science sets, chemistry, physics and microscope sets. Some of the first items Gilbert made were their Mysto Magic Sets. Gilbert Polar Cub small electrical appliances were years ahead of their time. Many of these items are pictured in our Photo Galleries.

There was also a vast amount of literature produced by the company, this included books, instruction manuals, catalogs and magazine ads.

The book, “The Man Who Lives in Paradise”, is A.C. Gilberts’ autobiography.

American Flyer “S” Trains boasted Two Rail Track, 3/16 inch scale and Pull-Mor Power , all aimed at it’s biggest rival and competitor, Lionel.

That rivalry, that began even before “S” Gauge was introduced, lasts to this day among collectors.

Today American Flyer is produced by Lionel. Other manufactures, including RFG, produce parts, supplies, reproductions and other items, that can be used with American Flyer. Engines, cars and other rolling stock are produced by companies like American Models. Recently MTH has begun reproducing several American Flyer accessories. While American Flyer Trains were only toys in the 1940-1960’s, today they are regarded as collectibles. Many model railroaders, model in “S” Scale, which has it’s foundations in American Flyer.

The A.C. Gilbert Co. maintained factories in New Haven and Branford Connecticut along with their famed Gilbert Hall of Science, in New York City. Other cites such as Chicago and Washington, D.C., also had Halls of Science.

The New York Hall of Science, pictured here, had a massive train layout on the main floor along with displays of Erector and Science toys. On the second floor was another train layout not open to the public, it was reserved for salesmen, buyers and selected guests. Work shops and offices occupied the remaining floors. All the Halls of Science had been closed by 1966.

Gilbert in its hay day was one of the largest, best known and respected toy makers. It was also the largest manufacturer of fractional horsepower motors, holding the patent for enameled wire.

In 2003, a TV movie, “The Man Who Saved Christmas”, was loosely based on the life of A.C. Gilbert, his development of Erector sets and his work to continue making toys during World War I.

While the American Flyer line of trains was never as extensive as that of Lionel, American Flyer always offered realism and some interesting accessories. Many of those accessories are in high demand today, and are used by Lionel operators as well. Recently, Lionel has begun reintroducing several of those accessories.

Gilbert also produced many other toys, science sets, Polar Cub appliances, Puzzle Sets, Mysto Magic Sets, Chemistry Sets, Physics Sets, James Bond Sets, My Favorite Martian and many others.

As one of the premier toy manufacturers, with their most famous toy set, Erector, Gilbert was known around the world.

Disclaimer: Guides are submitted by readers and the views expressed belong solely to the author.

rfgco on Email
Owner and operator of The RF Giardina, Co., Inc. (RFGCO.com) since 1969.
Manufacturer of parts and supplies for American Flyer Trains and all other Toy Trains and Model Railroading. Selling mail order since 1969 and online since 1996.

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