Hafner Manufacturing Company

From Academic Kids

The Hafner Manufacturing Company was a maker of clockwork-powered O gauge toy trains, based in Chicago, Illinois, from 1914 to 1951. It was formed when its founder, William Frederick Hafner, left American Flyer to create his own company.

The reasons for Hafner departing American Flyer, a company he helped found, are lost to history. In the book Greenberg's Guide to American Flyer Prewar O Gauge, author Alan R. Schuweiler cites three possibilities: Hafner may not have known what position he held in the company, he may have sought a larger share of the company, and he may have been passed over in favor of his co-founder's son, William Ogden Coleman, Jr.

While Hafner was able to quickly gain distribution from catalog retailer G. Sommers & Co., it never received the widespread distribution of the so-called "Big Four" of American Flyer, Lionel, Dorfan, and Ives.

The early Hafner trains bore the Overland Flyer brand and closely resembled competing offerings from American Flyer. As late as 1917 a car appeared in American Flyer's product line that closely resembled a Hafner design. This suggests the two companies worked together in their early days, or that one or both companies copied designs from the other. Since American Flyer was known to have purchased rolling stock from German competitor Bing, it is possible that American Flyer also purchased from Hafner, or vice versa.

William Hafner's son John Hafner took over the company in 1944, running it until 1951, when he sold the company to All Metal Products Company. After 1956, the Hafner tooling became property of Louis Marx and Company, who used some of it for products for sale outside of the United States. Many Marx collectors believe Louis Marx's primary motivation for the purchase was to eliminate a competitor from the marketplace.

The clockwork locomotives and colorful lithographed tinplate rolling stock placed Hafner at the low end of the market. Unlike most of its competitors, Hafner never created an electric train. Any Hafner electric trains that exist today were retrofitted with a motor from another manufacturer. Electrifying Hafner locomotives by outfitting them with surplus Marx electric motors is a somewhat common practice.

Both Hafner and Marx were known to use "recycled" lithography, a cost-saving practice where the tinplate from defective print runs was flipped over and printed on the blank side and used. The result of this is hidden graphics on the interior of cars and accessories. In addition to re-using its own defective sheets, Hafner would sometimes buy defective sheets from other companies as scrap and use it. Some Hafner collectors specialize in collecting these variations.

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