Wide gauge

From Academic Kids

Wide Gauge was an early model railway and toy train standard, introduced in the United States in 1906 by Lionel Corporation. As it was a toy standard, rather than a scale modeling standard, the actual scale of wide gauge locomotives and rolling stock varied. It ran on three-rail track that was 2 1/8 inches (nearly 54 mm) apart.

Lionel dubbed its new standard Standard Gauge and trademarked the name. Lionel's Standard Gauge should not be confused with Standard Gauge for real railroads, or the later 1:64 scale S gauge popularized by American Flyer after World War II. Due to the trademark, Lionel's competitors mostly called their similar offerings Wide Gauge.

Historians disagree on Lionel's reason for creating Standard Gauge, giving two stories. One story is that Lionel misread the specifications for Märklin's European Gauge 2, measuring the distance between the inside portion of the rails rather than between the centers of the rails as Märklin did, thus accidentally making a slightly larger and incompatible standard. The other story is that the change was a deliberate effort to lock out European competition by creating incompatible trains. While many believe the latter is more likely, since several U.S. companies such as Carlisle & Finch were producing trains to that standard, no definitive proof in favor of either theory has ever surfaced.

Whatever the reason for its initial creation, Lionel's Standard Gauge caught on at the expense of Gauges 1 and 2. No fewer than four American competitors adopted Lionel's gauge: Ives in 1921, Boucher in 1922, Dorfan in 1924, and American Flyer in 1925. While all the manufacturers' track was the same size and the trains and buildings approximately the same scale, the couplers for the most part remained incompatible, making it impossible to mix train cars from different manufacturers without modification.

The increased number of manufacturers seemed to give legitimacy to Lionel's gauge, and because the boom of the 1920s made large toy trains affordable, Wide Gauge had its heyday in the mid-1920s only to virtually disappear during the Great Depression. Ives filed for bankruptcy in 1928 and its offerings were off the market by 1932. American Flyer discontinued its Wide Gauge trains in 1932. Dorfan went out of business in 1934. Lionel discontinued Standard gauge trains in 1940. Boucher, the last of the Standard/Wide gauge manufacturers, folded in 1943.

O gauge, which was smaller and less expensive to manufacture, thus became the most popular scale in the United States almost by default.

However, Standard gauge managed to survive in South America. Doggenweiler, a firm in Chile, produced a small quantity trains in Standard gauge and Gauge 2 from 1933 until about 1960. Standard gauge also was revived in the United States in the 1950s by the small firm of McCoy Manufacturing, who produced trains of original design well into the 1990s. In the 1970s, Williams Electric Trains began producing and marketing reproductions of Lionel trains of the 1920s and 1930s. This line was later marketed by Lionel itself, and is now produced and marketed by MTH Electric Trains.

A number of smaller manufacturers, mostly one- and two-person operations, hand-build and market reproductions of very early Standard gauge trains.


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