The History Of Lionel Trains

Joshua Lionel Cowen

After years and years of hearing my mom talk about the Lionel Trains she loved so much as a kid, I became curious as to why they meant so much to her.  I started to investigate the history behind the trains. I learned that Joshua Lionel Cowen was the inventor of Lionel Trains. Lionel Trains were invented  by Joshua Lionel Cowen in 1901.  He was born in New York, New York on August 25, 1877.  He was one of nine children.  Joshua attended Peter Cooper Institute High School.  He did very good in High School but after High School, Joshua would enroll in and drop out of college three times.  Joshua was always a curious child with a mechanical mind. The story goes that he smashed one of his sisters dolls heads open the figure out how the mechanical eyes worked.

Joshua Cowens first invention was a train he whittled out of wood at the age of seven. Unfortunately, that train exploded when he tried to attach a tiny steam engine to it to power it.  He never forgot his first invention. In 1901, he adhered a small motor to the underside of a model traincar along with a battery and the first Lionel electric train was made.

The first train set he made was for a toy store display in New York City. The intent of the store front display was to entice people to shop at the toy store. However, people would go into the toy store and ask where they could buy the train set. Thus started the production of Lionel trains.

I learned that the company did very well between 1901 and 1930 but then the Great Depression hit.  The company hit hard times. In 1931 the company was in the red for the first time. The hard times didn’t last long and the company was once again profitable in 1935.  In the early 50’s Lionel was at it’s peak, by the 60’s the company was once again trouble after the founder Joshua Lionel Cowen died in Florida at the age of 88.  In 1969, the company sold the rights to it’s Electrics trains to the cereal giant General Mills.



Welcome to my new website

Welcome to my new website. Lionel Polar Express Train Set. My name is Trevor. When I was growing up my mom used to tell me about the Lionel Trains her dad, my grandfather would set up under the Christmas Tree every year. She would tell me how excited she would get about those trains. Asking her dad everyday after Thanksgiving if i was time to set the trains up yet. Every day after school she would run home from the bus stop to ask and he would say “No, not yet.”  Every day she would rush home from school just to hear the same answer, “no, not yet.” Until one day about two weeks before Christmas her dad would ask her if she would help him get the trains out of the attic. She told me how she would bolt up the stairs as fast as she could to watch her father remove thesecret panel that led to the attic. She would have to climb through a small opening while her father held the flashlight shining the light over to where the boxes where that help those wonderful amazing trains! Slowly, ever so slowly she would slide the boxes towards the opening of the attic. Her dad would reach in a grab the boxes and ever so gently remove them from their resting place. He would carefully and slowly slide each box out the small attic entrance until they were all out. After they were carefully placed on the bedroom floor her dad would help her out of the attic.  He would gently dust of the boxes and open them up.  My mom couldn’t wait to see those beautiful trains!  Her dad would let her look at them but when she asked if they could set them up she was told it would have to wait for the weekend!  That week felt like the longest school week of the year!  All she could think about was setting up the tracks, locking each track into the next exactly right so the train wouldn’t run off the track.  My mom told me her two favorites where the locomotive locomotive and the caboose.caboose

My mom would talk about all her friends and family coming over to her house on Christmas Eve to help decorate their Christmas Tree and how everyone talked about her dads Lionel Trains.  My mom’s friends even love Lionel Trains. My mom’s friends from Spring Hill Tree Specialists and Pest Control of Spring Hill have Lionel Trains that they still set up every Christmas.  My mom loves to go visit them because it reminds her of when she was a kid. I love to see the joy it brings to her face when she sees those trains.  I can almost imagine her as a little girl setting up those trains with her dad.

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