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.