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Standard Scale Model Railroads & Trains

Standard scale, more accurately called standard gauge, was a product of the Lionel model train company. First offered in 1906, these trains ran on tracks with a distance of 2.125 inches between the rails. The tracks included a third track in the middle through which electricity ran to power the model trains. Lionel named the track size standard gauge and filed for a trademark on the name.

Even though Lionel had declared this gauge standard, the gauge measured differently in Europe, where they produced the tracks with a distance of 2 inches between the tracks. Since there was no standard-model scale to go with the tracks, model trains were produced in various sizes to run on the standard-gauge tracks. Lionel's competitors soon began producing standard-gauge model trains in spite of Lionel's trademark, calling their model railroads wide gauge to get around the copyright.

Standard gauge peaked in popularity in the '20s. Lionel's attention to detail on its model railroad products helped it to dominate the market in standard gauge, but other companies including Ives, Dorfan, Boucher, and American Flyer also produced this size train. By the '30s, however, standard gauge had decreased in popularity, with model train enthusiasts opting for the smaller O gauge trains. Lionel discontinued its standard-gauge line in 1940.

Quick Facts

  • Some historians speculate that Lionel introduced standard gauge as a way to lock out European competitors from the American model train market. European companies produced model train tracks with a distance of 2 inches between the rails. Lionel's tracks were 1/8 inch wider
  • Williams Electric Trains produced and marketed a line of Lionel standard-gauge reproductions in the '70s. This line is now produced by MTH
  • A Lionel standard-gauge 381E locomotive was sold for $1,300 in 2009 by Stout Auctions of Williamsport, Indiana

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