Märklin is a German toy company, founded in 1859 and based at Göppingen in Baden-Württemberg. Although it originally specialised in doll house accessories, today it is best known for model railways and technical toys. In some parts of Germany and in Sweden, the company’s name is almost synonymous with model railways.
Märklin released its first wind-up train with carriages that ran on standardised track in 1891, noting that railway toys had the potential to follow the common practice of doll’s houses, in which the initial purchase would be enhanced and expanded with more accessories for years after the initial purchase. To this end, Märklin offered additional rolling stock and track with which to expand its boxed sets.
Märklin is responsible for the creation of several popular model railway gauges or scale, noteworthy exceptions being N scale and Wide gauge. In 1891, Märklin defined gauges 1-5 as standards for toy trains and presented them at the Leipzig Toy Fair. They soon became international standards. Märklin followed with 0 gauge (by some accounts as early as 1895 or as late as 1901), H0 scale in 1935, and the diminutive Z scale, 1:220, in 1972 — smallest in the world for decades — under the name Mini-Club (the scale of Z was assigned after the product line was introduced). Mini-Club was developed as Märklin’s answer to Arnold Rapido’s introduction of N gauge.
Today, Märklin manufactures and markets trains and accessories in Gauge 1, H0 scale, and Z scale. In 1994 Märklin acquired the Nuremberg based model train manufacturer Trix producing DC-operated H0 and N scale. Märklin’s older trains are considered highly collectible, and Märklin’s current offerings enjoy premium status among hobbyists.
Although Märklin is best known for its trains, from 1914 to 1999, the company produced mechanical construction sets similar to Meccano and Erector. Between 1967 and 1982, the company produced a slotcar system called Märklin Sprint. Märklin also produced numerous other toys over the years, including lithographed tinplate toy automobiles and boats. From 1909 until well into the 1950s they sold a range of alcohol-burning model steam engines. These were very educational toys, and could be linked to dynamos to provide lighting. In the late 1990s and Märklin purchased the assets of Trix in January 1997, thus adding N gauge to their scale lineup.
On 11 May 2006, the company, which had until then been owned by the three families Märklin, Friz and Safft, was sold to the British investment group Kingsbridge Capital, with the support of the employees. The purchase price was approximately $38 million. At the time, Märklin had approximately $70.5 million in debt, as a result of several years of slumping sales.
In 2007, the company expanded its product offering by buying the remaining assets of the bankrupt firm, Ernst Paul Lehmann Patentwerk, who owned the LGB brand and product line of G scale model railways.