American Flyer toy trains
The first American Flyer toy trains were introduced in 1907 by Edmonds-Metzel, a an American toy train firm owned by William Coleman. In 1910, the company adopted a new name, American Flyer and in the same year, it was able to release its first freight train lines.
In 1918, the company started making O Gauge cast-iron trains and electronic locomotives using what was then a two decades old technology. Capitalizing on the popularity of New England trains, American Flyer from 1920 to 1934 sold toy replicas. These trains were made of enameled steel, cast iron, and lithographed steel.
In 1925, American Flyer decided to compete head on against established toy train brands such as Dorfan, Lionel, and Ives and released its own line of premium electric powered toy trains. These trains were painted in bright colors and were given patriotic names such as “President’s Special,” “Mayflower,” and “American Legion.” These were not however entry level type toy trains since they were at that time quite expensive to purchase. For example a “Mayflower” set was priced at $100, which at that time was already equivalent to the average monthly salary of a typical American worker.
During 1926 and 1929, the company partnered with Lionel and Ives to produce new lines of toy trains. However not even this strategic alliance was able to save American Flyer from economic misfortune caused by the severe weakening of the US economy during 1929 to 1939 (Great Depression).
During this period business was so bad that by 1932, American Flyer had stopped making Wide Gauge trains and in 1936 all of its stores had already been closed down. The company was able to keep itself kept afloat by scaling down its operations, focusing only on a few lines that managed to still bring in profits.
American Flyer was not helped by the fact that its founder William Coleman, was also at the time suffering from poor health.
American Flyer was saved from further decline by Alfred Carleton Gilbert, who bought the company in 1938. Gilbert, who was an accomplished sportsman and successful entrepreneur, had big ambitions for the company. Coleman though who passed away in 1939, did not live long enough to see Gilbert’s dreams for American Flyer come into fruition. One of the first things that Gilbert did as head of the American Flyers was to transfer the production facilities of the company from Chicago to the city of New Haven in Connecticut.
Gilbert was able to rejuvenate the operations of American Flyers by introducing new and more exciting products, such as diecast train sets, and S-Gauge tracks.
When Gilbert died in 1961, his son Alfred Jr., took over the company. Later on, Alfred sold 52% of American Flyer to Jack Wrather, the producer of the hit TV series, “Lassie.” In 1966, Lionel bought American Flyer but continued to make some of the latter’s more popular models such as the Electro-Motive GP7 and Alco PA.
Popularity among collectors
American Flyer trains are very popular among collectors. Though not classified as rare, these toy trains can still be quite expensive to acquire.