Over the years, Marx made electric and clockwork trains in no fewer than seven sizes and two gauges. Depending on how you count Marx train sizes, you can say it was more than that. Here’s an overview of what they made.
If you go to sell Marx trains, correctly identifying the size definitely makes them attract more bids.
These trains were actually made by Girard Model Works of Girard Pennsylvania, and marketed by Marx. Marx bought the company during the Great Depression. These simple, lightweight lithographed tin trains ran on O gauge track but the cars and locomotives were short, around five and a half inches in length and had four wheels.
In 1935, after Marx bought Girard, they replaced the Joy Line trains with a line of slightly less whimsical 6-inch tin lithographed cars. They still ran on O gauge track. They were still very toylike, but Marx added the names of real railroads to most of the cars. Most of these cars had four wheels, but Marx did make some with two sets of four wheel trucks and automatic couplers for a few years before World War II. These cars remained in production until 1972, when changes in OSHA regulations made it impractical to continue making them. Due to their longevity and popularity, these are what most frequently come to mind when people think of Marx trains.
Marx introduced this line in the early 1950s to compete with Unique Art, another maker of lithographed toys, who introduced a line of trains that was larger than Marx’s 6-inch line but cheaper than Marx’s scale line. The cars were 7 inches long and ran on four wheels, still on O gauge track. Unique quickly went out of business, leaving this line of trains a solution in search of a problem. This line isn’t as popular as most of Marx’s other offerings, though its short life makes it fairly easy and inexpensive to collect. It’s also not uncommon for Marx fans to put 3/16 scale trucks on the 7-inch trains to get a bit more variety, since they’re only slightly smaller than the 3/16 trains.
In 1938, A.C. Gilbert released a line of 1:64 scale trains (same as S scale) running on O gauge track. Marx soon followed with its own line. Marx’s 3/16 line has a surprising amount of detail in its lithographed designs and its lettering was prototypically accurate. Marx resumed production after WWII and produced this line into the early 1950s. The Korean War hastened its demise; metals were needed for the war effort, so Marx accelerated its development of plastic-bodied trains. Late-production metal 3/16 cars had larger, Lionel-sized trucks on them.
Marx produced 1:64 scale plastic trains from the early 1950s until the end of the line in 1974. Early versions of these came on 3/16 scale trucks just like the 3/16 tin cars did, but Marx later put Lionel-sized trucks on them. They also made versions with just four wheels, with fake trucks on the side to make them look like they had 8 wheels. The 4-wheel plastic line displaced and eventually entirely replaced the venerable 6-inch line. These also ran on O gauge track.
Marx also produced slightly larger cars, on Lionel-sized trucks, for O gauge track. These cars tended to be a half inch to an inch longer than the regular plastic cars, making them slightly larger than Lionel’s O27 cars but not quite as large as Lionel’s most expensive cars. These cars received a second lease on life in the 1980s when K-Line emerged as a Lionel competitor using Marx tooling that it bought from Fisher-Price.
In 1957 Marx also brought out an extensive line of HO scale trains, and Marx had more success in HO scale than its competitors Gilbert and Lionel. Although not as detailed as premium brands like Athearn, the Marx cars had a reasonable amount of scale fidelity at a good price. After Marx’s demise, Model Power purchased the tooling and still uses it to produce its starter sets, simply putting its own lettering on the old Marx designs.
Other Marx train sizes
Marx made other train-themed toys over the years, including floor toys, and from time to time imported and resold small battery-operated tin sets made in Japan that didn’t follow any western standard when it came to track size or gauge. Marx also considered a full 1:48 scale train line to compete directly against Lionel’s costliest sets. They did produce prototypes made of lithographed tin, but the Korean War prevented its release, and Marx never produced anything of comparable size in plastic.
The #21 Santa Fe diesels are close to 1:48 scale. Rather than produce comparable-sized cars, they put larger trucks on existing 3/16 metal cars.