The Christmas train

I saw a story on one of my train boards today that illustrates just how much the world has changed since 1923.

This story came from the 1950 book Messrs. Ives of Bridgeport, by Louis H. Hertz.

Ives made beautiful trains, but Harry Ives was also generous.

In 1923, the biggest name in toys wasn’t Mattel or Hasbro or even Marx, but Ives, a company based in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The company was so huge that letters addressed simply as “Mr. Ives, USA” were properly delivered.

Harry Ives’ generosity

In September, the owner of the company, Harry Ives, put his oldest daughter in charge of handling the volumes of mail the company received every day. He wanted her to find the special requests.

One day, she noticed a grimy, heavier-than-usual envelope. Rather than finding the usual handwritten request for a catalog along with a dime inside, she found a request accompanied by ten dull pennies. It came from a newsboy, who explained that his father was dead and his mother was struggling. He’d saved to buy an Ives catalog for his younger brother for Christmas. He would have liked to have bought a train set, but couldn’t afford it, but at least if he gave his brother a catalog, he’d be able to look at some pictures of nice trains.

When Harry Ives saw the letter, he sent the boy a train set, along with the catalog he requested.

It seems like acts of kindness like this used to be more common. I told my wife this story, and she said that people aren’t as honest anymore. She reminded me of the time earlier this year that I sent an inexpensive Marx locomotive to someone who claimed to be a disabled Gulf War II veteran who was having trouble getting his trains running. The truth was he was running a scam, getting lots of people to feel sorry for him and send him trains, and he ended up selling all of them on Craigslist and eBay. He had a parallel scam going with R/C cars as well.

I suppose it is easier to be kind when you believe people are honest. But we are supposed to be kind to the alien, the fatherless, and the widow, even when it’s hard.

What happened to Ives

Ives had several runs of bad luck and wasn’t in the best of shape even in 1923. Two of its rivals ended up buying a bankrupt Ives a few years later to get its technology, a gizmo called the e-unit that reversed the train by cycling power. Lionel reduced it to a budget brand and then to a seldom-used trademark.

2 thoughts on “The Christmas train

    • December 30, 2007 at 8:14 am
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      In a way, I’m glad that people aren’t taking their disdain of an unpopular war out on the people who have to fight it, like they did 40 years ago with Vietnam. Unfortunately the sympathy for the soldiers on the ground leaves the doors open for fraud. It’s really sad that even children are starting to figure this out.

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