What is Lionel’s Standard Gauge?

Lionel™ has been renowned for its excellence and quality in model trains for over a century. They pride themselves in establishing the standard for the way that all model trains should strive to be. Lionel’s standard gauge is the typical gauge that is utilized.

Lionel Standard gauge has been in existence since 1906. The width between the rails is 2.125 inches, and the third track in the middle of the rail runs on electricity. Lionel called this “Standard Gauge” and filed for a trademark. The slogan for it was “Lionel-Standard of the World.”

Trains are entertaining for everyone, and they ignite that creative spark in our minds of a winter landscape with trains riding through the villages you have created. If you want to build that garden, you should learn about gauges and will find more information below.

When Did Lionel’s Trains Become Widespread?

Lionel Standard trains became popular in the 1920s when production was at its finest. Other train makers tried to replicate the Lionel Standard gauge trains, but none could quite compare. One of their major competitors, Dorfan, had immense detail in their trains, as they included illustrations of passengers in the train windows.

In the 1920s, Lionel had a time of unparalleled expansion. The war was over, and people wanted to have some pleasure in their lives. Model trains were considered a luxury, but people could afford them because of their introduction to paying with credit.  

Lionel introduced a national advertising campaign that boosted its sales; however, during this time, Lionel competed with many other toy model train companies. Some of these include:

  • American Flyer
  • Louis Marx and Company
  • Dorfan
  • Ives Manufacturing Company
  • Boucher Manufacturing Company

Lionel bought out Ives in 1931. Ives held model train exhibits that changed the way people looked at model trains and created an increased interest in model train collecting. Lionel also bought out American Flyer. Wide or standard gauge trains took a hit during the Depression. Companies began selling O gauge trains. They were smaller and cheaper to make.

old lionel trains

When Were Standard Gauge Trains Popular?

Lionel and its competitors made standard gauge trains. The tracks for each major player in the train game were roughly the same size and width. The trains and the buildings were about the same scale. However, the couplers were incompatible, and you could not mix.

Standard gauge trains were popular in the 1920s when business was booming and people could afford model trains. When the Great Depression hit, standard gauge all but disappeared. Lionel discontinued standard gauge trains in 1940. It was sad for collectors to see them go.

O gauge trains had many advantages during this time. They did not require much money to manufacture them, and they also needed less space to operate a layout. O gauge trains generated interest in frugal spenders during this time.

The standard gauge had been popular due to the ability to build small houses and trees with the model train layout. Lionel gauge refers to the size of trains created by many manufacturers. These include:

  • Disney
  • Gmodellers
  • Bachman

Lionel focused on trolleys, as they were the most advantageous form of transportation. The trains were all constructed to fit the exact size track as Lionel. Lionel was an innovator in the business, as they had a way for the collector to easily remove the motor parts for repair and replacement, which was challenging to do with other trains at that time.

What Are the Primary Types of Railway Gauges?

Lionel O gauge trains came around in 1915 and became their best-selling product. Lionel still produces O gauge trains today. The sets came with plastic trees and houses to make the layout visually appealing. Most early trains lacked a motor and required battery power to run.

 When it comes to Lionel trains, there are different railway gauges that the trains are made. These include broad, standard, meter, and narrow gauges, which come in different sizes and widths. The broad gauge is the most expansive and tallest. 

The different sizes of railway gauges include:

  • The standard gauge has a width of 1435 mm 1451 mm
  • The broad gauge has a width of 1676 mm to 1524 mm
  • A narrow-gauge has a width of 762 mm to 610 mm
  • The Meter gauge has a width of 1067 mm to 1000 mm

The standard gauge is 4 ft 8.5 inches. In North America, the standard gauge means that it is the average size for all the major railroads. These gauges allow for some part swapping between systems.

Why Was Standard Gauge Discontinued?

The standard gauge train was put into production by Lionel. Lionel was the first to put a standard gauge train on the market. Unfortunately, the standard gauge was discontinued in 1939 because of the high cost of production. It is a train collector’s dream to have standard gauge Lionel trains because of the rarity and because it is accurate to the larger version of the train in mean scale. Standard gauge trains are displayed in certain shopping malls around the holidays.

If you want to find standard gauge trains, you need to know where to look. You can start on eBay and online auction websites that sometimes have standard gauge train auctions.

lionel trains
Marine 69-71

What Were the Different Eras of Lionel?

Lionel trains have a rich history and a fascinating story behind them, and they were one of the first significant players in model trains. Lionel has a well-rounded reputation and history, becoming the business’s biggest seller.

Lionel was in business for over 120 years. They survived both pre-and post-war eras and have been in production since 1900. The Lionel company has set the gold standard for other vendors to attempt to copy.

In 2006 their train was the initial electric toy accepted into the National Toy Hall of Fame. They marketed their model train line to General Mills in 1969; however, they held on to their retail stores through 1993.

The earliest Lionel company was established in 1900 by Joshua Lionel Cowen and Harry C Grant. Their first product was a primary fan motor-driven train. Retailers expressly used this train to be in-store display windows. Lionel trains went from obscurity to fame within the next few years. The following include the different eras of Lionel trains explained:


The company launched the Lionel Standard Gauge trains, and train collectors took notice. Lionel introduced the preassembled track and a vast selection of passenger cars and engines. Standard gauge trains replaced Lionel’s 1901 to 1906 railroad line, in which the trains ran on two rails.

Standard gauges ran on three rails, and they became extremely popular. The middle line was insulated from the two outside rails. Locomotives and lighted passenger cars all possessed center rollers that collected electricity from the central rail and the two outer rails.

Trolleys were the most popular item, as they were the most practical mode of transportation. Lionel’s sales of the standard gauge were impressive, as model train enthusiasts were clamoring for the ideal models to add to their collection. Lionel proclaimed their standard gauge train was the “Standard of the World.”

 1910 to 1918

Lionel made three model trains of the New York Central S-2 locomotive. They arrived in three different sizes.”

  • Small No. 1910
  • Medium No. 1911
  • Large No. 1912

The Lionel factory transferred to New Haven in 1909. In 1910, there were three new product lines produced with different items. These included three New York Central locomotives, three trolleys, and two freight cars. The locomotives mimicked the real thing, based on the real New York locomotives of 1906.

When World War 1 ended in 1918, Lionel was a major producer of model trains, and business was booming. Department stores began putting Lionel trains in elaborate Christmas tree displays. Therefore, the name Lionel became synonymous with Christmas, as it became popular to give Lionel train sets to kids as Christmas gifts.

1923 to 1928

No.402 was one of the original Lionel locomotives created from large sheet metal sections. Lionel introduced the 402 electric locomotives in 1923, replacing Lionel’s largest standard gauge locomotive. The first incarnation featured stamped steel lights and on and off switches. The second time around, it had diecast headlights.

There are three options for the 402:

  • Black lettering
  • Black center with red outline
  • All red lettering

Before 1929, Lionel trains would paint the models in any color as a special order. Some of the standard colors of the items included Mohave, peacock, mustard brown, dark grey, maroon, and red. Today, these trains sell online for a large wad of cash. They are some of the best model trains ever produced.

o scale train

1929 to 1939

In 1937, a brilliant bright blue locomotive took the model train world by storm and became a huge seller. Lionel introduced its first two-tone blue locomotive. IT was the 390E Blue Comet, and along with that came six new locomotives for model train fans to adore. The new Lionel locomotives had bright copper trim, giving them a classy, artistic appearance.

These locomotives were weighty due to their one-piece diecast frames and sheet metal boilers. The makers of Lionel trains wanted their models to be as realistic as possible. Their neatly painted model locomotives were big sellers, representing an era of expert designing that no longer occurred due to a dirty operating environment. When the Great Depression came, Lionel’s sales decreased.

However, when they switched their standard gauges to the O gauge, train collectors began to purchase model trains again. Lionel offered O gauge models in 1934, as standard gauge sets were relegated to Lionel catalogs as special purchases until 1939.

By 1939, Lionel Trains company had terminated its standard gauge merchandise. The last of the standard gauge models were sold in 1940. Lionel started to produce more realistic sets with its new O gauge models. OO gauge models were also being made.

The OO gauges came out in 1938, and other companies tried to recreate the Lionel model but consequently failed. OO gauge was soon traded in for HO scale models. Lionel began illustrating more detail into their HO models to sell more trains.

Once the war started, the focus was shifted elsewhere. Lionel had stopped production of model trains in 1942 so that they could concentrate on creating compasses for soldiers in the war. Lionel trains restarted production in 1945 when the war ended. Lionel O gauge trains became the most popular item sold by Lionel.

 1950 to 1970

In the 1950s, collectors hunted for standard gauge Lionel trains. They required replacement parts, as many locomotives would not operate correctly. New small businesses began manufacturing parts for the standard gauge. The most significant sales in Lionel history occurred in 1953 when over 30 million dollars in Lionel trains were sold.

Lionel outsold its primary competitor, American Flyer. Unfortunately, the victory only lasted so long. By 1955, Lionel only sold half of what their competitor, Marx’s toy, sold. With the advent of television becoming prevalent in every American family and the automobile being the preferred way to travel, trains dwindled in popularity.

It seemed that the Golden Age of Railroading had ended, and the celebrated train mogul Joshua Cowen died in 1965. In 1969, the final Lionel toy train catalog was issued, and it was the last year that Lionel manufactured O gauge trains.

In the 1970s, reproductions were created. Today, Mike Wolf and his company, MHT, make standard gauge trains for Lionel under the Lionel corporation trademark. Standard gauge train parts are once again popular with Lionel train collectors. Lionel trains are still highly in demand with collectors today.


Lionel trains have made children and adults come together and enjoy creative activities since 1900. Lionel set the standard for the perfect trains to help the avid train enthusiast build a beautiful train garden. They have had many different gauges, with the standard not being the first or the last.

In 1939 they changed their standard gauge to the O gauge, which was smaller and more affordable. Whatever the gauge, these trains have and will be enjoyed for years to come.


Lifelong Rail Enthusiast and Owner of Worldwide Rails

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