There may be some argument as to the exact date, however 1900 is very close to the year that Joshua Lionel Cowen officially established Lionel Model Train. Right from the start, Joshua was focused on creating, manufacturing and distributing the highest quality model railroad trains in the world, starting in America.
As in most small business start ups, the Lionel Train was birthed in a small dingy office in New York City and much to everyone's surprise became the world's most renowned toy train maker across the globe. The business was immense when you consider that Lionel model trains had sales of over 50 million train sets across the world and this number was greater than all of Lionel's competitors combined. Unlike so many businesses today, Lionel would not have achieved such success it if wasn't for Joshua Lionel Cowen's attention to detail and quest for excellence while surrounding himself with employees and others of a like mind.
Perhaps the motivation or interest in trains for Joshua came from the fact that Joshua's family moved to New York City in the late 19th century at a time when mass transportation consisted of the horse and buggy, the iron horse and stage coaches and the train was a fundamental method for moving people around at that time. Also at the same time American technology began to really take off along with it was the ability to mass produce manufactured items. Surprisingly Joshua already had a few inventions under his belt before he cranked out his first Lionel model railroad train.
Joshua was a man of character and possessed vision and moral values so his model train project started with a desire to create something that would help fathers and sons come together and form that critical father and son relationship. The Lionel model train became a toy model train with a purpose because he told young boys that these model trains would prepare them for adulthood and he shared his vision for the trains with fathers. It's not hard to see how father and son could spend hours in the basement building layouts, adding tracks and maybe even starting clubs, but Joshua's encouragement was the "extra something" that made these trains more than toys! The father-son time proved to be the secret sauce the propelled the Lionel Train into history with more and more sales. Needless to say, Lionel trains were the most popular scale model railroad train at the time.
Everything is always changing in life, and so it was for model trains because in the mid 1900's cars and airplanes enter the scene and people now flew or drove their cars. By the 1960's the new technology of planes and cars took a toll on model train sales. If we look back over time, it's almost eerie to see the how technology has affected our lives because Joshua's desire to build the father son relationship succeeded until the 60's and with the end of the father son relationship in 1960 came the start of the "generation gap", kids wanted to be "Cool" and hanging around Dad wasn't a very cool thing to do. In retrospect, the decade of the 60's was pretty tough for Lionel Model Trains and it almost destroyed the company when it changed hands and investors were brought it!
Much has happened to the Lionel Model Train company since 1960 while model train hobbyists have seemed to rediscover Lionel Trains and the company is up and operating once again as good as before. It seems as though the hobby of collecting, setting up and building model trains has been resurrected again in America along with other countries across the globe, if Joshua's original vision for the model train could only bring back that father/son relationship also. New and faster Lionel locomotives are now built, all train lines are constantly being upgraded so that the some Lionel Model Trains have become collectors items. Lionel's long run as a model train manufacturer can definitely be considered a legacy which has lasted for over 100 years. After all these years the name of Lionel is still on top after passing the scrutiny of today's most demanding model train enthusiast.
The way things are done today, it's odd and hard to find high quality manufactured goods, but the Lionel Model Train takes new technologies and merges them with the traditions of old and the end result being one of the most perfect model trains produced today. It's refreshing to see a product and company weather the storms of time and changing in a positive way only to merge as a better company with a better product resulting in the traditions of the Lionel Model Train living on!