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Märklin released its first wind-up train with cars that ran on expandable track in 1891, noting that railroad toys had the potential to follow the common practice of doll houses, in which the initial purchase would be enhanced and expanded with more accessories for years after the initial purchase. To this end, Märklin offered additional rolling stock and track with which to expand its boxed sets.
Märklin is responsible for the creation of virtually every popular model railroad gauge or scale, with only noteworthy exceptions being N scale and Wide gauge. In 1891, Märklin defined gauges 1-5 as standards for toy trains and presented them at the Leipzig Toy Fair. They soon became international standards. Märklin followed with O gauge (by some accounts as early as 1895 or as late as 1901), H0 scale in 1935, and the diminutive Z scale in 1972 — this is the smallest commercially available scale, 1:220.
Today, Märklin manufactures and markets trains and accessories in Gauge 1, H0 scale, and Z scale. In 1994 Märklin acquired a Nuremberg based model train manufacturer Trix. Today Trix is another brand of Märklin Holding and covers N-scale and DC-operated HO scale. Märklin’s older trains are considered highly collectible today, and Märklin’s current offerings enjoy premium status among hobbyists.
Although Märklin is best known for its trains, from 1914 to 1999, the company produced mechanical construction sets similar to Meccano and Erector. Between 1967 and 1982, the company produced a slotcar system called Märklin Sprint. Märklin also produced numerous other toys over the years, including lithographed tinplate toy automobiles and boats.
On 11th May 2006, the company, which had until then been owned by the three families Märklin, Friz and Safft, was sold to the British investment group Kingsbridge Capital, with the support of the employees. The new shareholders plan to restructure the company and make it profitable again. The purchase price was approximately $38 million. At the time, Märklin had approximately $70.5 million in debt, as a result of several years of slumping sales.
In 2007, the company expanded its product offering by buying the remaining assets of the bankrupt firm, Ernst Paul Lehmann Patentwerk, who owned the LGB brand and product line of G scale model railways.