American Flyer had its start in 1907 when the Edmonds-Metzel Manufacturing Company, a
Chicago-based hardware manufacturing company, began making tinplate wind-up spring driven
trains. The line grew in popularity and in 1910 the company changed its name to the
American Flyer Manufacturing Company.
In 1909 A.C. Gilbert along with
John Petrie, a mechanical handyman, created the Mysto Manufacturing Company.
Together they created boxed "Magic Tricks" and the Mysto Magic Sets.
Erector Sets were added to the product line in 1912. In 1915 Erector Sets and Mysto
Magic Sets had grossed $750,000 and had earned a net profit of over $100,000. The
increase in sales reflected Gilbert's marketing genius and the instant appeal of the
In 1916 the company name changed to
the A.C. Gilbert Company. Gilbert continued to add new lines to the business.
Chemistry Sets were added and a new building was built that year. In 1938 Gilbert
was looking to expand further into the toy market by buying the American Flyer
Manufacturing Company. American Flyer at that time was producing "O" Gauge
electric trains. The A.C. Gilbert Company continued producing American Flyer's
"O" Gauge line until World War II when the company's energies became focused on
the war effort. After World War II ended, the "O" Gauge electric train
line was discontinued and replaced with the "Two Rail" "S" Gauge
system. Advertising during the time boasted the realism of the "two rail"
track the trains ran on, much to the dismay of the Lionel and Marx Companies that still
produced the "Three Rail" track system.
Despite the scale-like appearance
of the new "S-Gauge" electric train line and Gilbert's marketing talent, the
American Flyer Train Line never achieved more than the number two market share for toy
During the best years the company
displayed magnificent layouts of American Flyer Trains at the Gilbert Hall of Science
showrooms in New York, Chicago, Miami and Washington, D.C.
By the early sixties a changing toy
market and decline in American Flyer quality brought a drop in the company's sales.
A.C. Gilbert died in 1961. The following year Gilbert's son sold controlling
interest in the company to the Wrather Corporation.
In 1966 the American Flyer Train
line ceased production. And in 1967 the American Flyer Train Line was sold to Gilbert's
chief competitor, the Lionel Corporation. Ownership of the tooling and Brand Name
were gained in exchange for liquidating the remaining inventory of American Flyer Trains.
A year later, the once great A.C. Gilbert Company, was out of business.
Since 1979, the Lionel Corporation
has offered a few American Flyer products almost every year and most recently expanded
these products to include the magnificent steam locomotives produced by the A.C. Gilbert
Company during the 1940's and 50's.