American Flyer® - A Brief History

A.C. Gilbert
A.C. Gilbert was the largest U.S. toy maker in 1946 when it introduced the "American Flyer®" brand name. At the time the company was better known for its Erector Set as well as its chemical sets. There is a brief, 5-minute video on YouTube of the A.C. Gilbert factory. If you really want to learn about the A.C. Gilbert history, we recommend sitting down with a cup of coffee or tea and enjoy Tom Barker's A.C. Gilbert Documentary.

A.C. Gilbert's main competitor was Lionel®. Gilbert wanted to make cheaper, and more accurate models. The main difference, beside the size (1:48 vs. 1:64), was that Lionel used a center rail down the middle of the tracks, whereas Gilbert used the more prototypical two-rail system. The A.C. Gilbert company manufactured American Flyer trains until 1966, when the company went out of business. Lionel then bought the American Flyer name and product line in 1967 (Lionel subsequently declared its own bankruptcy later that same year).

General Mills
The cereal company, General Mills, bought the Lionel product line, but not the corporation itself. In 1979 General Mills, under the name Fundimensions Division, based in Mt. Clemens, Michigan, resurrected the American Flyer product line, with little success. You can identify these models by looking at the label underneath, which will state "Lionel/Fundimensions". In the meantime the Lionel corporation came back and started building general toy stores around the country and wasn't really involved in toy trains anymore. They eventually went out of business for good.

Lionel, LLC
In 1986 the new Lionel, LLC, an entirely different corporation from the original Lionel company, bought the toy train product line from General Mills. For a period of time famous musician Neil Young was on the board of directors of Lionel. He invented and holds some patents related to Lionel's sound and electronics. Of course, Lionel's main business is O-scale trains, but they are now also actively producing both re-issues and newly-tooled engines, cars, and accessories under the American Flyer name. Their products are backward-compatible with original American Flyer track, but they are also starting to make some of their models more true-to-scale.

MTH Electric Trains
Lionel and MTH have had a very confusing and intricate relationship over the past four decades. This relates to S, because in 2010 S-Helper Service announced that it sold its product line and tooling to MTH. In 2013 MTH introduced its first "S gauge" catalog, and their products started shipping in 2014. The initial round of products are based on S-Helper Service tooling, but MTH also released some reproduction accessories in 2014. You can read more about MTH's history on the Inc. magazine's web site.

NASG Commemorative Cars

Each year the NASG produces a Commemorative Car (or engine) that is available for sale to NASG members.

Current Model
Information about the current car.
Entire Collection
See the entire collection (note that some are still for sale!).

Photo Gallery

A.F./Hi-rail Photo Gallery
Some photos of fantastic work done by S-scale modelers.

To contribute a photo to this gallery, please contact the webmaster.

Mini Articles

Two-track Trestle Bridge
David Tyner sent photos of his scratch-built bridge.

To contribute a mini-article, please contact the webmaster.


Canadian S Scale Quarterly
Canadian newsletter that has been somewhat dormant lately.
Classic Toy Trains
Monthly magazine for O- and S-gauge toy train enthusiasts.
S Gaugian
Bi-monthly magazine that covers all aspects of S modeling, including scale.
The Dispatch
Published bi-monthly by the NASG; part of your NASG membership.

External Links

Discussion Groups and Forums
(updated June 22, 2014)
Lists all known Yahoo Groups and various forums that are focused on American Flyer modeling or collecting.
Layouts on the Web
(updated June 22, 2014)
Qualified and validated links to web sites that feature American Flyer and hi-rail layouts, either club or private.
A.F. Videos Online
(updated August 16, 2014)
Quality videos featuring American Flyer or hi-rail model railroading. Includes links to Lionel's and MTH's York announcements.
A.F. Articles on the Web
(updated June 29, 2014)
Qualified and validated links to specific S-related articles. Includes Brooks Stover's digital photography guide.

Note: all external links are validated on a weekly basis. Disclaimer: the NASG cannot be held responsible for the content of external web sites.