Bing was a German toy company founded in 1863 in Nüremberg, Germany by
two brothers, Ignaz and Adolf Bing. Originally, Gerbruder Bing produced metal kitchen utensils. They began toy production in
1880 and by 1905, Bing was the largest toy company in the world, and Bing's factory in
Nüremberg was the largest toy factory in the world. Although Bing produced numerous toys, it is best remembered
today for toy trains. In addition to toys and kitchen wares, Bing also made a huge range of office equipment,
and electrical goods.
Bing's first trains hit the market in the 1880's. When Märklin
formalized several standards for track gauges in 1891, Bing adopted them, and added 'O' gauge by 1895
and gauge III (2.5 inches), causing confusion as Marklin Gauge III became Bing gauge IV (3 inches).
In the early 1920's, under the auspices of Bassett-Lowke,
Bing introduced a still-smaller gauge, half that of 'O' at 0.625 inches, which it called 'OO'. However,
Bing's 'OO' gauge at 4mm scale became a British standard, larger than the 3.5mm scale on the same gauge of
track favoured elsewhere. The company was initially named Gebruder Bing (Gebruder translates to brothers
in German) but Ignatz Bing died in 1918 at the age of 79, and the company was renamed Bing Werke
(Werke being German for Works).
Their model steam engine line was one of the most diverse. Bing also made tinplate litho toys in general,
and a fair amount of model railroad equipment, including some live steam locomotives. The "Nüremberg Style"
of manufacturing toys on steel sheets with lithographed designs that were stamped
out of the metal, formed, and assembled using tabs and slots, was perfected by Bing. This manufacturing method
remained in widespread use well into the 1950's, long after Bing had disappeared.
Bing produced numerous items for export which were then sold either under
its own name or for other
companies. Bing produced trains styled for the British market for
Bassett-Lowke and A. W. Gamage, and it produced
trains for the North American market, which it exported and marketed on its own.
In 1910 Bing introduced a line of engines, passenger cars and freight cars for the
American market. This was an effort to jockey for market share with the Ives Manufacturing Company. At the time, the Ives line offered
one 2-4-2 electric outline electric locomotive, which Bing copied. They copied the Ives model to the
extent that the actual Ives catalogue #3238 appeared on every electric outline locomotive, large or
small, electric, or clockwork, made by Bing. Bing also issued a series of six inch tinplate passenger
cars that were very similar to Ives passenger cars, except that Bing also issued a combine and an
observation. Bing's line of four-wheel road name boxcars, modeled after photographs of American freight
cars, were similar to the Ives #53, except the Bing boxcars included doors that opened and closed.
Throughout their histories, the two companies would frequently copy one another's designs. In some
instances, the two companies even used the same catalog number on their competing products. Due
to cheap German labor and low shipping and duty costs, Bing was often able to undercut the prices
of its U.S. competitors. But, Ives did eventually surpass Bing in sales.
By 1914, Bing had 5,000
employees. By comparison, Märklin employed 600.
World War I forced Bing out of the export market at its peak. In 1916, Ives and the
A. C. Gilbert Company formed the Toy Manufacturers
Association and lobbied to protect the growing U.S. toy manufacturing industry, which had grown in the
absence of foreign competition. As a result, tariffs on German toys rose from 35 percent to 70 percent.
Additionally, German wages rose after the war, as did shipping costs and inflation. This created an
unfavorable climate for German exports. Additionally,
Lionel Corporation's advertising that criticized the manufacturing methods of its competitors' trains,
targeted mainly at Ives, also hurt Bing's image because Bing's methods were so similar. Bing struggled
to sell through its old inventory and misjudged demand. When the market evaporated for its
1 gauge trains, it re-gauged some models to 'O' gauge, where they looked oversized, and other models to
Lionel's Standard gauge, where they looked undersized. By 1921, Bing had re-established itself in
the U.S. market, largely via sales through catalog retailer Sears, Roebuck & Co. However, by
1925, Lionel was also selling through Sears, and Bing quickly found itself squeezed out of the market.
Bing attempted to compensate by increasing its presence in Canada, where it competed with mixed success
with American Flyer.
By 1927, Bing was in serious financial trouble and the company's president,
Stephan Bing, and his son,
left the company. The US stock market crash of 1928 resulted in huge debts on the part of the John Bing
division in New York being called in, for which the parent corporation had to take responsibility. This led to
financial difficulties for Bing Werke, but given the political climate in Germany in 1932 (the Bing family was
Jewish), no bank would loan Bing additional money. Bing Werke ceased to exist in August, 1932, and the assets
were liquidated. Much of its tooling was acquired by rival toy companies. Falk and Krauss purchased the
model steam related equipment, while Karl Bub of Bub Trains took the model
train line, and Fleischmann bought up the model boat
fabrication tooling and machinery. Bub continued building the Bing line of trains until the onset of WW2, and later folded
completely in the 1960's. Bing went out of business for good in 1933.
In 1927, Stefan Bing had left the family business
and struck out on his own. He purchased the Nüremburg firm of Fortner & Haffner, another maker of
tinplate toys. In 1935, this firm produced it's first model trains, under the Trix Express label.
Bassett-Lowke assumed distribution in the UK. Three years later, when the National Socialists
replaced the executives of this company (they were also Jewish), Stefan Bing emigrated to the UK,
where he was to resume production with Bassett-Lowke, under the Trix name.
Trix survived, and in fact thrived for a number of years. Trix was purchased by Märklin in 1997.
Stefan Bing did emigrate with his family to the UK in the late 1930's to escape Jewish
persecution from the government regime of Adolf Hitler, and he resumed business with
W. J. Bassett-Lowke to make and sell Trix 'OO' gauge trains. However, in May, 1940, the British
rounded up all German citizens then residing in the UK, and sent them to internment camps on the Isle of Man. That
included Stefan Bing. Bassett-Lowke did get special permission to write to Stefan, but he was not
to survive internment, and died before the end of the war. It is said that his daughter Monica
did receive some compensation from the companies that obtained the Trix Express assets, long after
the end of WW2.
Bing items can be identified and
dated by its trademark. Items bearing the letters "GBN"
(for "Gebrüder Bing Nürnberg" — "Brothers Bing Nürnberg") in a diamond date before 1923, while
items bearing a sideways "B" next to a "W" (for "Bing Works") date from 1924 to 1932. A trademark
showing an upright 'K' and 'B', a dash, and a sideways 'B' over an upright 'W' indicates trains made
after 1933, that are a combination of Bub & Bing manufacture.
Bing trains are prized by collectors today. When the Denby Collection of
miniature toys was presented at Tennants specialist auction in the United Kingdom in June 2009,
a live steam locomotive sold for £8,000.