Carlisle & Finch is credited as being the inventors of the electric
toy train since they were the first American company to introduce electrically powered miniature
trains produced in volume. Headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, they originally made electric motors, then toy
trains, and they also produced nautical equipment (a carbon arc searchlight).
The company was founded in 1894 by two electrical engineers, Robert Finch and Morton
Carlisle. They had purchased a repair shop from GE and renamed it Carlisle & Finch Company.
The company repaired electric motors and rewound armatures. The toy trains were first produced
in 1896 as a way to increase revenue and to utilize the small electric motors that they made.
The earliest products were brass trollies only, about 7 inches long with 4 wheels and a 2 pole 10
volt electric motor. Included with the set was a 3 foot diameter circle of track. Priced at $3.50
and marketed as the #1 'Complete Electric Railway', the set became very popular, and the
company wound up producing 3 times the amount of sets as originally planned.
The next item to appear consisted of the #2 eight wheel double motor 12
inch long trolley, or referred to by some as an Interurban. The first catalogs were issued in
1898 and production was eventually expanded to include an entire line. The #3 coal mining set
was made up of the #3 0-4-0 loco and three small 4 wheel coal
cars. A fourth item listed in the early catalogs was the #4 'Inclined Plane Railway'. This item
is so rare that there are no known existing models. This item apparently was not very popular, and
was discontinued in 1899. Carlisle & Finch replaced this item with the popular #4 steam type loco.
By assigning it the number 4, Carlisle & Finch was able to retain the numbering sequence in their catalogs.
The #4 Steam Freight train set proved to be the mainstay of the Carlisle & Finch Company and
because of its economy, durability and popularity, thousands were produced.
The trains stood about 5.5
inches tall, were made of wood and metal, were colorful, and ran on metal track
with rails that were spaced two inches apart. Initial production of the electric train line
used three rail track, then shortly after, the track was converted to two rail. Using one rail as a
negative conduit for electricity and the other as a positive one had never met with success until
Carlisle & Finch perfected the concept. Carlisle & Finch trains
were heavy and highly detailed, and catered to the high end market. They used lithographed paper labels
to supply the cars with details for numbering and livery. The use of wood frames reduced weight,
reduced costs, and helped absorb noise from the electric motors. In addition to using wood for the
underframe and cab floors, it was also used for the sand dome, head light, bell, pilot beam, boiler
front and boiler button on the locomotives. Four wheels simply nailed into a wood
block bolster made it unnecessary to insulate the cast iron wheels on the loco and cars.
With the release of the #4 locomotive several new manufacturing techniques
were put into production. Early locomotives from Carlisle & Finch had employed belt or rubber band drive
mechanisms. In the #4, as the catalog described, the power was transmitted to the locomotive's
drive wheels via 'double reduction spur gearing with accurately cut teeth'. Another major improvement
was the introduction of a three pole armature based motor instead of the original two pole one. Carlisle
& Finch was the first to market complete electric-powered trains and thus were the earliest leader in
US toy train production through 1904. Lionel didn't produce their first electric
train until 1901 and Voltamp came out with theirs in 1903.
first electric train came out in 1918. They were eventually overtaken in the toy train marketplace by
In 1903 Carlisle & Finch came out with an improved version of the #4 that had a
shiny nickel plated boiler, a cast iron oil type dummy headlight, a copper bell, a nickel sand dome and
boiler bands that were embossed right into the boiler. By 1904 a new truck with detailed outside frames
and stamped brass wheels using a red fiber washer for insulation replaced the wood bolster type trucks
on all cars, including freights and passenger equipment.Other improvements included embossing on the
tinplate, and less lithographed paper labels, more handrail detail on the locomotives, and more prototypical
paint schemes. The #3 mining loco was the least expensive product offered at $3.5O for a set. Next came the
#4 at $6.50. The largest, most luxurious deluxe steam type ever made by Carlisle & Finch was the 4-4-2
#45. It was also the most expensive loco selling for $22.00 in 1906.
Two inch gauge 2 rail electric trains require a DC power source.
Carlisle & Finch trains were initially powered using wet cell batteries. This approach created challenges
for the hobbyists because these batteries were not commercially available, so they had to assemble the
carbon and zinc strips and mix the chromite wet cell elements themselves, usually employing glass
Ball-type jelly jars. In 1902, Carlisle & Finch introduced dry cell batteries to make running their
trains easier. Later on, they introduced several other clever dynamo and hand cranked mechanisms for
generating the electrical current to run the trains. In those days, few homes had electrical power,
so these methods (batteries, dynamos, etc.) had to be provided. One very clever electric current
generator that Carlisle & Finch introduced actually utilized a water turbine, propelled by a garden hose.
Eventually in 1907, they came out with transformer type devices that utilized household current.
Three other smaller, short-lived U.S. manufacturers, Knapp,
Howard, and Voltamp,
adopted Carlisle & Finch's 2-inch 2 rail track design. However, Carlisle & Finch did not intially make
sectional type track, while the others did. Carlisle & Finch's early approach was to supply long
thin rail strips and slotted wooden ties, so the hobbyist had to assemble his track in much
the same way that real railroaders built their trackage. It was thought that by having
longer sections of track, the electrical current would
be stronger throughout the layout.
Carlisle & Finch's offerings were by definition non-standard,
even though they were considered to be the inventors of the electric train.
At the beginning of World War I, the United States Government ordered Carlisle and
Finch to cease toy
train production in order to concentrate on producing searchlights for the U.S. Navy and United States
Coast Guard. At the end of the war, the company did not resume toy train production, choosing
instead to concentrate on its profitable searchlight business. Within a decade, it was the
largest producer of military searchlights in the country.
Finch bought out Carlisle's share of the company in 1917. Over the ensuing decades,
the company began
producing equipment for civilian use, with its searchlights being used in lighthouses and on
offshore oil rigs. This 100+ year-old company still exists today and continues to produce its
line of searchlights and beacons.
Carlisle & Finch website