Train Collectors Association National Division WEB Site

The Train Collectors Association

Western Division

TCA Western Home Page

[Home]  [Train Collecting Tips page]  [Index of Manufacturers]

Carlisle & Finch Trains


Carlisle & Finch #20 Suburban 0-4-0 locomotive in 2 inch gauge 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 Headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, they originally made electric motors, then toy trains, and they also produced nautical equipment (a carbon arc searchlight).

Carlisle & Finch #3 Mining Train in 2 inch gauge 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.

Carlisle & Finch #4 0-4-0 Loco & Tender in 2 inch gauge - later version circa 1903The 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.

Carlisle & Finch #1903 brass passenger car with wood floor, wood bolsters, cast iron wheels attached by nails, link and pin couplers, and paper labels in 2 inch gaugeThe 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.

Carlisle & Finch #9 Lithographed Paper Label Buffalo Ticket Office 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. American Flyer's first electric train came out in 1918. They were eventually overtaken in the toy train marketplace by Ives.

Carlisle & Finch #45 2 inch gauge Engine & Tender painted tin, wood, and cast iron with nickel boiler copper bands cast iron pilot circa 1909-15 overall length 26 inchesIn 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. One feature that never varied on all Carlisle & Finch locomotives was the red painted drive wheels.

The #88 Railway was Carlisle & Finch's most elegent complete train set. It was composed of the #45 locomotive and tender, #51 baggage car, and Two #52 passenger cars. In 1906, it sold for $34.00. This set is considered by collectors to be the most perfectly proportioned model train ever produced. The #52 passenger car, at 19 inches long and six inches high above the rails was the largest ever manufactured. It was made of polished brass. Carlisle & Finch produced four styles or sizes of passenger cars. The smallest size was the #13 and #13B baggage car at 12 inches long. The #60 passenger and #59 baggage cars were 15½ inches long (normally packaged with the #34 loco). The #52 passenger and #51 baggage cars were 19 inches long and were designed to be pulled by the #45 loco. The rarest of all passenger cars was the #87 Pullman Sleeping Car with cast iron wheels and six wheel trucks, measuring 18 inches long. In addition to the #4, 0-4-0, Carlisle & Finch also made a smaller #20 0-4-0 switching engine with a coal bunker. Freight cars came in two sizes. The more common regular size, and a large, 13½ inch size long gondola, box car, and caboose.

Carlisle & Finch #34 2 inch gauge 0-4-0 Loco and tender from 1896 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.

In 1908 Carlisle & Finch felt the need to bridge the gap between their small 0-4-0 #4 loco and #20 and the big 4-4-2 #45. They released the #34. This model used the same wheel arrangement as the #45 but was shorter. It was fitted with the same three pole self starting motor. The wheels were the same size as the #45 except for smaller stamped brass pilot wheels. The first models were nickel with a black boiler front. Later models were painted all black.

Carlisle & Finch #52 brass 10 window 19 inch long Pullman coach with painted roof and ends, wood floor, in 2 inch gauge circa 1904-06 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.

The numbers appearing on Carlisle & Finch locos and cars do not coincide with catalogue numbers. The number '131' appears on the #34 loco cab, on the #34 loco tender and on the #11 gondola. The number '171' appears on the #20 Switcher cab, and sometimes on the #4 locomotive. The number '82' appears on the cab of the famous #45 Locomotive.

Carlisle & Finch early brass trolley in 2 inch gauge 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 #45 Deluxe 4-4-2 Steam Loco and tender in 2 inch gauge with #51 Baggage Express car circa 1904-08 and #87 five window Pullman car with brass body, painted sheet metel roof and car ends, complete bench interior, six wheel trucks circa 1905-06

Carlisle & Finch #1 four window trolley in 2 inch gauge Carlisle & Finch 2 inch gauge #42 five window Trolley and Trailer circa 1904-09, originally sold for $3.35 Carlisle & Finch #18 4 window Trolley in 2 inch gauge with brass sides and painted tin roof

Carlisle & Finch 2 inch gauge Freight Set painted tin with Caboose, Box car, Hopper, American steam outline #131 0-4-0 engine and tender
Carlisle & Finch Freight Set with painted tin and wood American steam outline 0-4-0 in 2 inch gauge. Includes #4 type locomotive and tender, #11 red gondola, #12 yellow box car, and rare derrick car

Carlisle & Finch website

Back To Top of Page

horizontal rule


Home ] Train Collecting Tips page ] Index of Manufacturers ]
To request more information about TCA contact any Western Division board member or send e-mail to: