The Ives Manufacturing Company was an American toy manufacturer from 1868 to 1932. It was founded
by Edward Ives, a descendant of Plymouth colony governor William Bradford, in Plymouth, Connecticut.
The company initially produced paper dolls whose limbs moved in response to hot air.
Ives began producing a wide range of toys, including a toy cannon that shot using real gunpowder
and clockwork powered dolls and animals that could move. The clockwork toys were designed by Jerome Secor,
Nathan Warner, and Arthur Hotchkiss and by the 1880s, Ives was a leading producer of these toys.
Emphasis shifted to trains as Ives toy designs were copied by other
toymakers who were willing to
sell them more cheaply. In the early years Ives produced floor
clockwork trains. On December 22, 1900 a fire
destroyed the plant and all tooling. Afterwards Ives was able to design an entirely new toy line for 1901.
This new line included both cast iron and stamped steel 'O' gauge trains and 1 gauge clockwork trains that were
the first Ives toy trains that ran on track. In the end the fire benefited the company, as the insurance
money permitted Ives to build a modern factory with state-of-the-art tooling.
In the beginning Ives created very primative hand painted trains, lithography
didn't appear until 1902
and then only on the more expensive sets. The hand painting was used on the cheaper sets until 1903 or 1904.
Ives was the first US maker to use preassembled sectional track, as pioneered by European makers such
as Bing. Although other American companies such as Carlisle & Finch,
Voltamp, Knapp, and Howard
were selling electric powered trains at the time,
Ives opted to remain with clockwork, partly because many U.S. homes still lacked electricity.
Initially, Ives' greatest competition came from German imports, and not
from domestic manufacturers.
Ives' response was with marketing, which it directed at its target audience, the twelve-year-old boy.
Its campaigns addressed boys as business partners, telling them that the success of Ives' fictional
railroad, Ives Railway Lines, depended on their shrewd management. This worked, building brand loyalty.
Ives became the initial American market leader in electric trains in 1910,
when it introduced electric 'O' gauge versions, following from the same clockwork trains.
1 gauge electrics followed in 1912. The addition of electric trains to the line was partially in response
to companies such as American Flyer undercutting its prices on clockwork trains.
Ives grew to become the largest manufacturer of toy trains in the United States from 1910 until 1924.
However, Ives was in for stiff competition when Lionel entered 'O' gauge in 1916
and it was exceeded in size by Lionel in 1924. In 1921, Ives changed from 1 gauge to 2-1/8" Standard
by Lionel, calling it Wide Gauge. Lionel fiercely targeted Ives quality in their advertising which is at least
partially due to the personal rivalry between J. L. Cowen and Harry Ives, Edward Ives' son and
successor. However, Ives continued to market heavily to its target audience, using the motto
"Ives Toys Make Happy Boys!".
Since construction toys were gaining in popularity, and in an effort to
re-diversify, Ives released a
Meccano and Erector Set-like construction toy in 1913. Although
it offered parts its competition did not,
the set was not very successful and Ives withdrew it from the market in 1917.
World War I had mixed effects on the company. On one hand, it eliminated
imports from Germany, increasing
Ives' share of the market. However, Ives' geographic location made it difficult to bring in the materials
it needed to make trains, and also made shipping finished products difficult. Lionel and American Flyer,
being headquartered in New York City and Chicago, respectively, did not face that challenge. Additionally,
Ives' isolation made it impossible for Ives to gain lucrative wartime government manufacturing contracts.
As a result, Ives did not benefit financially from the war.
After the war, Ives, along with competitors Lionel and American Flyer, lobbied
successfully for protective
tariffs to promote the fledgling American toy train industry. As a result, there was very little foreign
competition after World War I, especially at the high end of the market where Ives had positioned itself.
The seasonal nature of train sales continued to cause concern for Ives, and Harry Ives, sought one
last time to diversify by selling toy boats, which he hoped would support the company through strong summer
sales. The first boats, released in 1917, were powered by a clockwork engine from an Ives 'O' gauge locomotive.
However, the designs were unrealistic looking, lacking the costly detail that was the highlight of competing
German designs, and had a tendency to sink easily. Additionally, since Ives did not use a primer when painting
the boats, the paint flaked off easily. Ives had difficulty adapting its methods for designing and building
trains to work for boats. Despite the problems, Ives continued producing the boats until 1928. Few Ives
boats exist today, but it is unclear whether this was due to lack of popularity or their propensity to sink.
Harry Ives had a heated professional relationship with Lionel founder Joshua
Lionel Cowen, in which they
traded lawsuits and, starting in 1915,Lionel criticized
the quality of Ives' offerings in print advertisements,
calling its cars flimsy and showing a cast-iron Ives locomotive shattering into 15 pieces when dropped from a
table, while a Lionel locomotive dropped from the same height would survive with only dents. Other ads
criticizing Ives' quality appeared, but they always compared Ives' cheapest products with Lionel's
Although Ives could rightly claim that its lithographed offerings were more
realistic than Lionel's
simple enameled two-color cars, Lionel, taking a cue from Ives, targeted advertising straight at children,
claiming its cars were the most realistic and that its paint jobs were more durable.
Ives' subdued responses did little to counter Lionel's claims, only calling its competitors
(including Lionel) imitators whose technology was "12 years behind." It was no match for Lionel's
bold and brash ads. Additionally, Lionel's trains generally
were priced lower, or, in instances
where their price was comparable to Ives, they were larger, making them appear to be a better value
for the money. As a result, Lionel continually gained ground on Ives, finally overtaking them in sales in 1924.
Ives did not call its bigger trains Standard Gauge, as Lionel had trademarked the
name. While Ives was inconsistent
in what it called its larger-gauge trains, it most frequently called it wide gauge. Numerous other companies
also entered the wide gauge market in the early 1920s, increasing consumer interest in the size and forcing
the manufacturers to innovate in order to survive.
In 1924, Ives introduced a locomotive engine that would change directions when its
power flow was interrupted,
a feature that Lionel would not offer for another two years. Even after Lionel's introduction, Ives' offering
was unique in that it offered a neutral position as well as forward and reverse, and the engine's headlight
continued to operate even when the train was in neutral. Ives charged a premium for this feature, which it
dubbed the "e-unit" (the "e" stood for 'electronic,' although it was a mechanical device), and it increased sales.
This was not enough for Ives to re-take its former place as market leader--by 1926,
Lionel's revenue was
twice that of Ives'--and, worse yet for the company, Ives was losing money by the mid-1920s. This was worsened
by Ives' attempts to compete at the low end of the market,
where, unlike its competition, it sold its
entry-level models at a loss. If Ives' low-end products were higher quality than its competitors, it
benefited its customers, not the company.
By 1926 Ives was in financial straights. In an effort to turn around the company,
Harry Ives relinquished
his presidency in 1927, becoming chairman of the board and bringing in an outsider, Charles R. Johnson,
as president, but problems continued and Ives' largest creditor sued in 1928. Ives filed bankruptcy in 1928
reporting liabilities of $188,303.25. As Ives already had $245,000 in Christmas sales lined up, Johnson
petitioned for a private sale and a quick settlement. The motion for a private sale was denied.
Lionel and Flyer
jointly bought Ives for $73,250. The low price in comparison to the
company sales was presumably due to liens on Ives' assets. Lionel and Flyer then operated Ives as a joint
venture, retaining Johnson and Harry Ives as president and chairman, respectively. Harry Ives left the
company in September 1929, and within seven years he was dead.
Ives' new owners immediately discontinued the line of toy boats, and much of Ives'
train product line
was replaced with relabeled American Flyer or Lionel product, and most new designs were carried out using
Lionel and American Flyer parts, even though Ives' own designs were usually more realistic. There are several
reasons for this. When Lionel and American Flyer bought Ives, they
did not buy the factory or tooling, which
they then had to rent. It may have been less expensive for the parent companies to supply their own parts than
to rent the old Ives tooling. Some historians have speculated that the Ives tooling was worn out and no
longer suitable for use. A third factor was that Lionel's and Flyer's manufacturing process was less labor
intensive, which made their designs less expensive to manufacture than the Ives designs they replaced.
A notable exception was the Ives 1122 locomotive, first produced in 1929, which was
the first near-to-scale
model of an existing locomotive to enter the marketplace. Although it had a 4-4-2 wheel configuration,
it was otherwise a recognizable copy of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad President Washington Class
Whatever the reasons, the Ives product line after 1928 inherited many
recognizable traits from three
different companies' product lines. In 1930, Lionel purchased Flyer's portion of Ives, and closed the Ives
factory in Connecticut, moving operations to Lionel's New Jersey factory. Lionel continued to build Ives trains
until 1931 when train sales plummeted. Lionel kept the Ives brand on the
market through 1932, then repositioned Ives for 1933, branding its entry-level trains as Lionel-Ives,
then dropped the Ives name altogether following that year. Although re-issues were occasionally made,
the Ives name never re-appeared on the marketplace with any kind of regularity. Lionel mostly wanted Ives
for their superior and patented three position reversing unit.
Although Joshua Lionel Cowen would later claim that he dumped all of the Ives molds in the Connecticut
River, Ives' influence lived on. Lionel continued the Ives practice of issuing low-end train sets that
ran on a circle of 'O' gauge track with a 27-inch radius, and Lionel incorporated some Ives-designed freight
cars into its product line. The Lionel 1680 tanker car, for instance, was an Ives design that remained in
Lionel's catalogs right up to the start of World War II. Even more significantly, the Ives e-unit first
introduced in 1924 lived on in Lionel locomotives, with a modified version of the Ives design first
appearing in Lionel trains starting in 1933. Some historians have said Cowen coveted the Ives e-unit,
and that it was the primary reason Lionel bought the company. It would remain present in Lionel trains
for more than 50 years.
The Ives name is owned by Lionel LLC. Ives is not produced today except
occasional reproductions by licensed third parties. In the 1970's, Williams Trains
licensed the rights, and manufactured reproductions of some of the the classic Ives Standard
gauge trains such as the #1694 from 1932. In the 1980's, Rich-Art
issued a reproduction of the Ives Model #3245L Cascade electric bi-polar locomotive from
the late 1920's. More recently, M.T.H. Tinplate Traditions has issued
several Standard gauge reproductions of classic 1920's and 1930's
locomotives, passenger cars and freight equipment, including the popular #3236 Ives Electrics.
Original Ives toys are highly sought after by collectors.