The Development of Model Railway Scales and Gauges.

During the last century model railways were produced to scales and gauges at the whim of the manufacturer. Even when different makers used the same gauge, the variations in rail sizes, track standards, wheel standards and couplers precluded any intermixing of their models. Other than individuals building their own systems completely, "Model Railways" as we know them today were impossible.

The first break-through came in 1891 at the Leipzig Toyfair when Maerklin introduced trains with a complete range of track parts with geometric curves, straights, points and crossings in 5 different scales.

These were:

No.5 gauge. 120mm or 4 5/8" also known as V gauge.
No.4 gauge. 75mm or 3" also known as IV, No.3 gauges.
No.3 gauge. 67mm or 2 5/8" also known as III, II, IIa gauges.
No.2 gauge. 54mm or 2 1/8" also known as II gauge.
No.1 gauge. 48mm or 1 7/8" also known as I gauge.
And later:
No.0 gauge. 35mm or 1 3/8". This was introduced several years later, around the year 1900.

To all those people leaping to pen and paper to correct my figures, note that these gauges were measured from rail-center to rail-center, with a common rail-head width of 3mm. (1/8") I believe these dimensions were originally inch measurements, later rounded to metric units. No.4 gauge is variously quoted at 3" and 2 15/16".

Amusingly, when "American Flyer" in the USA decided to manufacture a new size, they looked at the Maerklin catalogue and selected the number 3 gauge. Unfortunately, they were not aware of the European method of gauge measurement and assumed that 2 5/8" was the distance between the rails, rather than the center to center distance. They were not the only ones to make this kind of mistake.

Some manufacturers, while they took up the standards, called 75mm gauge No.3 and 67mm No.2a. Eg. Bing.

Scales were not considered important by the toy makers. Appearance was all important and most makers produced models which did for several gauges with different wheel spacings. Usually the model in any gauge became the basis of a cheap range for the next gauge up. Scale models were still a long way off!

In 1912, Lionel in the United States began production of a range of trains using Maerklin's philosophy of offering a complete range of trains, track and accessories and adopted the No.2 gauge. However they assumed that the 2 1/8" gauge stated in Maerklin's literature was measured between the rails, which was the norm in the USA. When the mistake was realised, Lionel coined the term "Standard Gauge" which is still in use today in the USA.

Around 1900, No.0 gauge was introduced by Maerklin to allow train sets to be accommodated in the smaller houses which were then being built, or perhaps it was because toy trains were becoming cheap enough to be avaliable to people on lower incomes. The larger gauges had already fallen out of favour. Little had been produced in No.5 gauge, No.4 attracted a few one-off orders and No.3 gauge was purchased only by the very rich. No.1 being the most popular, showed the need for smaller gauges.

No.0 gauge immediately became popular as the price made railways accessible to the middle classes. This movement to smaller guages encouraged makers to introduce smaller non-standard trains before WWI but none were persevered with. Was this because they were non-standard sizes?

The English market began to have an influence on the German manufacturers in the 10 years before WWI. with Henry Greenly and others pushing for more accurate models to be produced.

After WW I Maerklin introduced a No.00 gauge of about 7/8" (22mm?) This was produced from 1921 but was dropped after 3 years production.

Bing of Nurnberg introduced their "Table-top" range in 1921 which was to 5/8" gauge (between the rails), chosen because it was half No.0 gauge. This was taken up by Henry Greenly for the English market in 1923. Another German firm, Distler, produced 5/8" gauge from 1920, but this seems to have faded away without success.

Gauges larger than No.1 did not reappear after WWI. with few exceptions. Even Gauge No.1 had faded away by the 1930's.

S Gauge made its appearance in the USA during the interwar period, noteably from American Flyer. The track gauge of 7/8" is the same as the 22mm gauge produced with little success by some European manufacturers.

Bing's Table-top railway was "the" big success in Germany, England and even the USA. Copies were produced by various firms through-out Europe. Eg. Bub, Paya, JEP. etc.

ZO Gauge (24mm) was a European scale to fit between O and HO. The first manufacturer was the Czechoslovakian firm Lastra, with a selection in 1938. The scale reappeared post-war from Malmo-Bahn ( Werner Mahlow, Berlin ) in 1949, and BeCo-Bahn ( Bergmann & Co, Berlin) in 1950. The ranges were gone by the mid 1950s. Trains were becoming more true to prototype in the larger scales and individual makers used the toy gauges as a basis for producing models to scale. The actual scales used with each gauge varied, most makers rounding scales up or down which has resulted in some very odd combinations, some of which continue today.

The mid 1930s saw new ranges being introduced in OO/HO scale by Maerklin, Trix, Hornby, Lionel and others. I have deliberately used the OO/HO- scale term here as OO and HO had not settled at their present meanings except in the USA, where OO meant 19mm gauge, 4mm/1ft scale and HO meant 5/8" gauge with 1/8":1ft or 3.5mm:1ft. In England and Europe competitors used opposing terms, probably to keep their customers faithful to one brand.

After WW2, HP Products in the USA introduced a small range of models in TT scale. Several manufacturers in Europe followed suit and the scale had a period of popularity through the 1950s. The scale has remained popular in Eastern Europe, perhaps due to smaller homes, and in particular, due to a good range of models being avaliable.

O scale reappeared after WWII but did not regain its popularity. The gauge remained in the toy market in Europe until about 1950, Britain until about 1960 and in the USA, Lionel faltered on until the nostalgia movement brought increased sales.

N scale began a faltering start in the mid 1950s, with push-along toys from MiniTrix and Lone Star. Arnold brought out powered models around 1960. I am not sure which of the three was first with operating models. This scale is now the second most popular, after HO.

In 1972, Maerklin introduced "Z" scale as the smallest practical size. Other firms have products in Z scale, but none provide a complete range of rolling stock and trackwork. Due to the precision manufacturing required, and the practical problems of dust and dirt with such tiny mechanisims, it is unlikely that any major company will bring out a smaller scale in the foreseeable future.

The 1980s and 1990s have seen a revival of larger scales. Lehmann of Germany introduced a range of narrow gauge "Garten" or "G" scale models, (No.II scale) to run on Gauge I (45mm) track. Pola followed with O scale models while Maerklin tried O scale narrow gauge on HO track. Neither range was a success. Maerklin followed with accurate scale No.I models which more recently has split into two ranges: the scale models, and the "Maxi" tinplate models for the toy and notalgic market. These seem to be successful, the scale range in particular encouraging many small companies to bring out high quality models in I scale.

The following list gives some of the combinations of gauge and scale in use since WWII. or affecting them:

They are blocked in "family" groups with those commercially avaliable highlighted with an asterisk *

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G.L.Procter. u/d 20/9/1997.