History on the term:
O scale as it relates to the 1:43
diecast model car industry
scale (or 0 scale, O gauge or 0 gauge) is a scale commonly
used for toy trains and model railroading. Originally
introduced by German toy manufacturer Märklin around
1900, by the 1930s
three-rail alternating current O gauge was the most common
model railroad scale in the United States and remained
so until the early 1960s.
In Europe, its popularity declined before World War II
due to the introduction of smaller scales.
gauge had its heyday when model railroads were considered
toys, with more emphasis placed on cost, durability, and
the ability to be easily handled and operated by pre-adult
hands. Detail and realism were secondary concerns, at
gauge remains a popular choice for hobbyists who enjoy
running trains more than they enjoy other aspects of modeling,
and collecting vintage O gauge trains is also popular.
In addition, a number of changes in recent years have
addressed the concerns of scale model railroaders, making
O scale more popular, at least in the United States.
The original name for O gauge and O scale was 0 [zero]
gauge or Gauge 0, because it was smaller than Gauge 1
and the other existing standards. At the time, it was
believed to be impossible to make a toy train any smaller.
It was created in part because manufacturers realized
their best-selling trains were the smaller scales.
the United States, manufacturers such as the Ives Manufacturing
Company, American Flyer, and Lionel Corporation used O
gauge for their budget line, marketing either Gauge 1
or Wide gauge (also known as standard gauge) as their
premium trains. The Great Depression wiped out demand
for the expensive larger trains, and by 1932,
O gauge was the standard, almost by default.
of the emphasis on play value, the scale of pre-World
War II O gauge trains varied. The Märklin specifications
called for 1:43
scale. However, many designs were 1:48 scale or 1:64
scale. Entry-level trains, usually made of lithographed
tinplate, were not scaled at all, made to whimsical proportions
about the same length of an HO scale piece, but about
the same width and height of an O scale piece. Yet all
of these designs ran on the same track, and, depending
on the manufacturer(s) of the cars, could sometimes be
coupled together and run as part of the same train.
World War II, manufacturers started paying more attention
to scale, and post-war locomotives and rolling stock tend
to be larger and more realistic than their earlier counterparts.
the early 1990s,
O scale manufacturers have begun placing more emphasis
on realism, and the scale has experienced a resurgence
in popularity, although it remains less popular than HO
or N scale.
The differences in the various O gauge and O scale standards
often confuse newcomers.
O gauge and O scale
O scale tends to imply an accurate scale model at 1:43
scale, 1:45 scale, or 1:48 scale. It may run on traditional
three-rail track, but more likely, it runs on more realistic-looking
two-rail track using direct current. However, the height
and spacing of the rails is not true to scale. Often,
hobbyists will use the phrases "two-rail" or
"three-rail" to clarify which they mean.
some O gauge usually implies a toy train running on three-rail
track, scaled at approximately 1:48. To many it is a gauge
which allows larger precision models to be made to. Using
the odd scale of 7 mm = 12 inches a scale of 1/43.5 is
established. Especially in the UK many models are made
to this scale for running on layouts, small and large,
indoors and out.
used as a narrow gauge track 0 gauge allows scales of
1/32 representing 40" or meter gauge track. 1/20
representing 24"/600 mm narrow gauge railways.
the two phrases are often also used interchangeably, particularly
O27 gauge is a variant whose origins are slightly unclear.
Some historians attribute its creation to A. C. Gilbert
Company's American Flyer, but Ives used O27 track in its
entry-level sets at least a decade before Gilbert bought
modern standard for O27, however, was formalized after
by Gilbert, who scaled the locomotives and rolling stock
at 3/16 inches to the foot, or 1:64. After World War II,
this practice was continued by Louis Marx and Company,
who used it throughout its product line, and Lionel, who
used it for its entry-level trains. O27 track is spaced
at the same width as regular O gauge track, but is slightly
shorter in height and has thinner rails than traditional
O gauge track. A shim underneath the O27 track enables
the use of O and O27 track together.
O27 name comes from the size of the track's curves. A
circle made of eight pieces of standard curved O gauge
track will have a 31 inch (787 mm) diameter. A circle
made of 8 pieces of curved O27 track is smaller, with
a 27 inch (686 mm) diameter. Full-sized O cars sometimes
have difficulty negotiating the tighter curves of an O27
layout. Although the smaller, tin lithographed cars by
American Flyer, Marx, and others predate the formal O27
standard, they are also often called O27 because they
also operate flawlessly on O27 track.
the O27 standard is no longer used today by Lionel and
others for new entry level sets, it remains popular with
children and people who have limited space. O27 sets were
usually the most "toy" like versions of 0 gauge
Die-cast metal models compatible with O scale
Many manufacturers produce die-cast models of trucks,
cars, buses, construction equipment and other vehicles
in scales compatible with or similar to O scale model
trains. These are available in 1:43 scale, 1:48 scale
and 1:50 scale. Manufacturers include Conrad, NZG, Corgi
and many others. These are popular with collectors and
easy to find.
Exact scale standards
Dissatisfaction with these standards led to a more accurate
standard for wheels and track, called Proto:48. This duplicates
to exact scale the AAR track and wheel standards.
track gauge normally used for O is correct for British
O but not American. The difference between the two also
explains why HO is 1:87
- it is 3.5 mm to the foot, half of British O, but is
not used in Britain.
because of the large size of American railroad systems,
accurate scale modeling in standard gauge O scale is rare
in the United States, though narrow gauge modeling is
much more common.
common narrow gauge standards exist, and the difference
between On3, On2, On30, and On18 is a frequent source
of confusion. On3 is exact-scale 1:48 modeling of 3 foot
(914 mm) gauge prototypes, while On30 is 1:48 modeling
of 30 inch (762 mm) gauge prototypes, On2 is 1:48 modeling
of 2 foot (610 mm) gauge prototypes, and On18 is 1:48
modeling of 18 inch (457 mm) gauge prototypes. On30 is
also sometimes called On2½.
On30's gauge closely matches that of HO scale, On30 equipment
typically runs on standard HO scale track. On30 is considered
by many to be the fastest growing segment of the model
railroad hobby in general, and while many On30 modelers
scratchbuild their equipment, commercial offerings in
On30 are fairly common and sometimes very inexpensive,
with Bachmann Industries being the most commonly found
manufacturer. Bachmann's On30 trains are sometimes sold
side by side with the company's HO offerings.
who choose to model in any of these O scale standards
nevertheless end up building most, if not all, of their
equipment either from kits or from scratch.
O in the United States
In the United States, O scale is defined as 1:48 (0.25
inches to the foot, "quarter inch scale" 1/4
inch equals one foot). This is also a common dollhouse
scale, giving more options for buildings, figures, and
accessories. Many O scale layouts are also accessorized
with 1:43 scale model cars.
1:48 is a very convenient scale for modeling using the
Imperial system (a quarter-inch equals one scale foot),
the discrepancy between O scale in the United States and
in Europe is attributed to Lionel misreading the original
Lionel is the most enduring brand of O gauge trains, a
variety of manufacturers made trains in this gauge. Prior
to World War I, the majority of toy trains sold in the
United States were German imports made by Märklin,
Bing, Fandor, and other companies. World War I brought
a halt to these German imports, and protective tariffs
after the war made it difficult for them to compete.
between the two world wars, shorter-lived companies such
as Dorfan, Hafner, Ives, and Joy Line competed with Lionel,
Louis Marx and Company, American Flyer and Hornby. Many
of these pre-war trains operated by clockwork or battery
power and were made of lithographed tin. The sizes of
the cars varied widely, as the standard for O scale was
largely ignored. Dorfan went out of business in 1934,
while Ives was bought by Lionel, and Hafner and Joy Line
were bought by Marx. Hornby withdrew from the U.S. market
after selling its U.S. factory to the A. C. Gilbert Company.
early as 1938,
the survivors Lionel, Marx, and American Flyer faced competition
from Sakai (also sometimes spelled "Seki"),
a Tokyo-based Japanese toy company who sold trains priced
at the low end of the market. The product designs most
closely resembled Lionel, but with Märklin-like couplers
and detail parts that appeared to be copied from Ives.
the primary U.S. manufacturers of O gauge trains were
Lionel and Marx, with American Flyer switching to the
more-realistic S scale and the rest of the companies out
maker Unique Art produced a line of inexpensive O-gauge
trains from 1949
but found itself unable to compete with Marx. Marx continued
to make clockwork and battery-powered trains and lithographed
cars into the 1970s,
along with more realistic offerings that were sometimes
difficult to distinguish from Lionel.
re-entered the U.S. market after World War II, selling
trains that were often nearly identical to Marx designs
and sometimes undercutting Marx's prices, from 1946
company called American Model Toys brought out a line
of realistic, detailed cars beginning in 1948.
it released a budget line. It ran into financial difficulty,
reorganized under the name Auburn Model Trains, and ended
up selling its line to Nashville, Tennessee-based Kusan,
a plastics company who continued its production until
The tooling was then sold to a small company run by Andy
Kriswaulis in Endicott, New York, who operated as Kris
Model Trains, or KMT. After Kriswaulis' death, the tooling
was sold to K-Line and Williams Electric Trains, who continued
to use it to produce parts of their budget lines.
O scale's beginnings up until the mid-1970s, the various
manufacturers' trackside accessories would interoperate
with one another, but the train cars themselves used couplers
of differing designs, often making it difficult or impossible
to use different manufacturers' cars together. The post-War
consolidation did little to improve matters: Marx used
three different standards, depending on the product line,
and Lionel used two, so frequently the companies' own
entry-level products were incompatible with their high-end
products, let alone with the competition. Hobbyists who
wanted differing standards to interoperate had to resort
to replacing couplers.
Marx went out of business in 1978,
K-Line bought much of Marx's tooling and entered the marketplace.
K-Line's early offerings changed little from the old Marx
designs, other than a new brand name and a Lionel-compatible
coupler, making K-Line's offerings completely interoperable
O gauge regained popularity in the 1990s
it also started to regain manufacturers, and as of late
no fewer than six companies market O scale locomotives
and/or cars, all theoretically interoperable with one
equipment retains a large collector following. Equipment
from shorter-lived manufacturers prior to World War II
is also highly sought after, while American Flyer and
Marx are less so. Post-War Marx is gaining in popularity
after years of being derided by serious collectors. There
is little collector interest in Sakai today, possibly
because of difficulty identifying the equipment and because
the brand is much less widely known than its U.S. counterparts.
British and European O gauge
In Britain, O gauge equipment is produced at a scale of
1:43, which is 7 mm to the foot (using the common British
practice of modelling in metric prototypes originally
produced using Imperial measurements). It's often called
7 mm scale for this reason.
toy trains were historically produced to this scale, O
gauge's popularity in Europe and Britain died out after
World War II, and the standard is rarer than in the United
States. Modeling in O gauge in fact almost died out in
Britain but enjoyed a resurgence in the 1990s as modelers
developed a new appreciation for the level of accurate
detailing possible in this scale. Few ready to run models
are produced in this scale; most are available only as
kits for assembly by the modeller or a professional model-builder.
O gauge is considered an expensive scale to model in,
although the necessarily smaller scope of a larger-scaled
layout mitigates this to some extent. The two dominant
British manufacturers, Bassett-Lowke and Hornby, ceased
production of O gauge trains in 1965
respectively. However, Ace Trains and a revived Bassett-Lowke
are once again producing tinplate O gauge sets, many of
them reproductions of classic Hornby and Bassett-Lowke
similar situation exists in Europe, although the market
revolves less around kits and more around expensive hand-built
metal models for the deep-pocketed collector. Additionally,
Czech Republic-based Electric Train Systems started manufacturing
and selling lithographed tin 1:45 scale trains in 1991,
citing O scale's advantages over smaller sizes for non-permanent
floor layouts and outdoor layouts. The Spanish company
Paya produces a smaller line of tinplate trains, based
on designs dating back to 1906.
Germany a narrow gauge O scale train set is produced by
Fleischmann, running on 16.5 mm track, this scale is called
0e (750 mm prototype). The trains are marketed as children's
toy trains (Magic Train), but are accurately built after
Austrian prototypes and increased the interest in building
narrow gauge layouts in O-scale in Germany and Austria
true-to-prototype version of British 7 mm O gauge exists,
called ScaleSeven (S7) which uses 33 mm gauge to represent
British standard gauge in a scale of 1:43.5.
British 1:43 rail scale gave birth to series of die cast
cars and model commercial vehicles of the same scale which
gradually grew in popularity and spread to France, the
rest of Europe and North America at the same time that
the rail models were becoming less popular.
O in the Soviet Union
a limited number of O gauge train sets were manufactured
in the Soviet Union. Utilizing the same track and voltage
as their U.S. counterparts, the colorful locomotives and
cars resembled pre-World War II designs from U.S. manufacturers
Lionel and American Flyer and the couplers were nearly
identical to those of pre-war American Flyer. Some differences
in U.S. and Soviet railroading were evident from comparing
the Soviet sets with U.S. sets, particularly in the design
of the boxcar, which looked like an American Flyer boxcar
with windows added, reflecting the Soviets' use of box
cars to haul livestock, as well as merchandise.
like their American counterparts, Soviet O gauge trains
were toys, rather than precision-scaled models.
ALL 1:43 scale diecast model cars (in stock and out
only IN STOCK 1:43 scale diecast model cars