The Märklin company, perhaps Europe’s best-known manufacturer of model trains, originated in 1859 in Goppingen, 40 km east of Stuttgart, when a tinsmith, Theodore Märklin, began to make dolls’ houses of lacquered tinplate. He died in an accident in 1866, but the firm was carried on by his wife, Caroline. His sons, after initially showing little interest in the business, formed a limited liability company in 1888. Three years later they took over a well-established business, Ludwig Lutz, that made tinplate toys in Ellwangen, and re-settled most of its skilled workers in Goppingen. Marklin exhibited a clockwork train at a toy fair in Leipzig in 1891, and the emphasis of the company gradually shifted towards model railways.
In 1911 an imposing six-storey factory with a 110 m frontage was built on Stuttgarter Strasse. The company took a lead in establishing standard gauges and scales for model railways in the early 1900s, and in 1925-26 demonstrated that electric model trains could be made that were safe for children to operate. By 1929 Marklin had some 900 employees. HO (i.e. half O) gauge models were introduced in 1936 and two years later a working model catenary for overhead electric trains was demonstrated.
Innovations continued after the Second World War, and old forms of model were abandoned. The production of O gauge tinplate models ceased in 1950, and the visible third rail system for powering electric trains was abandoned in 1953, while the first sound effects were introduced in 1966, Z gauge models in 1972 and digital control systems in 1984.
The museum originated in 1900 as a sample room where dealers could examine models and make their selections. The company has modelled its locomotives and rolling stock on prototypes from most European countries (although rarely from the United Kingdom) as well as from North America, and the museum’s collection is a valuable source for the history of railways as well as that of modelling. There are several working layouts displaying different gauges and operating systems, and current production models are exhibited ranging from a set including the Adler of 1835, the first steam locomotive in Germany to the latest Deutsches Bahn Inter-City trains.