Carlisle & Finch Electric Trains
Posted On: 12/20/2017 - 12:13pm, Posted By: David Conzett, Curator of History Objects & Fine Art
In November 1896, just in time for Christmas, Scientific American magazine carried an advertisement for a child’s electric train, The Complete Electric Railway by the Carlisle & Finch Company of Cincinnati. Although wind-up or “clockwork” toy trains had been available for years, the first known electric train had appeared just a year earlier. Carlisle & Finch introduced the first mass-produced and marketed electric train with that 1896 ad.
Carlisle & Finch No. 4 Freight Set, Cincinnati Museum Center History Collections.
Morton Carlisle and Robert S. Finch were 21-year-old electrical engineers when they purchased a small electrical repair shop from the Cincinnati Division of the General Electric Company on July 1, 1893. The summer of 1893 was not the best time to start a new business as the New York stock market had collapsed in June, plunging the country into a deep economic depression. During a challenging first year in a building at Fifth and Elm Streets, the Carlisle & Finch Company repaired electric motors and rewound armatures for local businesses. In July of the following year the company moved to a larger, better-equipped facility on Sixth Street. With the addition of a steam engine to generate power and an electric oven with which to bake their own armatures and transformers, C&F began to manufacture small motors and marine arc searchlights – products that became the foundation of the company. However, if the young company was to survive the difficult economic times, a mass produced product with broad popular appeal would be needed. With this in mind, Carlisle & Finch designed and manufactured a toy electric trolley car.
In September 1896 C&F manufactured the first sets of the No.1 Complete Electric Railway – a single trolley car, a circular piece of track, and battery components for the price of $3.50 – the beginning of the electric train industry. By November, fifteen hundred sets had been produced. The seven-inch long No. 1 trolley car was made of stamped sheet brass and driven by a two-pole electric motor. Track consisted of thin metal strips set into notched wooden ties. Early production No.1 trolley cars used a three-rail track, but this was changed to a two-rail system for added realism in early 1897. Because most homes were not wired for electricity at this time, power was supplied to the tracks by a crude battery made of zinc/carbon strips suspended in a solution of chromite and water. The No. 1 Electric Railway was an immediate success and remained one of the company’s best selling toys, no doubt because of its low price. To enhance the trolley and increase sales, the No. 1 set was soon upgraded with an optional reversing motor and additional brass cars.
Carlisle & Finch ad, The Electrical Engineer, June 16, 1897 showing the No. 1 Complete Electric Railway and the No. 7 Hand-Power Dynamo
Within a few months Carlisle & Finch expanded their product line and became the premier manufacturer of electric trains in the country. The No. 2 Electric Railway, a twelve inch long, double truck, brass trolley, similar to the full-size streetcars that rattled through the streets of Cincinnati, was produced in early 1897. The No. 3 Coal Mining Locomotive, a simple tow motor pulling three dump cars, was introduced shortly thereafter and would become one of the most popular of all the C&F products. Railway accessories, the No. 5 Ornamental Railway Bridge, the No. 9 Buffalo Railway Station and several track switches, pieces that added that all-important realism and play value to the layouts, also appeared at this time. The Buffalo railway station was a finely crafted tinplate building with color lithographed details and operating electric semaphore signals; this highly popular accessory would remain in production for years to come.
Electric power sources were greatly improved with the development of the No. 7 Hand-Power Dynamo, a small hand cranked generator, and the No. 8 Complete Water-Power Plant, a water propelled dynamo. The fifteen-pound, cast-steel No. 8 power plant, which sold for $8.00, would be placed in the kitchen sink and connected to the faucet with a rubber hose and metal clamps. Forty to fifty pounds of water pressure turned the dynamo’s internal wheel to generate up to ten volts of electricity to the model railroad. These mechanical power plants must have been a welcome alternative to open jars of liquid chromite, especially among the watchful parents of small children. Dry cell batteries were another recommended power source.
Queen City landmarks influenced the design of Carlisle & Finch products. In March 1897 the company manufactured the motorized No. 4 Inclined Plane Railway. The Price Hill incline was near the C&F building on Sixth Street and most certainly the inspiration for the twenty-inch tall model. Although the overall specifications of the incline are unknown, the model consisted of a motor house mounted on four metal poles; two incline planes descended from the front of the building. A small electric motor pulled a pair of platforms along the incline, and like the Price Hill incline, as one platform went up, the other one went down. The No. 4 Incline Railway, which originally sold for $4.00, was a rare toy at the time, and today none are known to survive.
Join us tomorrow for part 2 of our feature on the Carlisle & Finch trains.