The A.C. Gilbert Company
The A.C. Gilbert Company was started and owned by Alfred Carleton Gilbert. Early on A.C. Gilbert was better known for "Erector Set" as well as its chemical sets. In 1938 A.C. Gilbert bought the "American Flyer®" brand name from W.O. Coleman, and used it to manufacture and sell toy trains. Before WWII the trains were gauged to Lionel's track gauge (O-scale), but the models were 1:64 scale. After the war, the track gauge was changed closer to 1:64. This made American Flyer trains look more realistic than Lionel's, especially since A.F. used the two-rail system as opposed to Lionel's 3-rail system.
There is a brief, 5-minute video on YouTube of the A.C. Gilbert factory. If you really want to learn about the A.C. Gilbert history, we recommend sitting down with a cup of coffee or tea and enjoy Tom Barker's 30-minute, professionally-produced A.C. Gilbert Documentary.
A.C. Gilbert's main competitor was Lionel®. Gilbert wanted to make cheaper, and more accurate models. The main difference, beside the size (1:48 vs. 1:64), was that Lionel used a center rail down the middle of the tracks, whereas Gilbert used the more prototypical two-rail system. The A.C. Gilbert company manufactured American Flyer trains until 1966, when the company went out of business. Lionel then bought the American Flyer name and product line in 1967. Lionel subsequently declared its own bankruptcy later that same year.
The cereal company, General Mills, bought the Lionel product line, but not the corporation itself. In 1979 General Mills, under the name Fundimensions Division, based in Mt. Clemens, Michigan, resurrected the American Flyer product line, with little success. You can identify these models by looking at the label underneath, which will state "Lionel/Fundimensions". In the meantime "Lionel Corporation" continued as a holding company for a variety of toy stores around the country and wasn't really involved in toy trains anymore. In 1993 they went out of business for good.
In 1986 Lionel, LLC, owned by Richard Kughn, an entirely different corporation from the original Lionel company, bought the brand name and product line from General Mills. In 1994 famous musician, and part owner, Neil Young invented and holds some patents related to Lionel's TMCC system (digital command control). In 1995 Richard Kughn sold his interest to Wellspring Capital Management (80%) and Neil Young (20%, up through 2008). This is the Lionel company that is still in business today. Lionel's main business is O-scale trains, but they are now also actively producing both re-issues and newly-tooled engines, cars, and accessories under the American Flyer name for S-scale. Their products are backward-compatible with original American Flyer track, but they are also starting to make some of their models more true-to-scale.
Each year the NASG produces an A.F. Commemorative Car (or engine) that is available for sale to NASG members only. These are limited-production collector cars, typically produced by Lionel (there are a few exceptions). The 2016 model, shown on the right, can be pre-ordered today. Some other Commemorative cars are still available. You can order yours conveniently via the NASG Store's online shopping cart. We have the entire collection of A.F. Commemorative Cars available to view.
Here we feature some nice American Flyer and/or hi-rail photos contributed by modelers.
We are in the process of showing all A.C. Gilbert-produced American Flyer products. This is a perpetually-ongoing effort, and is made possible by the contributions of time and effort by several modelers and collectors. This project is managed by the webmaster, and your contributions (photos, data, info, correction, etc.) are all welcome and deeply appreciated. This is definitely a community effort.
There are several other good resources for researching AF products. The main source is the Greenberg's American Flyer Pocket Price Guide 1946-2015 published and updated annually by Kalmbach. Online there are several web sites that list AF products, such as AF Train Master, The Gilbert Gallery, and TrainDR.
Jim Boyd (source: Railroad Model Craftsman magazine, October 1978 issue, pg 76)
Malcolm Furlow (source: Railroad Model Craftsman magazine, September 1978 issue, pg 102)
Buster Keaton (source: Trains Magazine web site)
Allen McClelland (source: Railroad Model Craftsman magazine, March 1977, pg 44; shows layout photo)
Mike Schafer (source: Railroad Model Craftsman magazine, August 2015, pg 78)
George Selios (source: Model Railroader magazine, various issues)