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A daily look back at the toys, games, and objects that captured our attention as children and continue to fascinate us today.

Joshua Lionel Cowen: Fast Track to Success

Cowen applied his talent for engineering and innate curiosity to create model trains that captured the attention of rail enthusiasts for generations.

Vital Stats

Born Joshua Lionel Cohen August 1877 in New York City.

Changed his last name to Cowen in 1910.

Igniting Ideas

Built his first toy – a wooden train – at 7 years old. It combusted when he tried to fit it with a small steam-powered engine.

His talent for engineering led him to patent a device to ignite camera flash powder in 1899. The United States Navy later contracted Cowen to produce mine fuses.

On the Right Track

Cowen founded Lionel Manufacturing Company in 1900 with a colleague. The New York City company’s first product was an electric fan.

In 1901, a toy store window featuring a push train inspired Cowen to produce an electric version propelled by a fan motor and a battery. The “Electric Express” was used as a toy store display to capture the attention of passersby. The train was a hit with shoppers and -to-do families ordered them.

The popularity of Lionel trains increased as the middle-class grew and electricity became available in more homes.

Ticket to Ride

1915 the O-Gauge was introduced, eventually becoming the de facto scale for toy trains.

In 1918, Lionel Manufacturing Company rebranded to Lionel Corporation

By 1953, Lionel Corporation was the world’s largest toy manufacturer.

Cowen retired from the company in 1959.


Died September 1965 in Palm Beach, Florida.

In 1999, Lionel trains was chosen as one of the top 10 toys of the 20th century

Cowen was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2007.

Lionel trains continue to fascinate and inspire people of all ages.