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Jean McClelland: Steam engine toys were inspired by Industrial Revolution | Features/Entertainment

The Industrial Revolution started in Great Britain and eventually spread to the United States around the turn of the 19th century. The world was suddenly full of steam engines, wheels, valves, cylinders and more, all put together to manufacturer, transport and innovate the lives of citizens.

It was such an innovative period of history that people wanted to share it on all levels of society. Hence, steam engine toys for children found a niche in the late 19th and into the 20th centuries. Probably the first prototypes were the steam locomotive pulling the model train along the rails. Then boats were introduced, and from there steam rollers, fire engines and a multitude of other vehicles appeared to entertain the youngsters.

Collectors today love these miniature machines and love researching their past to discover the makers and what countries produced them. The Industrial Revolution was a period of innovation like no other in history, encouraging new ideas at every turn and numerous inventors for every machine and toy.

Collecting these toys takes lots of research; however, there are several mainstays in the venue. Companies such as Wilesco (Germany), Mamod (Great Britain) and Jensen (USA) are still cranking out the little wonders that fascinated child and adult alike. Others like Weeden (USA) are no longer in business, but their toys are still very collectible.

Besides steam-powered toys, there were miniature machines that were produced as prototypes for the much bigger machine used in real life. These prototypes were very intricate and exact and were not meant for child’s play but as salesmen’s samples to sell their goods. Often in the antique market, the toy and the salesmen’s sample can be confused. A rule of thumb might be that a child’s toy would be much simpler in its workings and appearance.

Those who collect these mechanical wonders are very interested in them…

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