S scale is the in-between scale. That is, it is the size that falls between O and HO. At 3/16” to the foot and 1:64 scale, it would appear to be the ideal dimension for model trains. I think it was in the late 1940’s when I saw the American Flyer S gauge trains for the first time. I was impressed-the trains ran on two rail track and looked much more realistic than the Lionel O gauge 3-rail sets that were the standard at that time. Many folks felt that the new HO trains from Europe were too small to be seriously considered as a rival to O gauge and were only a novelty that would soon fade away. S, however, was smaller than O, looked more like the prototype and seemed to be the ideal compromise between size and realism. One would think that this would become the dominate gauge. In later years however, HO scale became more popular and would soon become number 1, even passing O in modeling circles.
It is thought that sometime in the early 1900,s, the first 3/16” models were made in the United Kingdom. In the 1920’s, S scale was developed in the United States by Ed Packard, owner of a model airplane company called Cleveland Model and Supply Co. In the late 1930’s, Cleveland Models released the first 3/16” kits which were designated as C-D scale and included a 4-6-0 and 0-6-0 locomotive kit. In 1942, the National Model Railroad Association recognized “S “gauge and designated it formally as 3/16”scale.
In the late 1930’s, the A.C. Gilbert Company-a manufacturer famous for its Erector Set construction toys, purchased the American Flyer 3-rail O gauge line of toy trains and re-tooled them for 1:64 scale. Although they were called scale, they were very similar to Lionel’s O27 trains. In 1941, Gilbert like many other American companies, shifted to war-time production and ceased work on the toy train line until 1946 when they produced a new line called “S” gauge which ran on two rail track and were smaller than the O gauge trains of both Lionel and Marx. The models were realistically proportioned compared to the O gauge tinplate competitors and were very popular but, for some reason, never outsold Lionel. American Flyer went out of business in 1967 and was later sold to Lionel.
In 1979, Lionel introduced its S gauge trains and accessories under the American Flyer name. In the following years, several other suppliers showed up in the S marketplace with beautifully detailed models and structures. A number of brass locomotives and rolling stock types are available in today’s market in standard as well as narrow gauge. This is probably the golden age of S scale modeling with the most equipment and information available than ever before. Still, this gauge is likely in fourth place when compared to the popularity and availability of models in other scales. That fact has always been a mystery to me. One would think that this would be the most appealing size to model when all factors are taken into consideration.