But why is it called a MADISON car?

What's in a name?


Recently I was showing some MTH passenger cars to a recovering HO Scale operator who has made the O gauge plunge. When I pulled the car out of the styrofoam, I said, “Isn't this a great Madison?”


Most of you can now picture the car I was selling. The customer, however, was puzzled. He said, “What is a 'Madison?' This car is a Heavyweight.” I pointed to the Mike's Train House set box end, and assured him, No, it is in fact a Madison. Mike Wolf says so.



But the truth is that Mike himself has fallen prey to an eighty year collector slang term that has highballed its way into O gauger's common terminology. How did this happen?


In the prewar 1940s, Lionel issued its first Pullman Heavyweights, the numbers 2623 and 2624. The car came with the names Irvington and Manhattan. These were the cream of the crop, full O scale (14 1/2” long) with heavy duty Bakelite and six wheel trucks. In 1946, just after the war, Lionel made them for the postwar market. The first year saw only #2625 Irvington. Yes, you could have a set with multiple Irvingtons. However, the very next year, Lionel issued the same number but with new names, Madison and Manhattan. In 1948, 2627 Madison and 2628 Manhattan were produced.


The original box calls it an “O Gauge Pullman Car." In Lionel's contemporaneous book Model Railroading, they refer to these cars as “deluxe six wheel Pullmans.”


When I first started going to train shows in the late 1980s (hey, I was a BABY), I knew some older collectors who called them Irvingtons!


So when did the more common name get attached?


Some folks say that the name Madison stuck to differentiate the postwar knuckle coupler cars from the prewar coupler version. This makes sense since the name Madison is specifically postwar.


Some say it is to honor the street on which Joshua Lionel Cohen was born.

On the other hand, it is tempting to think it was a brilliant publicity ploy by Madison Hardware, Lionel's most famous outlet. However, even Madison Hardware missed the opportunity, referring to them as Pullmans in their own advertising.


In the 1970's Lionel made the heavyweight again, but their new molds were a few inches short. Collectors (and now even Lionel) call these shorter versions, “Baby Madisons.” Even Lionel's most popular set ever—the Polar Express—uses Baby Madisons still today. It was not until 1990, the 50th anniversary of the car, that Lionel unveiled the modern version of the full O heavyweight for its customers.


 Lionel Blue Comet Baby Madison 1978


When Jerry Williams started doing his Williams Reproductions of older Lionel trains for collectors in the 1970s, the nickname seems to have been already in use, but he likely cemented it into our common parlance.  He may have been the first major manufacturer to start calling them Madisons in ads, in catalogs, and on boxes. And his young employee-protege, a twelve-year-old neighbor kid with a dream named Mike Wolf, most likely picked it up from him.


So why did “Madison” stick? Maybe it is as simple as why we call all soft drinks “Cokes” (especially in the South) or all tissue paper “Kleenex”. It could be that the simpler postwar car name just stuck.


While I tend to favor the “differentiate from prewar version” theory, I do know one thing for sure. It was much easier to tell my customer about the Madison car than the “deluxe O gauge six wheel heavyweight Pullman!”


MTH 20-4031 Full O scale Union Pacific Madison


Right now, we have LOTS of great MADISON car sets available. Just mosey on over to the search bar and type "MADISON"...and there you will find some deluxe O gauge six wheel heavyweight Pullmans!


All pictures copyright Lone Star Trains

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