Irv Athearn beggan his life long passion for model railroading back in the 1940’s in his mother house.
Superior quality. High dependability. Tremendous value. This is what you think of whenever you hear the name “Athearn .” It’s also quite likely that you know of the man who ensured that the models bearing his name reflected his high standards and his status as an industry leader.
Irv Athearn began his life-long affair with model railroading in 1938, when he filled his mother’s house with an elaborate O-scale layout that he was constantly modifying. A few years later, Irv valued his O collection at $10,000 and placed an advertisement selling it in Model Railroader. Response to his ad was rabidly favorable, giving Irv the idea that perhaps selling model railroads would be a good living.
He continued to sell train products out of his mother’s house through most of the 1940’s, eventually becoming a full-time railroad retailer in 1946 and opening a separate facility in Hawthorne, California in 1948, the same year he branched out into HO kits for the first time.
Early on, Irv recognized the importance of time and value to his customers. He introduced “an entirely new principle in HO car construction,” a reefer kit with a preassembled body and spot-welded underframe—a precursor to the popular Ready To Roll line. Athearn continued to shake up the model train industry through the years, consistently marketing their products as innovations in quality, workmanship and excellent value. Irv’s ability to recognize new trends and change with the times allowed Athearn to strike with a flaming iron. For instance, in 1956, he released the EMD F7 diesel utilizing the revolutionary “Hi-F” drive, and, in 1973, he introduced the F45 and FP45, among the first model locomotives to include flywheels on the motor shaft.
Irv Athearn passed away in 1991, but the company he founded lives on as one of the greatest forces in model railroading history. New owners took control of Athearn in 1994, but wisely continued Irv’s pledge of offering high-quality products at reasonable prices. The addition of the Genesis line of premium models, the licensing of John Deere kits and tractors, the acquisition of Rail Power Products, Inc., the entry into the N-scale market and the development of the Ready To Roll line further enhanced the company’s reputation.
In 2004, Horizon Hobby, Inc. purchased Athearn and moved it into a state-of-the-art new facility in Carson, California. With the purchase of Model Die Casting, the launches of 1:50-scale precision die-cast products, the 4-6-6-4 Challenger with sound and other exciting new models, Athearn remains the railroad industry leader in quality and value.