Bloodwave

Why did Lego never sell 12v trains in United States

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Hi everyone,

Reviewing 7750 Steam Engine with Tender, I have mentioned this set was pretty rare, mainly because it was sold in very few countries. Of course United States were not one of these countries as 12v trains were never been sold there.

My question is why. 

I have made some research over the forum and the net but I have not find any official reason. I have even read the US laws concerning toys safety, but like we say in France, it's clear as dirty sock juice...

Wandering this forum, It seems that 12v trains did not meet the US legal volage requirements for electric toys but if someone could confirm it, I would appreciate.

Many thanks

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Lionel ("O" scale) trains and "HO" scale trains are the most popular in the USA... and they run between 10V and 16V.  I don't see any reason why LEGO trains would not be considered safe for the USA market.  I would be curious to find any documentation of that, but I have never seen any.

In 1970 TLG marketed a 110V train transformer as #742, (the 220V transformer was #741)... but I know of no country that sold 12V trains that used 110V current... only the 220V (pretty much the standard in Europe).

Perhaps the #742 was used for folks who wanted to special order the 12V trains to Japan, North America or the half of South America that used 110V.  TLG has on occasion allowed LEGO special orders to countries that they did not sell a product to.  But I know of no reason why electric LEGO trains were prevented from sales in North America.  I think that TLG just preferred to sell them in Europe.

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6 hours ago, LEGO Historian said:

Lionel ("O" scale) trains and "HO" scale trains are the most popular in the USA... and they run between 10V and 16V.  I don't see any reason why LEGO trains would not be considered safe for the USA market.  I would be curious to find any documentation of that, but I have never seen any.

 

You are right, but even if their decisions can sometimes be weird, it is strange to imagine Lego throwing away such a huge potential revenue source like the US market. Like you said, HO and O scale trains are popular, I believe it was also the case back in the 70's and 80's, so were Lego toys.

On Lego 12v trains boxes, it 's written "from 8 years". Perhaps, it is a question of age restriction (under 12 years old ?), as the target audience for Lego trains is slightly younger than for HO scale train ?

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I don’t have an answer but when I moved from Europe to the US I was mighty glad to be able to get a voltage converter so I could still run my now very vintage collection of 12v trains and MOCs. A few of years ago when building my first layout here I needed I think 24 extra 12v straight conducting rails. At the time Bricklink listed 2 sellers, one with 1 available and one with 29 available. I bought the 29 very quickly!

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Posted (edited)

This question has been asked many times over the years, and I imagine only a handful of Lego employees from that time knew the true answer. It is probably lost to the ages. However, I do have a guess, but it is only that. I think Gary is right, it probably had little to do with the voltage system, or child safety laws as this rumor seems to persist. I think rather that the answer starts with fact that in the US we have very few passenger trains. Compared to Europe with it's vast network of rail service, the US has a few commuter routes in some of the bigger cities and even fewer interstate routes. The distances between US cities is so great that with the dawn of air travel in the early 1900's, the sun set on passenger rail service. Therefore, kids growing up in the US in the 80's had much less appreciation for trains than in Europe and other parts of the world. I know, I was one of them... You see where this is going, and Lego did too. Is there a big enough market in the US to roll out the 12v system? Apparently they decided no. Keep in mind, that the 12v system is much more complex than any other Lego theme. A parent can hardly buy one set for their child, they need track, and switches, and signals, and controllers and so on. A pretty serious financial commitment on the part of parents. Oh and all those sets take up a lot of precious retail shelf space too! So maybe Lego decided to roll out the 4.5v and see how it went? I don't remember even seeing 4.5v in stores, TRU at best? I'm pretty sure all of mine came from Shop@Home. Only 7722 even came in a US marked box. Maybe the trains did a little better than they thought, but at that point 12v was winding down, and so they rolled out all the 9v sets to the US? Unless we get a visit from a retired Lego manager, we will probably never know the real answer, but it is fun to think about!

Edited by Jetflap

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15 hours ago, Jetflap said:

Only 7722 even came in a US marked box.

The train 7720 came also in a US marked box.
I don't know if this has some thing to do with 12V system in US, but TLG had experience of selling 4.5V trains in 70s with trains 180, 181, 182 and 183. I am not sure all were sold here, but I am sure 181 and 182 were in Canadian market. So, TLG made a decision based on their experience they had in 70s.
It is worth mentioning that most sets released in 1980 were 4.5V and 12v trains and their supplemental sets. What sets remained for the US market then?! Fabuland?!

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Posted (edited)

@Jetflap

You may be right, as several 12v sets from 1980 were not sold in Western European area (France-UK-Italy) until 1982. But I do not suscribe to all the points you have mentionned, especially this one

15 hours ago, Jetflap said:

 Keep in mind, that the 12v system is much more complex than any other Lego theme. A parent can hardly buy one set for their child, they need track, and switches, and signals, and controllers and so on. A pretty serious financial commitment on the part of parents. 

The same goes in Europe.

I believe the key to confirm this legal reason is a persisting rumour or not is written in US and Canadian standards about toy safety (files named  ASTM F963 and C22.2 No. 149-1972). Unfortunately, you must pay to read it (about 80$  each :wacko:)

What I know is :

  • in Canada, the definition of a toy is "a product that is intended for use by a child under 14 in learning or play ".
  • hobby train manufacturer advise on their "serious" hoby trains box with AC/DC transformer (like what Gary described) "Recommended for ages 14 years old & up"
  • Lego 12v trains were intended for 8+ kids
  • Almost all hobby trains for 8+ kids findable on Amazon are battery operated but I have seen a model with a 17 VDC transformer, 7 Volt-Ampere (VA), Lego Trains were 12 VDC but 8 Volt-Ampere
15 hours ago, Jetflap said:

Unless we get a visit from a retired Lego manager, we will probably never know the real answer, but it is fun to think about!

Well, it would be wonderful, but that guy must be 75-80 years old now, I doubt to see him posting on Eurobricks one day ;)

Edited by Bloodwave

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3 hours ago, Bloodwave said:

@Jetflap

What I know is :

  • in Canada, the definition of a toy is "a product that is intended for use by a child under 14 in learning or play ".
  • hobby train manufacturer advise on their "serious" hoby trains box with AC/DC transformer (like what Gary described) "Recommended for ages 14 years old & up"
  • Lego 12v trains were intended for 8+ kids
  • Almost all hobby trains for 8+ kids findable on Amazon are battery operated but I have seen a model with a 17 VDC transformer, 7 Volt-Ampere (VA), Lego Trains were 12 VDC but 8 Volt-Ampere

Did that change when Lego introduced the 9V system?

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Posted (edited)

Good points all!!  

But there is one point that I wanted to add.... when the LEGO System was introduced to USA/Canada in 1961/62, there were spare parts packs included in the LEGO selection (just as there were elsewhere in the world).  But after 1972 (when TLG got the LEGO license back from USA Samsonite), there were NO spare parts packs available for sale in USA toy stores.  This has continued to the present day.  If you wanted spare LEGO parts packs or even the service packs... you had to use Shop-At-Home.  I remember in the 1970s and 1980s visiting toy stores all over the USA, and never finding any spare parts packs of any kind.  I was very shocked in 1983 when I visited a toy store in Somerville New Jersey (called Skylar's), and seeing the (1980 introduced) 830-839 spare parts packs... the only time I had ever encountered them at an actual toy store in the USA... although they were available at mail order Shop-At-Home.

So in order to have a 12V train system in the USA, they needed to include the entire 12V track parts pack system, as well as many of the 1101-1270 Service packs (55xx range starting in 1986).  USA retailers would have likely not committed shelf space to the spare or service pack sets.  So the logistics to selling 12V trains in the USA was handicapped by the fact that American toy stores just never carried the full range of LEGO products that were available in Europe... during the 12V era.  And this is also true for Canada, but to a lesser extent, since they did at least sell a few spare parts packs.

I just don't think that beyond a few independent toy stores... that many of the chain toy stores would have cooperated in selling a full line of LEGO trains.  And so the 12V system was never introduced in North America.

Edited by LEGO Historian

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Well, the service pack issue may have been handled individually? Here in Germany, I had more than 5 big toy stores that I could reach by bus or bicycle without problems. Most of them had the complete regular line-up sitting on the shelves, but the service packs were never displayed. Some stores didn't have them at all, others had them hidden in locked drawers (only the staff had the key) or behind the counter. You had to ask for them, and therefore you had to know that they existed. Imho that's the reason why so many service bags survived unopened until today: because many customers weren't aware of them, never saw them sitting on the shelves, and never had the idea to ask the staff.

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