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Manufacturer: Athearn

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General information
Phone +1-877-422-9316
Fax +1-310-895-7484
Main URL Main URL
URL to manuals
Address Athearn1600 Forbes Way Suite 120Long Beach CA90810
Date Opened
Date Closed
Device Types Other


Founded in 1943 by Irv Athearn in his mother's house, selling supplies and parts. In 1948 he moves the business to a new location in Hawthorne California after becoming a full-line retailer.

In 1951 Athearn purchases Globe Models. In 1954 an unpowered F7 is offered under the Globe brand, and a powered version follows later. In 1957 he begins selling the rubber band driven (belt drive) locomotives and rolling stock. The product line expands over the years. In 1984 Athearn introduces a new narrower motor and drive train, leading to their first scale width hood units.

Irv Athearn passed away in 1991.

In 1994 the company is sold, and in 2004 Horizon Hobbies takes over Athearn. All tooling and production moved to China in 2009.

Over time, companies such as Model Die Casting (MDC) and Roundhouse (which predates Athearn's company) were added to the fold. Overland Models sold their Tower 55 tooling to Athearn in 2008 which was incorporated into the Genesis line.

Athearn was well known for the "Blue Box" kits. The kits were discontinued in 2009 when the cost of labour and materials made the kits uncompetitive with finished models.

Irvin Russell Athearn, 1904-1991

In the early 1940s Irv Athearn began to accumulate O Scale rolling stock and equipment. He planned to build coin operated railroads that could entertain up to 25 young engineers at a time. The scale of the project and wartime shortages interrupted his plan so he placed an ad in Model Railroader to liquidate the inventory he had. He received a lot of interest. In addition to the O scale inventory, he had purchased a number of tools, including a press, lathe and silk-screening equipment, which gave him the opportunity to not only ship in stock items but create new merchandise too. Using salvaged materials and making substitutions as needed, his part time garage operation was able to operate despite wartime restrictions. With the end World War 2, Athearn was ready to compete with established model manufacturers such as Varney and Mantua.

Athearn's largest contribution to model railroading was his support of HO Scale models. After the war he began to offer HO scale models of his O scale products, and over time HO superseded O in his product catalog. Athearn's first HO locomotive kits were F7A and F7B units, both unpowered dummy units. They were designed to be used with other manufacturer's powered chassis. That changed later when small manufacturers would begin selling kits designed for use with an Athearn chassis. Eventually a power truck would appear, a variety of road names and the familiar blue box.

The success of the Globe F7 caused Athearn to tool up a complete series of HO scale rolling stock for both freight and passenger service. He also introduced a coupler pocket that could accept a number of coupler brands, as there were no de facto standards for HO couplers at the time.

By the end of the 1950s Athearn would have five manufacturing facilities, selling and shipping trainsets by the boxcar. Early Lionel HO sets were made by Athearn, as were many others. Many competitors would state they could compete with Irv if only he would raise his prices.

When Irv Athearn passed away, his wife assumed control of the business. In time the family would decide to sell, and Horizon Hobby purchased Athearn Inc.


Athearn is a model railroad manufacturer. with facilities located in China.

Phone Tree Shortcuts

Short cut phone number extensions:

  • Parts: ext. 122
  • Technical Support: ext. 123

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